Christine Barney|Mar 25, 2010

Along with millions of jobs, another casualty of the economic downtown is business innovation. While necessity may be the mother of invention, lack of job security is the father of a corporate culture of fear. Are we losing our business nerve? If taking action might cost us money, is it better to do nothing? Is the famous Nike slogan, “just do it” obsolete today?   Clearly, just as investors seek safe havens during tough times, businesses and their customers want sure things.  It’s why we see lots of commercials starring old time celebrities like Betty White.   A New York Times article noted that all the nostalgia comes from, “the belief along Madison Avenue that tough times call for familiarity rather than risks.”

People have long criticized large corporations for their inability to evolve with speed, but now today’s culture of fear is paralyzing businesses of all sizes.  It’s the reason businesses are slow to hire even when their finances improve. It’s the reason some companies still haven’t finalized their 2010 budgets even as the first quarter comes to a close.

But, just like a fire is a good thing to foster new growth in a forest, maybe we have to demolish before we can build stronger.  Growing through the weeds of the economy there are already a few green shoots.  Entrepreneurs see opportunity to steal market share from paralyzed established companies.  By very definition entrepreneurs are fear resistant.

For example of boldness in action, I follow the amazing success of The Launch Pad, a resource for entrepreneurs. Recently one of their entrepreneurs, Lucas Sommer, won a prize for a new web application that expects to revolutionize the independent music industry by converting music fans into salespeople for independent artists.  That’s innovation at work.

The new world of social media offers marketers ripe fields for product testing and customer feedback.  New generations will engage with brands and help them stay relevant or ignore them to death.  Those who wallow in fear for too long will be replaced by those willing to reinvent, even at a cautious pace.  How long will it take? Who knows?   Today’s fear factor in business is frustrating to say the least, stifling to say the most, but not forever to say at best.


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