President, Lefkoe Institute
April 08, 2011
Seth Godin did it again. I read his newest book, Poke the Box, last weekend and it’s just the right book for our times. It probably will become his 13th best-seller.
If you’ve read any of his earlier books or his blog (which I devour as soon notification of a new post arrives in my inbox), you know that Godin is passionate about innovation and change. And, he stresses repeatedly, if you want to produce something new and change anything, you have to start and you have to “ship”—in other words, get an idea for something new that people will find valuable and willing to pay for and then stay with it until it’s ready to ship. But everyone knows that. Do we need another book that repeats that obvious truth?
The reason we need Godin’s book is that, despite the fact that the need to start and ship is obvious, most people don’t do it.
Godin correctly says that the major reason is fear of failure. We are afraid to make mistakes and to fail. And anytime you are trying something new, something that hasn’t been proven to work before, there is always the possibility of a mistake or failure.
He writes: “So many people are frozen in the face of uncertainty and paralyzed at the thought of shipping work that matters that one might think that the fear is hardwired into us. It is.”
Godin spends most of his latest book encouraging people to overcome this fear and giving them tips on how to do it. I totally agree with him that what is needed most in this world is innovation that is turned into products and services, and then shipped. I also agree that fear of mistakes and failure is the biggest barrier to people doing this.
But I have a slight disagreement about why so many people are afraid. Yes, we do have a reptilian brain where the only thing that counts is our survival. That’s why anything we perceive as threatening our survival will produce the emotion of fear.
But what determines what we perceive to be a threat to our survival? If you are a regular reader of my posts, you won’t be surprised when I say the answer is beliefs. In this case, two specific beliefs: Mistakes and failure are bad and If I make a mistake or fail I’ll be rejected. If you think it is bad to make a mistake or fail and that you will be rejected if you do either of these two things, you will experience fear and, in most cases, the fear will inhibit action.
Why are these two beliefs so common? Most parents never take parenting classes on learning how to be an effective parent and most parents bring their own “baggage” with them to the job of parenting. Moreover, most parents have unreasonable expectations for their children. For example, most parents expect toddlers to come when called, sit still, not make too much noise and do what they are told to do. All of these things are virtually impossible for a toddler.
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How do parents respond when their expectations are not met? In the best of cases with mild annoyance and frustration—in the worst of cases with physical abuse. The reaction of most parents falls between these two extremes. Most parents get angry and repeat the phrases that have become clichés in our society: “How many times do I have to tell you?” “Don’t you ever listen?” Many of our clients tell us about their parents’ “look.”
Yes, public schools also create an environment in which these two beliefs are likely to be formed. Unfortunately, most kids have already created these beliefs at home before the age of six, before they ever got to school.
How do I know this? Because my associates and I have helped over 13,000 clients eliminate the beliefs that cause most of the problems in their lives and most of these clients have had these two beliefs about mistakes and failure. And the type of parenting behavior I described above is the source of the beliefs for almost all of them.
That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news.
Beliefs like these can be quickly and permanently eliminated. And what I’ve discovered from my work with clients is that as soon as these two beliefs are eliminated (sometimes a few other core beliefs are required), the fear of failure literally disappears. Forever.
So maybe the best way to create a world in which most people are willing to “poke the box”—to create a new idea, start work on it and then ship it—is to help millions of people get rid of the beliefs that are preventing such behavior.
Here’s how to accomplish that. Just ask someone these questions and allow them to answer.
Step 1: What is the belief?
Step 2: What is the source of the belief? What happened (usually before the age of six if it’s a self-esteem belief) that led to this belief being formed?
Step 3: Can you see that, although the meaning you gave the events (your belief) is one logically valid interpretation, there are three of four others? The answer usually will be, yes.
Step 4: After helping find several other interpretations, ask: Can you see that your interpretation (your belief) is not the truth, it is only a truth, one possible interpretation of several that explain the events? The answer usually will be, yes.
Step 5: Imagine being present during the earlier events where your belief was formed. Doesn’t it seem as if you can see