Fear of Failure Stifles Innovation

fear of failure creativity

The fear of failure is high on the list of phobias. We are taught to that we must succeed and often punished for our failures. On one hand, as children we are told that we must make mistakes in order to learn from them; yet we fear to make mistakes for we know the humiliation and even punishment that may come our way.

An article from Entrepreneur provides examples of how failure is treated in certain African nations compared to the United States — with the U.S. as being characterized as being more welcoming to failure. The article mentions that “Fail fast, fail often” is a motto of Silicon Valley.

Now if this is true for us in the United States why is there still a lingering fear of failure? This Bloomberg article writes about how the fear of failure is hindering progress in the nation; Business Insider also provides counsel on how the fear of failure has caused companies to become conservative: taking fewer risks, not striving for innovation and becoming too comfortable with success. In the article, Ira Kalib gives examples of companies such as Kodak which failed because they had the fear of failure and therefore did not innovate when they needed to do so.

As an HR and People Operations firm, Poprouser focuses on “your people and what they need to deliver value [to your company].” As a result, leadership and professional development are on our agenda. As young and seasoned professionals alike look to start or further their careers they may reach pitfalls and failure may get the better of them. That is why we feel it is essential to reflect on the importance of failure and that we should not try to fight failure but we must fight the fear of failure.

I was recently speaking to a university student who had changed her major to marketing. She had no experience in the field, save for a few relevant courses. Hungry for the experience she decided to apply for an internship and was called for an interview. However, prior to the interview, she got cold feet. She was eager to gain experience and was interested in the company but due to her lack of experience was afraid of whether or not she would succeed in the position if granted; this almost convinced her to decline the interview!

Luckily, I was able to talk her out of it. I told her if it doesn’t appeal to her she can turn down the offer. But she should at least interview and not be afraid of living up to expectations.

As I gave her the pep-talk, I reflected on a similar conversation in which I had to be lectured on not being afraid of failure. As an undergraduate student, I was selected to pledge Alpha Kappa Psi, a co-ed professional business fraternity. The opportunity would help my class and I learn professional development skills and engage in business-related activities that would help us in our futures. We were required to elect a group of leaders for our class: President, Treasurer, Director of Professional Development etc.

I did not run for a position; I did not even consider running for one.

Later on, I was asked by a member of the organization why I did not run for a position. My “defense” was that I was amongst the youngest and least experienced in the class and therefore was not qualified to serve as a leader.

Seven years later, I have not forgotten her response:

“When you feel you are not ready for an opportunity—go for it!”

It was contradictory to everything I have learned — it unashamedly attacked the risk-averse mentality that plagued my mind but it was the right thing.

There will always be competition; there will always be odds against you. The circumstances will never be perfect. Knowing this causes one to be afraid of failure. However, since there is no controlling these situations the only option is to eliminate our fear of failure and go for it. If we do fail, so be it! Failure will teach us and shape us.

But that’s enough from me! I’ll close with the words of Bill Gates:

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.


Where I Live, Entrepreneurs Are Afraid To Talk About Failure — And It’s Hurting Their Businesses – Idil Abshir

Fear of Failure Is Dragging U.S. DownPeter R. Orszag

Could Fear of Failure Limit Your Success? – Ira Kalib

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Raghav Suri