“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
-Frank Herbert, Dune
I’ve thought about fear in the context of early organizations a great deal lately. Fear (well-reasoned fear, precognitive ‘fight or flight’ reactions, or of other sorts) has seemed to be lurking behind many of the thoughts, feelings, decisions, and reactions of many key moments in the formative years of an organization.
Founders may avoid starting companies entirely in the face of fear, and remain in their currently (likely safer) roles. Founders may avoid discussing their ideas with friends, colleagues, investors, and potential co-founders due to fear of having them stolen. Founders may avoid testing and iterating on their ideas “in the wild” due to a fear of rejection by customers (though rejection and improvement may be exactly what they need).
Understanding what makes others afraid can be as important as understanding one’s own reactions. Thoughtfulness around what sorts of actions as a founder-CEO might spook investors (including evidence of being cowed by fear such as indecisiveness in the face of difficult situations) is essential to retaining their trust. Understanding the fear of an employee that you’re firing (fear of public shaming, fear that their skills or work aren’t valued, fear that they’ll be able to move forward) are essential to compassionately letting someone go, and minimizing the negative effect that their firing has on the rest of your team. Mitigating the fear of your customers (that you may leave them high and dry by either going out of business or “pivoting”) is crucial to building their trust, and therefore your business. Thoughtfulness about this from the beginning is extremely important- once a person’s fears have been “triggered”, it may be very difficult to steer back on course.
It seems fairly obvious that fear can hold us back from achieving our ambitions, but fear is not universally bad. Fear can keep us safe- a fear of rattlesnakes is an extremely healthy fear when hiking in Northern California. Fear can motivate us to more carefully consider our actions- rashly pushing all of our chips in the middle of the table is not a virtue. “Meta-fear” can be dangerous- starting a venture, or making an investment solely because you don’t want to listen to your fear is the worst kind of gambling.
Fear can be obvious and daunting, or insidious and nearly imperceptible. It has many flavors, varieties, and forms, and it’s not always easy to apply rationale thinking to fighting it. In fact, I’m not sure that “fighting” fear is the answer- understanding it may be far more powerful. Understanding what you (and others) are afraid of, how you (and others) react to it, and working to maneuver to mitigate fear’s influence of your actions and others’ reactions to you may be the best (and only) real answer.
Unless you’re the Kwisatz Haderach- then you already know all the answers 😉