Fearlessness is a key ingredient of progress

Written by Tom Greenwood - August 6, 2018

In the 11 years since we started our business we’ve learned a lot from our successes and failures. One of the biggest things that we’ve found to slow progress in business (as well as in life more broadly) is fear.

Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown. Fear of judgement.

Fear holds us back

Looking back over the years I can now see that many of the best things we did were things that scared the pants off us. From starting a business in the first place, to hiring our first employee, cutting back our services to specialise in WordPress, changing our brand name to Wholegrain, dropping one of our biggest clients or simply plucking up the courage to give a presentation.

If we’d been limited by fear, we would not have done many of the best things that have created the business and life that we enjoy today. We understand the importance of courage in pursuing relentless forward progress and it’s one of the reasons that ‘Brave’ is one of our company values.

The paradox of success

As our business has become more successful over the years, we have grown in confidence and when it comes to day-to-day activities we no doubt are able to operate more decisively. However, when it comes to the big decisions, it isn’t so simple.

Strangely, I’ve found that it has become harder to be brave and make radical decisions because we now have a lot more at stake. It’s easy not to be afraid when you have little or nothing to lose, as was the case when we started our business. Eleven years on however, we have a team to support, relationships with clients to maintain and a positive reputation in our industry, all of which we care about deeply. We wouldn’t want to make any big decisions that put any of that at risk.

The temptation is to become ever more cautious to protect what we’ve created and maintain the status quo. Being cautious is not a bad thing per se, as we must recognise the difference between being fearless and foolish. However, the ability to adapt to a changing world is an essential aspect of sustainable business and that means not being afraid of change. We must find the sweet spot between fearlessness and caution if we are to keep improving.

Overcoming my fears in business

So I’ve been reflecting on things that I’m afraid of – the things that keep me awake at night and get in the way of me making crucial decisions.

What I’ve realised is that whatever decisions I make, storms will come and storms will go. We’ve proven our resilience as a team to be able to weather storms and always come out stronger. I need to stop worrying about certainty vs risk, and instead listen to my gut on whether we need to embrace a new idea or make a tough decision. History tells me that my gut is consistently more reliable than my supposedly rational brain. Experience has also taught me that progress should never be considered optional and that doing nothing can be the greatest risk of all.

And so it is that I’m trying to overcome my propensity to procrastinate and err too much on the side of caution. I believe that the only way to do that is through real action, even if that means I have to fake it until I make it.

Baby steps

With that in mind, I’ve embraced the opportunity for our team to redesign and rebuild our website radically and at a rapid pace. Last time my resistance to change meant that it took months of persuasion and about a year before I agreed to let a new Wholegrain website go live. Yes, I am a terrible client! This time I was determined that it would be different and I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone and not stand in the way of progress. The first iteration of the new site went live last week, just 7 weeks from when the idea was first floated, and our team launched it while I was away on holiday without me ever having tested it. It is a fantastic team success driven by all of us overcoming fears of “what if” and believing that we must make the change.

I’ve realised that fearlessness is not always dramatic. It doesn’t always mean jumping out of a plane or radically changing the direction of a business. Sometimes it is as simple as having the guts to get out of the way and let others progress at full speed. Overcoming our fears is a key ingredient of progress, and only when we do so can we unleash our full potential.