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Fear Can Destroy Your Business

By Bob McElwain
Posted Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Fear is funny stuff. On the one hand, it keeps us from climbing too high in the tree. And from walking too close to the edge of the cliff. When fear cautions of such things, it pays to listen attentively.

But on the other hand, fear can smother curiosity, creativity, and many other positive attributes essential to us all. While it is not commonly noted, fear is one reason many balk at the mere thought of learning most anything. For some, this fear is so strong they refuse to accept any new idea or to even consider a better way of doing anything.

Fear Is Rational

Suppose you discover something new today that you know is absolutely true. You are certain beyond a doubt that it is so. It may mean you need to reevaluate *all* your cherished attitudes, values and convictions.

In short, a new idea can compel one to make changes. While they are unlikely to amount to a new lifestyle, some old habits may need to be replaced with new ones. Some attitudes may need to be updated. And some values may need to be adjusted a bit. For many, such needs are too frightening to even consider.

Thus they shun such risk. They avoid learning and any activity which might present new ideas. They tend to remain set in their ways, and don't want to change much of anything.

Yet Success Requires Learning

Any business, offline or online, either continues to grow, else it stagnates, and ultimately withers and dies. To continue to succeed, there is no option but to grow. Yet growth and learning are intertwined. There will be no growth without new ideas to be explored and implemented.

This is not an acceptable proposition to many new to business. Particularly on the Web, there seems to be a tendency to create a business, then focus on keeping it running as well as possible. While this may generate some income, it does not lead to more, for it does not lead to growth.

Fear As A Brick Wall

Suppose you discover through testing on your website that a navigation bar across the top of your page draws better than one in the left column. Suppose page views double, indicating many more people are exploring much more of your site. And that sales increase.

Possibly for years, you have "known" a navigation bar to the left is the only way to go. How do you deal with this new information? Ignore it? You can, of course. And oddly enough, some will. Why?

- Because they don't want to tackle modifying all pages on their site. And they are unwilling to deal with the uncertainty of the impact on the overall site.

- They simply refuse to change their convictions. Such a move is painful to many, and thus to be avoided at all costs.

- If something as fundamental as this to a website has been demonstrated as "wrong," there's lots to be reconsidered. This leads to: "What else do I think I know that's wrong?"

The moment one comes to this last question, there is fear, and lots of uncertainty. Some will go to any lengths to avoid this state. They are simply unwilling to reexamine all other elements of their site and business and thus threaten their view of "rightness."

Stagnation Follows

The wise move in this hypothetical case is to come off your long held view of a navigation bar to the left, and put it across the top. Just swallow hard, take a deep breath, and do it. At most you are risking time and a few sales. If you keep your previous pages, they can easily be restored if a major negative unexpectedly crops up.

To do otherwise, is to cling to what you have. Which is stagnation. And ultimately decline.

It's Easier Said Than Done

It may be that business people fear change more than others do. Face it. They have their necks out and their capital is on the line. Their net is generally their entire income. Make a blunder, and their family, home, and lifestyle may be suddenly at risk.

"If it ain't busted, don't fix it," is a commonly heard refrain. While likely so about many things, it's certainly not true of all. There is risk in change. Unavoidable risk. But without it, there will be no growth.

Put Fear To Work For You

Let fear urge caution as it must. And listen attentively. But let curiosity and creativity dominate. Let these powerful tools feed you new ideas. Explore all encountered. Then lock in those that work for you. Growth is impossible without this or an equivalent mindset.


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