The power of fear, you might ask? How can that be? We’ve been taught that fear is bad, as in Winston Churchill’s “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And heaven forbid you should relate the power of fear to those loathsome fear tactics in advertising and politics, scaring people to do buy something, or to think something.
No. I’m not referring to fear tactics as marketing. But I am serious about the business power of fear. Let me explain:
1. Understanding Power
First, think of the raging hurricane, lightning, flood or tornado. These are all raw power, truly fearsome. Fearing them is common sense and self preservation.
Then think instead of water power generating electricity, flowing through the grid, powering your house and office. Think about wind powering huge sailing ships. With these you have power harnessed and turned useful.
Human thought and emotion can be power too. You women who are mothers know how powerful that maternal love and protection instinct (think of grizzly bears) can be. And there’s a lot of varieties of love that create power, plus the power of ideas and inspiration and, yes, fear too.
Power makes thing happen. It drives wheels and sails and water and wind and – yes – people too.
2. How Can Fear be Power?
Contrary to popular opinion, fear isn’t always bad. Sometimes fear is common sense. Fear keeps me from jumping off the edge of Nevada Falls. Fear makes me get a flu shot and buckle my seat belt.
Sure, paralyzing fear is bad. Nobody wants to be that deer caught in the headlights. But what about the deer in the meadow, standing still so its camouflage works, its ears perked to hear any sounds? It senses something coming. It stands still, or runs, depending on what danger it senses.
But back when Churchill was talking about fear, he was also running a nation that turned off the lights and ran to the basements when the German bombers flew overhead. They weren’t paralyzed. Despite the rhetoric, they had a lot to fear besides fear itself. And they took precautions. They ran to basements.
Fear in business means staying alert, keeping a fresh lookout, being aware of the competition, new markets developing, new trends, and changes. It shows up in good planning. Have you heard of the classic SWOT analysis? and the O and T in SWOT are opportunities and threats, right? So you look for threats before it’s too late. And you see them coming, early, so you can move away and avoid them.
3. Harness the Fear and Put it to Good Use
Here are my recommendations:
1. Develop a regular planning process for your business. That means having a business plan that’s a plan, not necessarily a document, and is just big enough to manage the business. And it also means having a regular review schedule, so that the plan is subjected to good plan vs. actual analysis, and it changes as needed, which of course is often.
2. Build antennae and watching points into that plan. That means you see the threats. You recognize competition and think about what it might be doing, not just now, but also in the future. Make it your normal routine to step away from the business every so often and take a good look at what’s happening around you – and, when you do, keep your eyes open. See the threats.
Always knock wood, don’t spill salt, and don’t break mirrors. And keep your fingers crossed.
Tim Berry is Founder and President of Palo Alto Software, Founder of bplans.com, and co-Founder of Borland International. He is a Stanford MBA, and principal author of Business Plan Pro. He blogs at Planning Startups Stories.