Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? How to Manage Fear in the Workplace.

Fear is tricky.  We are taught from a very early age to color inside the lines.  In business environments, fear comes in many forms; fear of being judged, fear of sharing your ideas, fear of innovation and fear of the unknown.  With all that fear, it’s no wonder people are stressed out and miserable much of the time.  The weight of constant fear impairs your ability to reach your goals and basically paralyzes you.  This sounds excruciating.

Improvisation is a great tool for managing fear.  It gives you the permission to color outside the lines.  By turning off your inner critic, you are free to color all over the place.  Improvisers learn to go with what they have in the moment, and it is for that reason they are able to keep moving forward following the unknown. Guy Kawasaki talks about how failure and imperfection are essential to innovation.  He refers to the first Mac being shipped and learning that “elements of crappy” are okay, “Don’t worry be crappy”, as Mr. Kawasaki likes to say.  On the way to creating greatness, we drop little bits of crap, but it is okay, because ultimately it can become something great.

What if Vincent Van Gogh had given up on painting because he experienced hardly any recognition or rewards for his work during his life time?

Innovative people are not afraid of mistakes or ridicule. They aren’t worried about perfection, but instead have a passion for creating life changing works of art.  Some of the world’s most brilliant inventions were the result of massive failures and unrelenting attempts at creating something other than what was the final product.  See Post-It Notes, Coca-Cola and Penicillin.

So, how can we adopt a better way of approaching failure in the workplace? One of the reasons improvisers can approach failure with the right mindset is because we create a safe and trusting environment.  We have to create an environment of trust or it just does not work.  People will take risk when they are not worried about being judged or failing. In improv we say, “Follow your fear,” and before too long, you are embracing mistakes with ease.

When we work with companies teaching the concepts improvisation as tools used in business, we create a collaborative environment where people feel safe and are willing to take risk.  It is amazing what happens when you take away the looming fear of failure. The concepts of improvisation are quickly becoming effective tools to help companies build trusting environments and innovative teams.   .

Don’t be afraid of the big bad wolf!  Invite him in, make him some hot chocolate and ask him about his hobbies.  He may surprise you, in a good way.

Kristy Oliver-West is The Director of Business Services and Co-Founder of The Brink Improv.  She has been performing improv for 15 years in Atlanta, GA, and teaches companies how to use improvisation tools to be more successful at work.  For more information, she can be reached at Kristy@thebrinkimprov.com