Walking toward the edge is not the same as going to or living on it

The oft-worn consulting joke is that we can lead horses to water, but we can’t make them drink — even if the water is what will keep the horse alive.

Another analogy is about edges and walking toward them. The edge represents possibility and brings with it unknowns and fear. Humans generally fear the unknown and novel at first and, for the most part, that keeps us alive. But it is also a major crutch. Perceived safety is what prevents people from walking to the edge, nevermind going over it.

Instead, organizations (and the people in charge of them) walk toward the edge, just not near it.

Braving the Edge Walk

No matter how long I’ve been working in human services consulting and training I still get caught up in the aspirations of my clients with a belief that change is possible. It always is, but it’s also something easier to speak of in the abstract or at the start of a design project and far more complicated once we get closer to a deliverable that requires a change to actually take place.

Change means something has to be made different and that induces fear which is represented through shifting goalposts, obfuscation, denial, distraction, or the oft-heard “it’s just not the right time”. All of a sudden, the brief has changed. Products that would require some form of public or visible demonstration of effort and change — taking the work from behind the scenes to the front of the house, so to speak — now need further consideration, review, or no longer seem to fit.

Why is that one might ask? The answer: fear.

I’ve started to see the term ‘bravery’ used in discussions about innovation. With every passing exercise that I witness through others or directly in my own work, I am thinking more than ever that bravery needs to be bumped up the priority list of key topics that any innovation project needs to nurture.

Without it, no amount of culture-building, design thinking, or creative discovery will produce change.

Thanks for reading, Cameron.

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash