Companies That Fear, Will Fail


When I left the corporate world, I took with me experiences of working in a variety of cultures and environments.  I know firsthand how fear in a work environment can strip you of all creativity and innovation. I can relate to the timid faces of coworkers in a staff meeting scared to say anything for fear of being shot down or dismissed.  I’ve also had the pleasure of working for companies whose leaders believed that mutual respect was at the heart of productivity, and urgency not fear is a healthy motivator.  Can you guess which company I stayed at longer?

I became fascinated with the scientific study of the brain and how it reacts to feelings of fear.  Yes, it seems like a “no brainer”, but many companies and leaders still believe that by fostering an environment where people fear their boss, they will remain in control, command exactly what they want everyone to do, and in return reap lots of success.  This is what baffles me.  Scientifically, when the creative parts of the brain are stimulated, you can move mountains, be inventive, innovative and productive.  Our brains on fear are very stifled and resort to safe, robotic and slow responses.

I came across this article, written by Stevie Ray, another improv for business enthusiast out of St Paul, and it sort of rustled up the old feelings I had in those really toxic workplaces where I used to run to the bathroom for a private panic attack.  Stevie writes, “Fear causes a shift of thinking from the creative centers of the brain to the memory centers. Instead of thinking, “What would be a great thing to try?” — we think, “How did I handle this crisis before?”

I’ll add to this theory with more scientific proof from Charles Limb in his TED talk “Your Brain on Improv”   A brain surgeon who specializes in the study of creativity (who woulda thought?!?).

Another excellent piece on the word,”No” and its highly negative effects on the brain can be found here.

It is my hope that the business world is catching on and catching up to those who already get it.  Your people cannot be productive if they are having panic attacks in the bathroom. The companies, who are giving and getting respect, are outperforming and yes, having more fun than all the rest.

Kristy West is the Founder of BraveSpace in Atlanta, GA. She shares her passion for applied improvisation with teams and people to help them communicate in more meaningful ways through interactive and engaging learning.