When Lack of Safety Kills Innovation and Drives Complacency and Distrust
In the wake of multiple tragedies in the world, where there seems to be no end in sight, I wanted to take a moment and address the lack of safety we’re likely all feeling. Personally, I feel like I cannot safely travel anywhere (which is an issue because I travel every week for work). There are dispassionate psychopaths around every corner, dictators fulfilling their own agendas through fear mongering, and hate trying to win. And while the lack of safety is terrifying, somehow we slowly become numb to it. It’s not that we don’t care but we’re no longer surprised. It becomes normal – not “OMG how did that happen?!” but “oh, that sucks…” It seems that the workplace is hardly a safe haven from these episodes either, for the workplace can all too often be unsafe.
I’ve been told I have chip on my shoulder, I’m a piece of work, I’m difficult, but no one would ever call me dispassionate in my interests. I’m extremely passionate about my work and my ideas. I want to help people and organizations – that’s why I’m a consultant. I spend my time telling people to keep trying to create safety and give new ideas, even when they are shot down. It’s not easy. I’ve been there and the more it happens, the more we’re told we’re wrong, the more personal it becomes. When you have to worry is when it’s not personal anymore. It’s not anything because it’s not worth it to put yourself out there anymore, apathy and dispassion sneaks in as a result of the lack of safety. And that kills innovation. Apathy drives complacency. Distrust ruins progress.
It reminds me of a company I worked at earlier in my career. A few, actually. But at this one I kept coming up with new ideas, and stuck with them hard. In retrospect, maybe too hard, but I had passion. I wanted to try. I thought I could make a difference. But then, my reviews started suffering. I was “that millennial.” And I realized it wasn’t safe anymore for me to be me. It wasn’t that others weren’t passionate, but we certainly weren’t passionate about the same things. I was passionate about innovation, they were passionate about the status quo that allowed them to keep their jobs without having to be overly ambitious. So, I stopped. I was miserable. I felt like I had no integrity. I lasted another two months before I knew I had to make a change. My friends that still work there are stuck in that rut. It was hard to get out of, but I did. And I’ve rarely looked back. Because living in a constant state of fear wasn’t worth it anymore.
Think about the safety of your organization. Do they shut down ideas because “that’s not how it works here”? This kills creativity because ideas will most certainly be met with negative language. It is no longer safe to give even the simplest idea, just like it sometimes doesn’t even seem safe to walk outside down the street (I remember this feeling after a certain election, and now it’s just normal). How do we expect to have an innovative culture when our people don’t feel safe to share ideas or fail? That’s not agile.
Metrics are a good and bad example of this. We want metrics to drive behaviors which hopefully in turn drives innovation, and predictability and all those other good things we tout with agile. But, when the behaviors change and we get some of the results we want, we don’t want some of those trailing effects after all. The innovation threatens the status quo that people have grown attached to – often people in management who haven’t worked this way in the past. Their livelihoods and egos are attached to them. They are too far in to see it, have learned helplessness, and their defenses are up. We drive the behaviors we were trying to change back to the status quo by not providing a safe environment to change, improve, innovate, and trust. In the end, we’re our own dictators, psychopaths and haters, or at least our organizations are.