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leoniewiseSeth Godin’s latest book Tribes was a great read for many reasons, but I was especially struck by page 46. He writes:

What people are afraid of isn’t failure.  It’s blame. Criticism. We choose not to be remarkable because we’re worried about criticism…we’re worried, deep down, that  someone will hate it and call us on it…sometimes the criticism doesn’t even have to  be that obvious.  The fear of hearing ‘I’m surprised you launched this without doing more research’ is enough to get many people to do a lot more research, to study something to death, and then kill it.  Hey, at least you didn’t get criticized.

The author’s premise in the book is that we need leaders more than ever and most of us have the ability to be one–yet so many of us are stopped cold by fear. Being boring might shield you from criticism, but if you’ve created something truly remarkable, then criticism is a sign that you have done just that–done something remarkable worth talking about.  Leaders do those things which spark conversation—whether that conversation is complimentary or critical.  Either way you’ve gotten someone’s attention.

It’s an important lesson for all of us, and not just in the context of innovation or business. I have let analysis paralysis immobilize me more times than I care to mention.  I have gotten better at handling it, but I still need to remind myself, often, to balance out the risk of being stung by criticism with the consequence of not taking any action at all.

I was talking about this very issue this morning with my coach and he mentioned an exercise he likes to have clients do when those fears begin to sabotage their efforts.  He has them visualize their absolute worst fears coming true.  Every last, gory detail until they have lived it out in their mind vividly and with realistic emotion.  This process often has the ability to diffuse one’s real-life fears significantly.

The fact is, whatever the thing is we desire to do but resist will not kill us if we go for it and it doesn’t quite work out as planned.  Criticism may be uncomfortable for a time, but it’s not failure.  Failure implies that the game is over.  If what you are really worried about is offending the herd or bucking the status quo, then at least be honest with yourself about what is really holding you back.  And if the masses always agree with what you put out there in the world, are you really ever leading?

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