Small Decisions: Facing Fear

December 4, 2008

When people come to a creative company they don’t look for the latest editions of Photoshop or Illustrator. In spite of what schools may tell you, there is a surplus of talented software wizards. People pay creatives to think for them. We solve their problems by knowing how to implement ideas. We iterate potential directions until they find the one they can proudly stand behind. We exist to mediate bad decisions. In effect – we’re their outsourced brain.

If creating were as easy as using software proficiently, everyone who knew Word would have created novels in their spare time. Those who knew Excel would have balanced their budgets with aplomb, and skilled Outlook users could send Html emails to their family without batting an eye.

And so more important than learning the tools, a young designer must accept that their first job is rooted in psychology: How do you lead a team through a series of open-ended decisions?

We’ve found that the greatest obstacle to decision-making is fear. It crops up in emails, or in conference calls, veiled through feedback, or tucked away in a hurried voicemail. Giving up control even for a moment is hard. It takes trust and respect and asks you to forget the potential failures that could lie ahead. Most people invite fear in for dinner. And once inside your heart, fear doesn’t leave easily. It makes itself home and infects choices and undermines your ability to act. How can a project possibly move forward when filled with so much doubt?

“I’m afraid for my job.” “I’m afraid my board won’t like this.” “I’m afraid the president will hate that.” “I’m afraid customers will dislike it.” “I’m afraid we went too far.” “I’m afraid we didn’t go far enough.”

We’ve worked with hundreds of start-ups. Every single start-up that had a problem deciding on a design for a logo or business card has failed. Not one, not five, every single one.

And the reason is that small decisions are reflections of larger decisions. If you are filled with fear and doubt when it comes to pointing at a brand you admire, you’ll see this same fault amplified 100x when the important business decisions arrive. After all, the color of your logo won’t matter if you don’t satisfy your clients in time.

So a note to the young designers: When looking for good clients, find the fearless. They don’t have time to mull over doubt. You’ll see them by the trail of success they’ve left behind and the strength to trust over worry.

And a note to entrepreneurs: Your job is to stare fear in the face and keep moving forward.

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