We recently sat down with Scott Steinberg, the Author of Make Change Work for You to talk about change within an organization and how to transform fear into a secret weapon for success.
getAbstract: How did you conclude that fear is the number one obstacle to managing change effectively?
Steinberg: The fact that we’re all capable of successfully innovating our way to the top – and all it takes is one simple shift in mindset to do so. Research shows the leading barrier to ongoing business success isn’t time, money, or resources: It’s resistance to change, and lack of risk tolerance. As fast-moving and unpredictable as today’s world is though, we’re all forced to adapt on a daily basis. Haven’t taken a good look at your shifting schedule or priorities lately? Surprise – chances are, you’re successfully changing and innovating every day already. If everyone is capable of innovating, the only thing stopping you from getting ahead consistently is your own sense of perspective. As we discovered, fear comes in seven flavors. Learn to conquer them and you’ll soon find out – the possibilities are endless.
getAbstract: Fear isn’t just fear, there’s “fear of failure,” “fear of embarrassment,” “fear of losing control,” among others. Which of them causes the most problems? Which is the most common in the workplace?
Steinberg: Fear of failure is probably the single biggest issue encountered in the workplace, and most common source of the problems we encounter. But all seven types of fear can cause tremendous issues. After all, when we’re frightened to make mistakes, step out of our comfort zone, and take chances, it directly affects our on-the-job performance. So fear can exert a powerful force over the decisions that we make and risks that we are willing to take. The seven types of fear I found that we face include:
- Failure: The possibility of being unable to successfully achieve a goal or complete a task set by yourself or others.
- Embarrassment: The shame and self-consciousness felt when one feels humiliated, unable to live up to expectations, or socially conform.
- Underperformance: Performing at a level that you or others believe to be less than adequate, or not reflective of your full potential.
- Rejection: When you, your company, or the products or services you represent are refused, turned away, or avoided by others.
- Change and Uncertainty: The process of acting or reacting differently – and the discomfort that accompanies these shifts or surrounding risks and uncertainties.
- Confrontation: Having a negative or event hostile personal or professional interaction with others.
- Isolation: The feeling of being alone or left to operate solo without others’ support.
getAbstract: What’s the most frequent fear you have to help your clients with? How do you use the “FEAR model” to help them?
Steinberg: Fear of change – it’s not second nature for individuals and organizations (which are hardwired to prefer things working according to fixed, predictable patterns) to constantly be seeking ways to do things differently… for the most part, we want things to operate according to a predictable formula. So what I always try and do when we’re working with Fortune 500 companies, associations, or other consulting clients is use the model to help them take a step back, and take a good, hard, objective look at the kind of challenges they’re facing – and how making simple changes or slight shifts in thinking and strategy are actually less risky, and more effective, approaches to dealing with these issues. We often use the model to help remind clients that innovation isn’t rocket science. For example, I spoke with dozens of experts and authorities for book including leading executives, entrepreneurs, pop culture icons, and more: The most common pieces of advice for success in life and business they give are “don’t be afraid to fail,” “think positive,” “take action,” “learn and improve from your efforts.” You don’t need legions of case studies, journals, whitepapers, etc. to transform a business, transform a life, or transform a career – you just need to change your mindset. Study after study shows that attributes that anyone can learn and possess like improvisation, communications, strategy and resilience are key to success – nothing more, nothing less. In other words, anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
“Get past the fear of doing things differently, and you’ll get to solutions much quicker.”
getAbstract: You mentioned that a common, but negative, reaction to the fear of failure is to play it safe. What about the people who’ve done the same job for many years, is this book for them? What can they learn?
Steinberg: Absolutely – what you’ll learn is that to succeed in unpredictable environments, you’ve got to find the courage to take chances. In uncertain times, everyone wants to be risk-free. Instead, to get ahead and/or create competitive advantage, you should be risk-averse – i.e. recognize that change is coming, and make smart, calculated, and cost-affordable bets that can help you gain the insights, talents or capabilities today that will be in-demand tomorrow. Whatever your goal is, pick a portfolio of promising growth opportunities to pursue – launch a new product line or re-launch an existing one; attend night school or take online computer programming courses – and start pursuing them immediately. Just don’t sit still while times, trends and competitors are also evolving. Staying ahead of the curve is easier than it sounds, as long as you’re staying in constant motion.
Remember: we live in a world that celebrates entrepreneurs and risk-takers like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. But very few schools seem to be training future generations to practice the qualities they possess, or providing education in vital modern life skills like dynamic decision-making, entrepreneurship, and problem-solving. And this is happening even as the traditional system for professional advancement is crumbling and competitive environment getting tougher. Businesses, schools, and even parents’ opinions don’t seem to have adapted to match the new reality. I hope that Make Change Work for You gives working professionals, who will only deal with greater change and upheaval in careers going forward, a deeper look into what they need to succeed: In many ways, this isn’t a book – it’s a system for taking back control of your future, and giving yourself a fighting chance.
getAbstract: Sometimes, employees have great ideas and are ready for change but their managers aren’t. If they’ve calculated the risks and believe their ideas are worth fighting for, what should they do next?
Steinberg: Great point: The answer is to be courageous. Rather than wait for opportunities to find you, seek them out. Instead of exercising the same skills every day at work, specifically seek out the education, training and experience today that you’ll need to succeed in the future. Speak up, volunteer, and take action – constantly push your creative thinking abilities and comfort zone. Encourage yourself to learn, grow and take on more leadership and responsibility. Look for opportunities to pounce on, problems to fix, and promising projects to volunteer for. Think about what you need to do right here, right now today to get to where you’d like to be tomorrow. Then do it. The more promising new options and avenues you pursue, the more chances you’ll create to put yourself in fortune’s sights. Remember: You don’t always have to tackle an issue head-on – if you feel the risk is worth it, and your idea is worth fighting for, there are a million and one different ways to make the point, and a million and one ways to win from engaging in the exercise (by learning, growing, demonstrating your talents to new audiences, etc.). But sometimes, to get ahead, you’ve got to apply a roundabout solution.
getAbstract: Can you share an example of how you’ve used your own fears as tools for success?
Steinberg: Once upon a time, like many people, I found it awkward and intimidating trying to speak to strangers – and knew I really wanted to get over these concerns. Then I read a magazine article that said “If you want to get comfortable talking to strangers, pick a random person every day for the next few weeks, and practice walking up and talking to them for two minutes.” It was shockingly simple advice, and shockingly effective: Yes, it was scary the first few times – but I really wanted to get better at it, and I used the fear to motivate me, knowing how much of a competitive advantage it would provide if 99.9% of people hated networking and I could become good at it. Like the article advised, I practiced this technique, and even at times practiced talking to myself in the mirror. Today, I no longer have an issue walking up and making conversation with anyone, and routinely present public speeches to audiences of 500 people or more. Fear can be a fantastic motivator.