This Little Thing Inside

Everyone’s afraid. Not everyone lets it stop them.

No Fear No Career Gaping Void

The best business people, artists, etc., live in that uncomfortable space of never feeling quite good enough.

They know that the biggest rewards lie in the things that terrify us.

Everyone’s afraid. Not everyone lets it stop them.

The above picture and words appear courtesy of the lovely people at gapingvoid. Thanks for the permission to reproduce them here.

One Day At A Conference…

I spent a day last week in some lovely company at Workplace Trends 2014. In the middle of the conference – the first ever Workstock popped up. Workstock 2014 was a series of pecha kucha stories – each only just over 6 minutes long, bound together by a series of even shorter tales, written by someone thousands of miles from the event, who had never met any of the speakers. Confused? I don’t blame you – so maybe hop over to Neil Usher’s blog or Richard Byatt’s and get a feel for what when on at the event. 

Creativity Constrained

I’m a fan of the pecha kucha format – 20 slides, each on the screen for 20 seconds – 6 minutes and 40 seconds to tell your story. Constrained by the timescale, your creativity is driven to the fore. The format doesn’t appreciate umming and aahing, you need to be on your game, and you have to be prepared. PK is just not a format that tolerates winging it. And it’s hell on your nerves.

Nearly my turn. I stood at the side of the stage, nervously waiting as my short story was read out loud. Words I’d not heard before now – but somehow strangely familiar. Truthfully I struggled to take them all in as my heart pumped, blood thumped, nerves jumped. It’s only natural to be a little scared. This little thing inside.

I was nervous for three reasons. One – the PK players that went before me were excellent. Despite the constraining format everyone had breathed their own life into their tale. Two – I could sense that everyone in this group of 11 storytellers was on edge, I think we were subconsciously fuelling each other. Three – I was planning to do something for the first time – a PK mix of slides, live music and live drawing. Why make life difficult when you can make it even harder?

Feel The Fear – And Do It Anyway

Time to go. I can’t quite recall what happened next – I just fell into the performance and blended a rehearsed sequence of thoughts with adrenaline, and a wonderful sense of support from the people in the room.

Pecha Kucha Clash City Rockers

photo c/o Rose Haslem

I rattled, buzzed and hummed, and I was done. My final words as I left the stage – ‘Thank f*ck that’s over’. This little thing inside – subsided again. As I sat down – a lovely lady handed me a piece of paper:

Workstock Appraisal

This sheet of A4 instantly and forever became the best appraisal I’ve ever had. Timely, encouraging and to the point. Thank you. I enjoyed as much of the rest of Workstock as my gratefully slowing heart would allow me, and the day went on. We were all filmed so I look forward to reliving the whole thing again soon in a slightly more relaxed state.

Since Workstock I have been bowled over by the reaction to it, both as a complete performance,

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and to my contribution.

Speak To My Soul

Currently I am struggling, at times I find it hard to process why my work, particularly the work I’ve done in recent months, has provoked such strong reactions in the people around me. I am both excited and scared by what is going on. This little thing inside.


A bit like how the hotel staff gently slide the express checkout envelope under your room door, its arrival barely detected, so I’ve gently snuck this little thing inside into a few recent conversations. And it turns out that most people I speak with about this feel similarly, to a lesser or greater extent.


Does this make you or me me feel any better? I’m not sure – I suppose a doubt shared is a doubt halved. It certainly won’t make the little thing inside go away, which on reflection is a good thing. As I am finding out – when we feel the fear, and do it anyway, we are making a difference.

The best business people, artists, etc., live in that uncomfortable space of never feeling quite good enough.

They know that the biggest rewards lie in the things that terrify us.

Everyone’s afraid. Not everyone lets it stop them.

Not good enough. Says who?

The Opposite of Honesty…

You get to the end of the meeting, the end of the presentation, the end of the webinar.

The person in charge says:

Then this happens:


Everyone returns to their desks. The person in charge thinks ‘I have everyone’s agreement’. Everyone else thinks ‘Screw that – I’m going back to doing what I’ve always done’.

If your ‘any questions?’ is a tumbleweed moment, please stop and think for a minute. Have you bored everyone to sleep? Have you confused everyone? Is it fear that is preventing people from having the conversation? If your ‘any questions?’ is a tumble weed moment, take a small risk, and a little time to gently exhaust the possibilities for the silence. Maybe – just maybe – that tumbleweed reaction means you’ve got total, unequivocal, rock solid backing. Maybe…

And typically…

The opposite of honesty…is silence.

photo credit


In Fear of Fear

I’ve been hearing a lot about the ‘F’ word lately. Fear is all around us, and as a basic fight or flight mechanism we couldn’t live without it. Beyond that though – how do we check it and prevent it from lurking in our minds and affecting our decisions. When I worked in BT I watched the responses that strongly disagreed with the ‘I believe it is safe to speak up’ statement in the staff survey, steadily grow over five years. Every time I mentioned what I was seeing there was plenty of staring at shoes, and precious little else. I’m not proud of the fact that after a while I stopped banging the drum, primarily out of boredom.

Fear – Not My Problem

‘This fear thing doesn’t affect me – I’m not afraid to tell it like it is’ might be your response, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard responses like ‘That’s people stuff, HR’s job’, but here’s some data that suggests just over a third of US employees don’t speak up for fear of retribution. So even if you’re one of the brave, the chances are you’re working with people who don’t feel the same way. And whilst I’m not a fan of departmentalising the responsibility for being human, I think this is a really interesting and important challenge for Brave HR to step confidently into and lead the way, maybe as part of a wellness or wellbeing strategy?

Fear – Coming From The Top?

We’re good at attributing problems to those more distant from us. By way of a recent example, Tim Scott, Stephen Tovey and I got into a discussion on Twitter about fear at work and how it manifests itself, which you can flick through here:

Twitter Chat Screenshot

And whilst I’m sure that you too can recall examples of that top down ‘fear as a weapon’ approach, I think there’s more to it than that.

Fear – How Do We Experience It?

When you see people not objecting to bad behaviour, it is fear that constrains them.

When you see people saying yes when they want to say no, it is usually fear that is driving them.

When you see people staying silent when they should be speaking out, it is fear holding their tongues.

When leaders ask, “Is that agreed?”, they often take as agreement the silence that is most people’s greatest protest.

When you see senior management not sharing their concerns with junior staff because it might harm morale, it is fear that is causing them to keep their secret. That fear denies them access to the creative minds that may help them solve the problems causing their fear.

We all have the potential to be crippled and corroded by fear – it is not the sole preserve of the front line.

Fear – How Do We Deal With It?

I’ve spent my adult life overcoming fear. For me, one aspect is my fear of presenting. Whuh! Yep – it’s true, I get totes scared before a talk. In Louisiana recently, William Tincup spotted me looking all nervous looking and came up to me, put a hand on my arm and said, ‘If it ain’t scaring ya, you ain’t doing it right’. Thanks William – I appreciated that moment, it was very timely. I manage this fear partly through practicing, partly through some kind of weird mental transmogrification where I channel nerves into excitement, and partly by being open about it. I am completely cool that you know this about me.

A practical thing that one can do at any work meeting is to ask, “What have we agreed to do?” and in turn, “What are you personally going to do to help us achieve what we have all agreed to do?” Anyone is more likely to deliver what he or she hears themselves commit to aloud in front of their peers than to fulfill someone else’s draft of the minutes of a meeting long after the discussion. That commitment and delivery builds positive trust very quickly and has a diminishing affect on fear.

In the workplace I often use ‘Proceed Until Apprehended’ as a call for people I work with to get on and do stuff, don’t wait for permission. It started when I worked in sales at BT and I made it work initially through taking responsibility for my team’s actions. This was easy for me because I trusted them and because we didn’t hide stuff from each other, we just worked in a way that meant we knew what each other were doing, and were the similarities and differences were.

A lot of what we did differently was small, teeny tiny stuff. Stuff like getting to know other teams better, researching customers and their markets more thoroughly, not sending that ‘vital’ report and then realising that when you didn’t send it – no one came looking anyway. And we took the time to learn to listen better. As an aside – Paul Hebert has just published a really good post about selling behaviours, which because they are a lot about building trust, are also helpful in creating a more open, less fearful workplace. I confidently attribute the progress I made in BT in no small part due to Proceed Until Apprehended, and to learning and following some of Paul’s suggested sales behaviours, because this approach led directly to making things better for our customers our colleagues and ourselves.

I spotted this definition of ‘Fearless’ written by Khurshed Dehnugara in response to the question about defining adaptability that I referenced yesterday. Khurshed wrote:  ‘Fearless. The courage to dance at the limits of tolerance, one foot inside – one foot outside of the established order. To overcome the fear of being shunned or thought irrelevant.’ I like this – and wanted to share it with you today.

And of course – you can deal with fear too. If I can, you can. I’m just an ordinary person, so use that fact as a springboard of belief from which to launch yourself. And as a final thought, if the environment in which you operate is so toxic that you really daren’t stray from the path, then leave. Get a better job….after all, what’s stopping you?

Fear – An Update

In the few hours since publishing this I’ve had a lot of feedback and sharing of this post. Thanks. In particular I wanted to share this great piece titled ‘Good at Terrified’ by Heather Bussing that I’ve been made aware of. It takes on fear from another angle and is well worth a read I think.