Is your company’s success hampered by fear?

In today’s business environment of diminishing profits, layoffs and economic gloom, we don’t find many inspiring success stories.

The big question: Why not?

Perhaps we should look at the issue at a macro level. I’m fairly sure the main obstacle is as simple, and at the same time as complicated, as human psychology.

A company fuelled by fear can’t perform

Most of today’s business works in an atmosphere of FEAR. Companies are not really run by the C-suite, they’re run by the shareholders. The shareholders, almost by definition, expect financial gains. They don’t have a passion for the brand or company per se, they want a quick return on their investment. Shares are being bought and sold, keeping the owner base in constant turmoil and losing sight of long-term goals. Shareholders become a faceless mass, an almost supernatural external force experienced as a threat.

Because everyone is afraid, decisions at all organisational levels are made avoiding risk and potential failure. The safe bets inevitably result in mediocrity all around.

The vicious circle of negativity

Many companies have contracted what I call the constant-growth disease. Every new activity, marketing activity in particular, must perform better than the previous one. If last month’s campaign brought in 2 million in revenue and this month’s campaign results in 1.8 million, it is not viewed as 1.8 million more money in the company’s coffers but falling short of the expectation by 10 per cent.

Accounting adds to the fear and negativity. In most companies, accounting is a repressive regime. “Look, this is the number you should have reached. You’re only 75% there this quarter. You better get your act together by the end of the year.” This is intimidation rather than inspiration, cascading down the organisation and paralysing creative innovation. Moreover, as accounting is a rearview mirror, it does a poor job of pointing the way to a brighter future.

Marketing cost-cutting is a slow suicide

When marketing and sales are not delivering the financial results they’re expected to, most companies then try to improve their situation by cutting costs.

In their effort to maximise profits by slashing the amount of money flowing out of the company, marketing often finds itself first on the slaughtering block. Far too many companies regard marketing merely as a cost centre instead of a profit generator. If marketing doesn’t perform (or was the bar set too high to begin with?), it faces budget cuts and staff reduction.

This is insane. If an athlete fails to reach his goals, he is given more training opportunities and support, not made to exercise more with less food.

The marketing, advertising and communication agencies companies hire to produce great marketing results are plagued by the same fears and negativity as their clients. Each successful campaign will set a benchmark against which all subsequent campaigns are measured. Clients want constantly better results with constantly shrinking budgets. Even though this at some point inevitably becomes impossible, the agency fears losing a big client and creates something that satisfies the client and ensures the bill gets paid. Not much passion is involved. Fear at play again.

No wonder long-term consistency is in short supply. Fear has a paralysing effect. To boldly go where no man has gone before requires persistence, money and visionary passion.

How can we find those? Air your ideas in the comments!


  1. Päivi Suhonen - 2014-07-22 @ 13:49

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

  2. Dan Stanley - 2014-07-24 @ 18:18

    I know that you’ve hit on it exactly. It has many layered effects that help contribute to one’s perinoia, but essentially your right. Fear is a creative desease!

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