“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” 

  • Brene Brown 

Innovation is indeed, the zeitgeist of the age. Often spoken of in conversations about entrepreneurship, development and progress, it is frequently forgotten that innovation has a human side, beyond the buzzwords of modern life. In fact, it is the imaginative and creative part of humanity that pushes us to innovate and for something so organic and human, it is seldom acknowledged that sometimes, the barriers it faces are also organic and human. Lack of funds, organisational incoherence, the absence of an enabling culture are all valid troubles, but so are emotions like fear, aversion to taking a leap of faith and experiencing a lack of focus and motivation. If innovation comes from an emotional organicity and a will to change the world, the emotional aspect of this transformative quest cannot be ignored. 

Research by McKinsey demonstrates the relevance of emotional hurdles in the process of innovation. Experts Laura Furstenthal, Alex Morris, and Erik Roth write, summing up their research findings,  

“We were intrigued to find that the fear of career impact emerged as the biggest differentiator between those who work at top innovation companies and others, being 3.6 times more prevalent. Such worries have predictable consequences. When we believe our decisions can put our advancement or compensation at risk, loss aversion takes the steering wheel and drives us to hedge our bets. This results in employees being reluctant to fully invest (or gamble) their careers on innovation, let alone on a single innovation project. […] The second-biggest human barrier to innovation is difficulty dealing with uncertainty and loss of control. Such fears trigger the ambiguity effect, a cognitive bias that leads us to avoid options with uncertain outcomes. This fear plagues average or below-average innovators almost three times as much as it does leading innovators. […] Fear of criticism, the third big hurdle to innovation, is something we all feel to some degree. Group conformity and tribalism are basic survival instincts, but these tendencies can imperil companies’ innovation success.” 

Alongside these empirical studies, there are simple observational findings that bolster the case for the presence of inner barriers to innovation. Ed Hess, Professor at University of Virginia , writing for Forbes remarks how innovation is not just a cognitive process but also emotional. It requires doing something new or novel, and that can be scary because it requires the courage to enter the unknown. Hess further notes that in this process of exploring the unknown, protecting our ego and fear are the two big emotional inhibitors of innovation. Simplistically put, to preserve our self-image and to keep the possibility of failure at bay, tremendous risks which might pay off can be foregone.  

The problem here is thus simplistic yet puzzling— there are internal, mental and experiential constraints that can impede innovating and since they are not material or external things, fixing them is not a direct manoeuvre. So, one must take the most fundamental of decisions when it comes to anything beyond the grasp of the rational and the material. For dealing with an emotional hurdle, you must allow yourself to embrace your vulnerability and let yourself feel the entirety of your fear and then eventually rationalize it. Your fear, anxiety and self-image problematizations emerge from the desire to remain stable, the magnitude of the risk and a petrifying aversion to the idea of failure. It is only after you have felt the shockwaves of these unpleasant emotions, that you can rationalize your ideas, think of what a certain ambition means to you and the potential impact you would be making. Productive thinking can be accomplished after making sense of the often unacknowledged and disregarded emotional distress that besets the visionary process of innovating and prepares you for the ups and downs involved in any future-oriented ambitious mission.  

In fact, once emotions are handled correctly, they can propel you to dare and to innovate, fuelled on a motivation you concocted for yourself and believe in. Our humanity is the site of our productivity and should not be sidelined in our endeavours to transform the world. An innovation strategy thus must derive from something which precedes the actual process of innovating itself: a judicious effort to conquer our fears and an anxieties and fighting these emotional barriers shall certainly take us far in our bid to create exemplary change.  

– Authored by Alexander John: Founder of Stealth Startup, CEO of Cynapto Technologies and Mentor, NSRCEL