Fear of failure is actually overrated as an excuse. Why? Because if you work for someone, then more often than not, the actual cost of the failure is absorbed by the organization, not you. If your product launch fails, they’re not going to fire you. The company will make a bit less money and will move on.
What people are afraid of isn’t failure. It’s blame. Criticism.
We don’t choose to be remarkable because we’re worried about criticism. We hesitate to create innovative movies, launch new human resource initiatives, design a menu that makes diners take notice or give an audacious sermon because we’re worried, deep down, that someone will hate it and call us on it.
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” “What a waste of money.” “Who’s responsible for this?”
Sometimes, the criticism doesn’t even have to be that obvious. The fear of, “I’m surprised you launched this without doing more research…” is enough to get many people to do a lot more research, to study something to death and then kill it. Hey, at least you didn’t get criticized.
Fear of criticism is a powerful deterrent because the criticism doesn’t actually have to occur for the fear to set in. Watch a few people get criticized for being innovative and it’s pretty easy to persuade yourself that the very same thing will happen to you if you’re not careful.
Constructive criticism, of course, is a terrific tool. If a critic tells you that, “I don’t like it,” or “this is disappointing,” he’s done no good at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true. He’s used his power to injure without giving you any information to help you to do better next time. Worse, he hasn’t given those listening any data to make a thoughtful decision on their own. Not only that, but by refusing to reveal the basis for his criticism, he’s being a coward, because there’s no way to challenge his opinion.
I admit it. When I get a bad review, my feelings are hurt. After all, it would be nice if a critic said a title of mine was a breakthrough, an inspirational, thoughtful book that explains how everything, from politics to wine, is marketed through stories.
But sometimes they don’t. Which is just about enough to ruin your day. But this time, it didn’t. It didn’t because I realized what a badge of honor it is get a bit of shallow criticism. It means that I confounded expectations. That I didn’t deliver the sequel or the simple, practical guide that some expected. It means that in fact, I did something worth remarking on.