Do you consider yourself a brave person? A person of courage and conviction in the face of a challenge? Most of us don’t, but as an innovator, you practice bravery every day. Bravery means opening oneself up to criticism and overcoming the fear of failure in order to do something extraordinary – to create a better world than the one we’re living in, or to go further than anyone has ever gone before.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s most famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” belied a deep personal anxiety about showing his own weakness to the nation. FDR contracted polio in 1921 and became paralyzed from the waist down. He was quite sensitive about being filmed or photographed struggling with his mobility, which is why a recently released, rare footage of him walking during a 1937 Major League All Star baseball game is so striking.
Never Giving Up
While most of us know about his disability, what is less well-known is that he basically taught himself how to walk by swiveling his hips with the aid of braces that he kept hidden under his pants. He vowed that he would walk to the end of his driveway, about a quarter of a mile, without aid and although he never accomplished this feat, he never gave up either. And in 1937, he walked – albeit with help – in front of a packed stadium, displaying not only his determination to overcome his disability, but also his courage in revealing it so openly to the nation.
Another FDR quote demonstrates the relentlessly positive outlook and commitment to moving forward that is so evident in that short film clip: “We have always held to the hope, to the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”
Bravery and Fear
Bravery is more than the lack of fear, it’s about being able to face uncomfortable situations and still persevere in pursuit of that better world. Courageous leaders like FDR invite conflict and challenge: he could have continued relying on his wheelchair and kept his physical struggles hidden from the public eye, but he chose instead to commit himself to the feat of walking again. Similarly, he thought big when attacking two of the worst crises in American history and the world: the Great Depression and World War II. He did not shy from fights — he knew he faced the risk of failure and that there would be strong opposition. Those are the fights where true innovation is born.
One should never fear failure, but rather embrace it as an opportunity to gain a new perspective, and consider better techniques and alternative pathways to success. Failure and opposition are signs that your ideas are new and radical, that you have the chance to truly shake things up. The New Deal was highly controversial, but FDR understood that in the face of such an enormous challenge, a safe plan that garnered consensus would almost certainly do nothing.
Think of your own life, business or career and how you have overcome obstacles. Where have you failed and in the process learned valuable lessons from your mistakes? To help you visualize just how crucial your failures are to making progress, create a “failure resume.” On the left side, list all of your setbacks, challenges, and failures, and on the right, what you learned from each of them. Even if it was something as simple as learning to let go of unhelpful criticism, that’s an important lesson worth remembering.
Having all your failures listed in front of you will make them less overwhelming. There’s something about writing down the negatives that takes the bite out of them, and seeing all the valuable experience you got out of those failures should remind you that you have constantly been moving forward, even if it hasn’t always felt like it. FDR may never have made it to the end of his driveway, but compared to all the other challenges, physical and political, that he overcame, that small failure is barely a footnote in his biography. If you are courageous in your pursuits, your failures will be similarly minor – however large they feel in the moment.
FDR was a wise leader because he saw opportunities where others saw problems. Take a page out of his book and abandon the safe route – failure is always a risk when you’re attempting to create something that is more than mediocre or even just “good.” Cultures often reward mediocrity because it’s an easy route to take. If you want your culture to stop being satisfied with the status-quo, you’ll need to tap into your bravery and continue on despite failures along the way, showing those around you what innovation truly looks like.