Fear is becoming the dominant emotion for people around the world. While understandable, fear is also very limiting.

If we see the future as a threat instead of an opportunity, we tend to shrink our time horizons, focus on today, and adopt a win-lose view of the world. In other words, we don't pursue innovation.

John Hagel III has spent over 40 years in Silicon Valley as a management consultant, entrepreneur, speaker and author, helping people (and organizations) anticipate how the world is changing and address the opportunities emerging from these changes

At our recent Innov8rs Connect on Careers and Personal Development, John hosted a conversation in which he offered a path forward, focusing on the role that narrative, passion and platforms can play in helping us to cultivate the emotions that will help us to move beyond fear.

His remarks are summarized below.

How To Overcome Fear?

We live in a world of paradox. The forces that are reshaping our global economy and society are creating mounting performance pressure. Thus, many people are feeling fear. At the same time, these forces are also creating expanding opportunities.

However, if we're feeling fear, we can't even see those emerging possibilities, much less have the confidence to address them.

According to John, moving beyond fear starts with challenging what we mean by narratives, passion, and platforms. By reshaping these three pillars, we can move from fear to hope and excitement.

Pillar 1: Narratives

Most people think narratives are the same as stories, but they're not. A story is self-contained- there's a beginning, a middle, and an end. A story is about the storyteller or other people (real or imagined); it's not about you.

In contrast, a narrative is open-ended; there’s no resolution yet. Narratives identify a major threat or opportunity out in the future and provide an exciting call to action. The audience is part of the narratives – they're not just listening to a story – and their choices and actions will determine the resolution.

The definition and pursuit of narratives can take many forms:

  • Personal narratives: we all have a personal narrative, but very few of us have taken the trouble to articulate it. And again, it's not a story about you and your past. Instead, it’s about your view of the future (is it a threat or an opportunity?), what you want to accomplish in the future, and what kind of help you need from others.

  • Corporate or organizational narratives: companies can frame an exciting and inspiring opportunity out in the future for their customers to motivate third parties to come together and take action. “Think Different” was introduced by Apple in the early 1990s and is one of the most recognizable slogans of the 21st Century. That narrative excited and inspired many third-party software developers to join the movement and create applications for the Apple platform to help people “Think Different”.
  • Geographical narratives: powerful narratives attract people to a place – cities, regions, and countries – and align them toward meaningful goals. An inspiring narrative has contributed to Silicon Valley's success over time.
  • Movement narratives: narratives can also serve as tools for addressing a significant opportunity or threat in religion, politics, economics, and so on.

Pillar 2: Passion

Narratives and the exercise of engaging around them can be a catalyst to finding a passion. Passion can have different shapes and forms, but the focus here is on the "passion of the explorer".

Whether they operate in business environments or not, people with this passion are committed to having an increasing impact in a specific domain. They have a deep questing disposition because it's in their nature to get excited by unexpected challenges and see them as chances to drive impact to a new level.

Lastly, people who share this passion also have a strong connecting disposition. When confronted with challenges, their first reaction is actively seeking to connect with others who can help them come up with a better answer faster.

The combination of these three elements – commitment to increasing impact, excitement about challenges, and connecting with others to address those challenges – drives learning and impact.

People with this passion are not immune to fear. They know they could fail, but they still try. In other words, they acknowledge and recognize the fear and, simultaneously, cultivate the excitement that will help them to move beyond it and seek a more meaningful impact.

“Big wave surfers know they could fall off their surfboards and even die riding waves. They're afraid, but they still paddle out because they're excited about the opportunity to do something they haven't done before”.

At this point, you might think that only a few people have passion or are capable of passion. That’s not exactly true. As children, we all had the Explorer passion. We didn't yet have a specific focus for it in terms of domain, but we all had that desire to learn more and do it together with others. So what happened to us? We went to school and were taught to memorize what the teacher had to say and then play it back on the exams to prove that we were listening.

However, without passion, we're not going to have the innovation we need. It’s up to all of us to commit to cultivating the explorer's passion in our companies.

Pillar 3: Platforms

Today's platforms fall into two main categories: aggregation and social platforms. The former focus on facilitating short-term transactions such as buying and selling products (retail platforms are an example). The latter, prevalent today, are all the platforms that help us connect with others. Yet there's another type of platform with great potential that’s not yet deployed: the learning platforms.

Learning platforms are explicitly designed to help participants learn faster by acting together and challenging each other in addressing new opportunities and threats. The goal here is to create new knowledge, not just share existing knowledge, as it’s becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate.

This kind of learning doesn't occur in a classroom, webinar, or workshop. It happens through action. And if you want to learn faster, you have to come and take action together with others. John defines learning platforms as an "accelerant": once you have your passion of the explorer, having a platform that will help you come together with others is the ultimate opportunity for exponential learning.

“Everybody thinks big wave surfing is a solo sport because there's only one person on a surfboard. However, when they get off the surfboard, all surfers come together into small groups to talk about their experiences, what they have learned, and what they still need to learn. They are constantly focused, as a group, on how to get better and have more and more impact”.

John shares the example of PortalPlayer, a semiconductor company founded in 1999. In the early 2000s, the company saw the potential for mass-market digital music players but soon realized that the challenges were just too big: the technology was too expensive, the form factor (a hardware design aspect) would be too big, the quality of the music was not good, and the battery life was too short. As they couldn't solve this on their own, PortalPlayer created a platform where they brought together several technology leaders and challenged them to innovate the technology. After a few years, Apple launched the first iPod equipped with a PortalPlayer processor.

In Summary

Even though we're in a world of fear, there's an exponentially expanding opportunity out there that awaits all of us. To pursue those opportunities and become more innovative, we need to cultivate the three pillars of positive emotion that will help us challenge and overcome fear: narratives, passion, and platforms.

  • Narratives provide an explicit call to action for something yet to achieve in the future. They’re the catalyst that gives us the necessary motivation to replace fear with hope and excitement.
  • Passion is what propels us forward. As we go along, passion helps us overcome obstacles. Known as the passion of the explorer, this form of passion involves making a significant contribution to a field that excites us.
  • Until and unless we learn how to create entirely new knowledge based on how the world is changing, we're never going to be successful. Connecting with others on similar journeys beyond fear and learning faster is possible through platforms. Essentially, platforms are accelerants that speed up our progress and help us achieve a more substantial impact.