top of page

Fear and Gutthink

4 minute read

Beware the 'mediocratists'

In my experience there are primarily two things that can get in the way of success; fear and not trusting your gut.

Fear, or the fear of failure, is more imagined than real, but can have a paralyzing effect on a person, preventing any chance of success before they’ve even started.

For me though, fear has always been a necessary factor in any of the challenges I face. Without it, you’re guaranteed to be lulled into a comfort zone that is ruled by mediocrity.

Ironically the best ideas I have are often shot down, cut into pieces, set in a block of concrete and tossed into the ocean’s Mariana trench by a tribe of mediocratists, (people who never leave their comfort zone), hoping to never see my idea again.

For example, here’s a couple of ideas that got the pitch-fork-brandishing, flaming-torch-carrying mediocratists attention. First up, the idea of a surgeon squeezing fatty gunk out of a dead smoker’s aorta, in a rather grisly fashion I might add, for an Anti Smoking campaign. Second, the idea of choosing a 99 year old American comedian, George Burns, to celebrate the distinctly Australian, incredibly athletic Aussie Rules Centenary.

Driven by my gut instinct, both ideas survived. In fact better than survive, the Anti Smoking ad ran in over 50 countries and was evaluated as the most successful Anti Smoking campaign ever produced, still being used over 20 years later. While the phrase “I’d like to see that” has been used on and off by the AFL ever since, including the most recent ad campaigns some twenty years later.

In some perverse way I get energised by seeing the mediocratists swing into action, as it invariably means I’m on to something really good.

Learning to use fear as a motivating force is fundamental to setting yourself apart from the pack and creating a clear path to success. The best way to develop the resilience required to conquer your fears and develop an inner strength, is to use something that is as old as the hills, but sadly most people are wary of it. It’s your gut instinct.

How many decisions have you made in your life, when if you had your time over again, you wish you’d trusted your gut? If you’re like me, or any anyone else for that matter, plenty of times.

The times I didn’t trust my gut, relying on advice from others, expert’s opinions, or research feedback, I was able to convince myself that my gut was wrong. A big mistake. Because the price for not trusting my gut was costly, knowing I’d let a great opportunity slip through my grasp, letting someone else to grab it.

It was as if I’d let myself down, I’d failed to be true to myself.

These days, the fear of getting things wrong has never been greater. For those steering the ship, the mantra of ‘accountability’ leads to a state of decision-making paralysis. Often a mountain of analysis needs to be climbed before making a decision, but this only adds to the confusion, gets used to hide behind, or worse still, becomes a place to bury common sense.

By the way, I’ve never been against research and data. It always teaches you something valuable, but I choose not to be tied to its mast as the ship is sinking.

Having the confidence to trust your gut isn’t easy. Often you’ll stand as a lone voice against data-loving mediocratists who can tell you everything that has happened before, but are woefully clueless trying to figure out what to do next. Yet for the mediocratists, the idea of listening to someone’s gut feeling is utterly bonkers.

In my experience, if I embrace my fears and use them as motivation, my gut will somehow steer me to an answer for a problem that no one was expecting, and avoid being trapped in a fog of sameness.

‘Gut instincts’ are the wellspring of original thought. ‘Fear’ tells you that you’ve landed in original territory. Without these two ingredients baked into the mix, getting ahead of the pack is virtually impossible. Your idea will not rise like a magnificent souffle, it will stay as flat as a pancake.

The trick is having a high degree of awareness - creative people have it, great leaders have it, as do successful business people. They are sensitive to the constant bombardment of mostly subliminal information that surrounds us, yet are able to filter out the rubbish and pick up the information they need that is relevant to the challenges they face, or opportunities they can see.

The filter they use is their gut. They know it’s the smartest thing to do when deciding the best course of action. Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, many business luminaries have been great believers in gut instinct. Strangely, listening to your gut also makes even the scariest decisions seem more like common sense.

Personally I’ve always believed that you don’t look for the competition, you be the competition, and come up with ideas that simply can’t be copied. Ideas like a tongue that jumped out of a guy’s head and made its way across the road and into a house party before plunging into a bath tub full of ice to grab a bottle of Toohey’s Extra Dry.

To the mediocratists or the fearful it may have seemed like a nuts idea, but once again my gut told me – and helped convince my brave clients at Lion - that this was the right thing to do. It was. The tongue truly licked the competition.

“Trust your gut instincts” remains the best advice I can give to help people succeed in this unpredictable world.

Photo credit: AP

bottom of page