I recently wrote about personal innovation and how we can identify areas in our lives that call us to challenge ourselves, grow, and create lasting value. While there are incredible opportunities for us to remain innovative in nearly every area of our lives, there are also traps that prevent innovation. I like to call these innovation busters—feelings or situations that undermine our desire to create space for personal innovation or prevent us from establishing a culture of innovation in business.

We all know the big, obvious innovation busters like rigid work environments and micro-managers, but others are more subtle. These mental and emotional barriers can be just as effective at hindering innovation, but much more elusive.

  1. Fear of fear: Fear of failure is a term that gets thrown around a lot. But what I think is a more accurate name for this is the fear of being afraid. This occurs when the idea of being afraid is within itself scary. I often notice that I will unintentionally steer myself away from a situation that has the potential to make me the tiniest bit afraid, for no good reason at all. For most of us, that fear of being afraid is so strong and often intuitive that it becomes an accepted mindset. This buster doesn’t even allow you to think about innovation, because change comes with a lot of baggage.
  2. Fear of what others think: Also known as social fear, this innovation buster is a natural function of being in a community.  We’ve all grown up with some level of emphasis around what people may think of us. Have you ever cried in front of friends or family, because something made you really sad? And then, did you apologize for crying? Bingo. That’s social fear. Our impressions of what people may or may not think of us at a young age become huge billboards later in life. Those exaggerated fears can easily change the trajectory of our lives, and our ability to move into a space of innovation.
  3. Trapped in our bias: Some corporate cultures are built on patterns, and when businesses are always executed in one way, a new idea or thought that cannot fit in that established method may be discarded. Personally, we may tell ourselves we are unbiased—but that’s likely not the truth. Biases don’t have to be too big, either. Have you ever asked anyone if they were having a midlife crisis when they bought a sports car? Have you ever avoided going to the gym because you thought the other people there might be too in shape and you wouldn’t fit in? These are biases I once firmly held. But they are also examples of innovation busters that prevented me from losing weight and driving a car I love for years.
  4. Thinking too big: When we look way ahead, or think really big, we can easily become overwhelmed with the entire creative process. Thinking about the end before asking about the beginning kills innovation. In fact, innovation can have absolutely nothing to do with the conclusion, and everything to do with the journey.

Having difficulty identifying the obstacles preventing you from innovating in your life? Consider the following questions to get started:

  • What am I afraid of, really?
  • Who am I trying to please and why?
  • Do I have preconceived opinions about a person or situation with no real, justifiable reasons for those feelings?
  • Do I have dreams that seem too big to tackle?  What are they?

Taking a deeper look and asking the hard questions can push us past these obstacles, and bring us closer to the profound changes that create fresh and lasting value in our lives.

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