Overcome Your Fear of Trying Something New

In a recent Fortune interview, Google co-founder Larry Page discussed his company’s early days: “You have this fear of failing and of doing something new, which is very natural. In order to do stuff that matters, you need to overcome that.” When it comes to creating new ways of getting work done to improve performance in all parts of life–not just at work, but at home, in the community, and for your self, too–how exactly do you follow Page’s advice?

It’s not enough to have organizational policies designed to support the integration of work and personal life; they’re under-utilized, despite persistent efforts by well-meaning managers and HR professionals to inspire employees to take advantage of them. Why don’t more people use the resources offered by their companies to help them do what they need to in their other life roles? What holds employees back from trying new ways of thinking about and organizing the different domains of life?

They won’t let me. In many organizations, people are unwilling to experiment with flexible work arrangements, for example, because they are afraid they will be identified as not committed to their employer if they are not dedicating the requisite “face time” that tradition demands. Or they might fear simply being told “no” by a boss who cannot or will not see how a new kind of work arrangement might make things easier for all concerned.

I don’t want to be selfish. Another common problem that prevents people from even expressing an interest in trying a new way of getting things done is that they feel guilty. They might ask themselves, “Why do I deserve an increase in flexibility and discretion?” Failing to find a good answer, nothing changes.

What am I supposed to do? Some people are just unaware of what options are available in their quest to find a better way to bring the different parts of their lives together and, as a result, they don’t even know how to consider the prospect of trying new means for getting important things done.

How to overcome the cowering, the guilt and the ignorance that inhibits creative action and progress towards lives better integrated for the mutual benefit of all domains? Leaders, at all levels and not just executives, have to figure out how to move past such barriers by being real, being whole, and being innovative. With a bit of investment, it’s possible to build your capacity to bring these attributes to life and reap the rewards.

Be real. The foundation is clarifying what’s central to your identity; what’s most important to you. Start by asking yourself these questions: What do you really care about? How would you describe your core values and the vision of the kind of world you want to create and live in? And where do you now devote your attention? Start to generate ideas for small steps you can take to better align your actions and values. Talk over your answers with trusted advisors.

Be whole. Think next about the most important people in your life–those I call “key stakeholders”–in each domain and briefly list your mutual performance expectations. Consider the connections among these different relationships and how performance in one affects the others. Then start talking to your key stakeholders, inquiring further, and refining your ideas for change.

Be innovative. Now, the fun part. Come up with a couple of experiments–things you can do now that are under your control–designed to increase your performance in each domain, in ways that will be seen as valuable by your key stakeholders. Try to implement them, measure the results, and learn what works and what doesn’t.

When you take these steps, aiming to increase business results and enrich your life by moving in a direction you choose, you build the confidence needed to take further steps in creating sustainable change. It could be anything–from exercising more often, to writing in a journal, to having lunch with friends and colleagues, to volunteering for a nonprofit, to delegating more, to working at home–any small step that holds the promise of producing value for all four domains, either now or in the future.

When your inspiration for innovation is what matters most (propelling persistence towards your goal), and your intention is to serve collective interests (engendering the trust and commitment you need from others) while learning through trial-and-error (unleashing your creativity), then anxiety, guilt and ignorance are less likely to rule the day, and your prospects for producing something new and useful brighten.

It takes leadership to overcome the natural fear of change–and the good news is that just about anyone can do it. (View videos of people describing how they did.) Larry Page overcame his fears, and so can you.

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