It might be surprising – it certainly surprises me – but a lot of experts and innovative thinkers are afraid of their own ideas. Now if you read the title of this blog article and immediately thought, “Pfft. I’m not afraid of my own ideas.” Great. I hope that’s true.
But let me ask you:
- When was the last time you shared a half-baked idea with people whom you respect?
- When was the last time you shared an idea you knew would get people really riled up?
- When was the last time you shared an idea you knew in your gut was correct, but also flew in the face of what “the powers that be” believe?
None of these situations is easy. Unless you are the sort of person who enjoys stirring the pot, you probably have felt anxiety about sharing an idea for one reason or another.
Even in my most rebellious moments, I’ve been afraid of my own ideas – What if I’m wrong? What if I fail? What if I can’t express it well enough? There’s always a risk involved with putting out ideas that challenge the status quo. But when we focus on the risks, we forget about the rewards – and most of the time, those rewards far outweigh the actual risks. So let’s talk about how to deal with the fear.
The Fear is Real
On the face of it, fearing your own ideas is hard to explain. Thousands of thoughts float through our minds all day long. Almost as soon as one pops into your head, you’re onto the next thought. A new idea is just a thought. What’s scary about that?
Well, fear comes from giving particular thoughts more weight than others. It comes from believing one thought says something about us that we don’t like or believing that one thought will cause others to act in a way we don’t like. This is what makes talking about new ideas so scary.
There’s the fear of being wrong.
The fear of being criticized.
The fear of being misunderstood.
The fear of being seen.
The fear of not being seen.
The fear of having to own those ideas once they’re out there.
The fear of starting a movement and getting in over your head.
These are valid fears, but they shouldn’t stop us from sharing. Think of all the inventions, technological breakthroughs, and cultural advancements that wouldn’t have been possible had someone succumbed to the fear of sharing a new idea.
Fear is valid, but it’s also important to remember that fear is a state of mind. I won’t go so far as to say that you are totally in control of your fear, but you can choose how you react to the fear you experience. You can choose to feel the fear and put your idea out there anyway. Or you can choose to see fear as an indicator that you’re on to something BIG.
Still, it helps to have a strategy for spreading ideas in a way that feels safe or in a way that stops us from focusing on the inherent risks involved.
How to “Safely” Spread Ideas
One big goal I have is to support my clients in sharing their most innovative and sometimes edgy ideas. Now, I work with thought leaders in a wide range of industries from buttoned-up corporate environments where every piece of content has to go through compliance to small companies that give free-rein to employees to build their personal brands. So I recognize that “innovative” and “edgy” are relative terms.
And, because there is always risk involved in sharing ideas that challenge others’ opinions or offer a new perspective, there’s no perfectly safe way to spread your ideas. If you’re waiting until you feel perfectly comfortable, then you’re letting your fear win.
The question then becomes how to spread new ideas in a way that feels safe (though probably not entirely comfortable)?
1. Concentrate on how your ideas benefit others
Over the weekend, I watched an interview on 60 Minutes with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and they were discussing how they write songs as a band. They described a very collaborative process where they work out lyrics together.
What struck me, though, was how the two lead guitar players (Flea and John Frusciante) go into separate rooms to craft a melody for the chorus, say, of a song and then come out to have a “battle” in front of the other band members. The band, then, decides which chorus is best and that’s it.
No one has any ego about it. No one refuses to play the other guy’s chorus. And the guitarists aren’t afraid to share their ideas because it’s not about them. It’s about creating great music.
The lesson here is that when we think about how our ideas will impact others, a lot of those big bad fears melt away because instead of focusing on the fear (and our ego), we focus on one of the most critical benefits of sharing our ideas: their impact.
This is precisely how I think about ghostwriting. It’s a collaborative process. We’re all throwing out ideas we have and seeing what we think the readers need and want to hear. It’s a beautiful mind meld when it works.
If you’re afraid of putting your big ideas out into the world, rely on your audience and your clients to be your shield.
2. Start small
You don’t have to start with the thing that scares you the most. Sometimes it seems like signing up for the ultra marathon is the one thing that will motivate you to get off the couch and start running, but this approach can backfire. Instead of putting out your biggest, hairiest, most audacious idea, consider starting small.
LinkedIn is a great place to start spreading your ideas. You can always publish posts around your new ideas, but you don’t even have to start there. Commenting on others’ posts is even lower stakes. Try your hand at putting out an “unpopular” opinion or pushing someone on a point they make.
When the world doesn’t come crashing down around you, you can consider what your next small step might look like (e.g., publishing your own post, publishing something larger like a blog or Medium article, starting a newsletter, talking to a colleague about your idea).
Believe it or not, it also helps to share works in progress or minimally viable ideas. When I share half-baked ideas, it helps me take less personally any criticism I might get. Plus, the feedback I get from others can be used to make my ideas better.
If you’re afraid of putting your big ideas out into the world, ask what small step feels more comfortable.
3. Start when you’re ready
Another way to make spreading your ideas feel safer is to start when you’re ready. I have been kicking around the idea of writing my own book for years. And while I wouldn’t say it’s fear per se that is stopping me from doing this important work (my plate has been pretty full writing books for others), I would say that I haven’t felt ready for a lot of reasons.
We can all tolerate some level of fear if we psyche ourselves up for it. I don’t love getting up on stage and speaking in front of people. To be honest, it’s quite a shock to my introverted system. But I can do it (and do it well!) if I feel prepared and psyche myself up. So it’s okay if you wait to share your innovative ideas until you feel ready to brave the possible criticism or being misunderstood or whatever your biggest fear happens to be.
If you’re afraid of putting your big ideas out into the world, figure out what would make you feel ready to share – is it a deadline, an event, support, accountability?
What do you think? How do you spread ideas in a way that feels safe?
Photo Credit: Muslim Woman In Headscarf Holding Smart Phone And Looking Away In Thought With Hand On Her Chin by Sewupari Studio from NounProject.com