How Fear can Sabotage Creativity

“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”
— Rudyard Kipling

The fear of failure can be deadly, as it hold us back from doing great things. The current public education system we have in place in America has only made that worse, and the effects carry over into the professional lives of every college graduate.

Succumbing to the fear of failure has another effect: it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Probably the best example of how failure can do this is found in the economy.

The economy is simply money moving from one bank account to another; it’s dollars in motion. A bull market is when there are a lot of dollars moving around, and a bear market is when there are not.

Bear markets occur when investors get nervous and hold their money instead of spending it. In a bear market, there is less demand for stocks since investors don’t want to move their money, so the price of those stocks goes down (such as it is with supply and demand).

When the stocks go down, investors’ portfolios lose value, and they become scared.The initial fear of a bear market inevitably causes a bear market.

Of course, there are other factors that come into play, such as unemployment rate and gross domestic product, but a major overarching factor is investor fear.

This fear reaches every corner of the economy. When Wall Street loses confidence, consumers assume they know something the rest of us don’t, and they stop purchasing goods and services.

Once this fear sets into enough consumers, businesses sell less and make less money. This forces them to cut costs, often by laying off workers and hiring fewer new ones.

Unemployment goes up, and this only fuels the fire of fear. Eventually, a bear market sets in, and a recession may be just around the corner.

This is obviously an over-simplified version of a very complex issue, but the cause of fear in an economic downturn in undeniably powerful.

In many ways, it’s the fear that something bad will happen that causes the bad thing to happen. Similarly, fear has the same effects on creativity.

How Fear effects Creativity

Just as the fear of an economic downturn helps to bring one on, the fear of having lousy creative ideas can cause more lousy ideas to form.

This is because, as I’ve already mentioned, the fear of being wrong keeps us from ever experimenting with anything that could go wrong. Without experimentation, we will never grow.

If a magician is afraid of performing a bad magic trick, he would never put one in his act. Instead, he would keep his act just as it is, nice and safe and well-tested.

That’s fine, except he should never expect to grow if he doesn’t change anything around.

Now, let’s say this magician comes up with a great new trick; one that would, on paper, be a crowd-pleaser. He begins to draw up a list of what he needs, how the trick would be accomplished, and a first draft of the “patter” (what magicians use to call the script).

Things are going well, until fear sets in, telling him that it’s going to flop; that trick is too complicated, and he’ll never be able to pull it off. The audience will see how he ruins it and laugh at him.

Every magician --- and every person --- will feel this fear when working on something new that could potentially go wrong.

A sensible thing to do would be for the magician to make a list of what he’s actually afraid will go wrong (a thread will break, the trap door won’t work, the card will be wrong, etc.) and figure out a plan for each scenario in case it happens.

But a much easier approach, and usually the one taken by many, is to alter the trick so things don’t go wrong. If it’s so simple that nothing goes wrong, then the audience has to like it!

Except, that’s not how it works. The magician finally has the trick completed --- and simplified --- and puts it in his show. It flops because of how simple it is and unimpressive.

It’s good, but nothing special, and certainly not good enough for his show. In his attempt to make this new trick fool-proof, he has sabotaged what could have been an amazing part of his show.

In the corporate setting, this scenario can have even worst results. Let’s say someone working on a company’s social media marketing comes up with an idea for market research analyst at the company.

This could be an idea that is unorthodox, yet would gather more accurate data on their customers in the long run, and thus make the social media marketing more effective.

He’s afraid that the market research analyst will dismiss his idea; maybe it wouldn’t actually work the way he thinks it will, or maybe the numbers over the years will change and he hasn’t considered them into the plan. Whatever the made-up reason for his fear may be, he sits on the idea and doesn’t tell a soul.

How is the damaging to a company? Because, if the idea is as good as he thinks it is, it could save the company thousands of dollars in advertising each year.

Those savings could have been reinvested in the company, creating more opportunities for the employees. The effects domino from there.

Conclusion

You never know how good an idea is until you share it with others. The action of putting your thoughts into words in a way that someone else can understand helps you clarify exactly what you’re thinking, and it will give you a better idea of what you want.

Keeping your idea in for fear of being humiliated is a dangerous thing because it means you’ll never fully think through a good idea again.

Ryan Lally