Why are the brave a minority?

Why is courage such an unusual trait? At least it is if courage means to dare to go against what is expected, to break conventions and to take a personal risk for you to win something more significant.

In most companies and organizations, there is a built-in “resilience” that binds together – not just actions, but also thought patterns and structures. An elasticity that is similar to surface tension in water. Surface tension is the force that exists between molecules in the liquid-gas interface, such as on the surface of water where water striders can run on the water without sinking. Or water droplets that hold the mold without running out – thanks to the surface tension. 

The company’s surface tension can be it’s way of maintaining the status quo. There is no risk that the community will burst and “run out.” If you keep the surface tension, you are on the safe side. But if a water strider wishes to examine the bottom of the pond, the surface tension would have to be crushed. Of course, this is a significant risk, but also the only way to really know what it looks like down there.

Corporate surface tension has many advantages. It prevents you from exposing yourself to unnecessary risks; you’re safe, and it creates a sense of connectedness where you can all agree on what you do, how you behave, and what you think is right – and what is wrong. 

Few like risks – and we want to fit in 

The disadvantage is that it consolidates uniformity and risk minimization – this makes the bar to try new things so much higher and that if you fail the punishment is greater, because you deviated from the norm. The longer a business has existed, and the more it has grown, the higher the likelihood of a risk minimization culture being celebrated.

The more established the organization becomes, the more it is populated by officials, administrators, and industry experts. Where officials and administrators learn the internal political game to maximize their own careers, and where industry experts want to be experts on what is already in the industry. They build systems and processes, which in many ways can be suitable for daily operations, but which in the long run contribute to a culture where you are punished if you make mistakes. And trying something new can go wrong – but it can also be where you find the next big leap in success. As someone said: Change does not always lead to development, but development requires change.

Attracting new thinkers, entrepreneurs and interdisciplinary talent is difficult as there is neither culture nor structure to take care of their skills. At the same time, in many boardrooms, a perception has emerged that the road to profitability is about efficiency and cutting costs. The risk of being satisfied and concentrating on streamlining production and fine-tuning of processes is well known. Blockbuster, Kodak, Xerox… The list of companies stuck to their own success is long. Losing the ability to innovate and create value is devastating.

What does your organization do to keep the brave?


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