Fearless Innovation: How to Be Creative in the Face of Fear

What does it mean to be creative? Do you always need to think outside the box, or can you be creative within a set of rules you need to abide by? Are you born creative, or is it a learned skill?

In PR, you have to be creative much of the time, which can be scary to some. Ed Catmull explains in his book, Creativity, Inc., that it’s okay to be scared if you learn to overcome it. Being creative and innovative, as he describes it, is an earned right. You need to fail early, fail fast, and fail fearlessly. Every early failure is a door that closes on future wasted time, allowing you to focus on the opportunities that have real potential.

Catmull, who was one of the co-founders of Pixar Animation Studios, clearly knows how to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of successful innovation. These “dark forces,” as he calls them, flourish in fear—fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of change, fear of others. Fear kills innovation. Being able to stand up to fear is what makes a company and an individual more creative and more innovative.

With Catmull’s concept of “fearless innovation” in mind, here are five different ways to apply his guiding principles to public relations:

  1. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: You can’t be truly innovative if you keep doing the same thing over and over again. Being creative requires you to try new things, even if you fail. Failure will make your future ideas and approaches better. When you’re writing a pitch, think outside the box. This will lead to more creative pitches, which in turn can lead to better outcomes.

  2. Great Minds: Surround yourself with a great team, a team that might have different viewpoints than your own. If you can respect these differences in opinions, your collective creativity will be stronger for it. In PR, you shouldn’t go at it alone, because you’ll be at risk of becoming dry. Being on a team that challenges you to be better, or come up with the best pitch for a certain topic or press release, will help you grow as a person and as a PR professional.

  3. Be Honest: You should encourage others around you to be honest about your work. If you’re not completely candid about your team’s work, then your final product won’t be the best it can be. In PR, you and your team should provide constructive criticism, so that the ultimate pitch or great byline topic can go out the door

  4. Team Leads: If you lead a team, you should listen to others while keeping control. You should also fail with your team, grow as a group, and succeed as one powerful unit. This is especially true in public relations for account leads. Retaining control while allowing your team to grow as PR professionals is essential to your team’s success. When not pitching “mission critical” news, let your team experiment and see where it takes you.

  5. Opportunity: PR can be random – a winning pitch that doesn’t deliver, or a weird, but interesting pitch that captures the imagination in a top-tier editor. You should embrace this unreliability, as some of the best innovations happen because of a curveball. If you receive a negative comment from a customer on an article, don’t see it as a PR nightmare. View it as an opportunity! Your reply has the opportunity to engage, shed light on the topic, get people to think in news ways, or just let readers know that you are listening to their feedback.

There is no set definition on how to be creative, and every profession presents different opportunities to show your creativity. In PR, it might mean a great pitch or an awesome byline. In teaching, it might mean finding creative ways to engage your students. However, one thing is true for all forms of creativity: Don’t be afraid to fail, try out new ideas or ask for feedback – success is just around the corner!

By Jim Dougherty