Maybe the dragon isn’t the problem

I just walked past a smiling blind woman – blond, straight hair, in her 30s and dressed for spring – walking down a crowded 5th Avenue street in rush hour. She and her golden lab guide dog were perfectly synchronized, and she was the picture of calm, serene confidence amidst the crush of people and traffic.

I wonder what it took for her to be able to do this – not just learning to walk with, communicate with, and trust her dog, but the courage and determination she’s showed at countless junctures in her life to get where she is today.

The thing about accomplishing great things is that it requires consistently making the decision to be brave, to show up, to overcome your own doubts and fears and the voices in your head. That fear is the dragon you have to slay each and every day.

The tricky part is that the dragon has allies. It needs them, because it knows that when you step into the arena, ready for pitched battle, it’s not hard for you to rev up your adrenaline, strap on your shield, and wield your sword for the big fight. The dragon fears that.

What is hard, though, is getting out of bed every morning to prepare for the fight. Here’s where the dragon’s secret allies come out: smiling cherubs with pointy horns hidden in their hair, cajoling you, teasing you, luring you into a stupor. “Do you really want to fight today?” “Think how dirty you’ll get, how tiring it will be.” “Things are fine the way they are now.” “Is it really worth it to put yourself out there?” “Stop rocking the boat.”

You ignore them, most days, but their chorus is seductive. If you let them, over time – months, even years – they douse the fire in your belly.

We can’t let that happen.

For those of you showing up in the arena every day, I offer you the choice to plug your ears to their Siren song.

And for those of you not yet showing up to fight, I implore you, at the least, to silence the peanut gallery commentary that saps others’ bravery and courage. If today isn’t your day to step into the arena, the amazing, powerful thing you can do is to seek out others’ moments of bravery, of insight, of courage, of grit and determination and moxie, and celebrate them.

If you see a flickering flame, protect it from the wind, add kindling to the fire until, eventually, it roars.

Because none of us actually believes that what we need in the world is less courage (or more pointy-headed cherubs).

Do you have someone whose job it is to say no?

I’ve worked in organizations big and small, and what’s interesting about the big ones is that there are often a few people whose principal function seems to be to say “no” to things.  Sometimes they are lawyers but it really could be anyone whose refrains go something like: It’s too risky. We’ve never done it this way before.  But have you thought about….

Naysayers are fine if they are contributors to the debate.  But if the people whose job it is to say no actually have veto power you’ve got a problem and you will never innovate.

Seem obvious?  Then fire the no-ers.  Or make them into contributors who don’t have the final say.

Sound drastic?  Your other option is to give up entirely on innovation.