Fear. It’s kryptonite to creativity. It sucks the life out of the new and interesting. Given the demand for new thinking and innovation, you’d think we’d have figured out how to shake it. Maybe we could, but our fear of the unfamiliar kicks in and stop us. It’s a disheartening contradiction.
In healthcare, we’re confronted by fear all of the time. “That’s not how we do it” or “He doesn’t fit our mold” are sure signs of innovation being crushed. The fear is amplified by the regulated environment in which we exist. When you see research structured to support already-formed opinions, you are in the presence of some serious fear.
Creating work that is new, interesting, and effective requires effort to overcome, or more accurately, manage our fears. To fight the backward pull of the status quo, we must stand up to our fears by finding strategies to be brave.
Given that I’m not inherently fearless, I’ve taken to studying the art of bravery. Here are a few things that I’ve learned so far:
Right-size your fear – Risk and fear run together like a pack of feral dogs. Risk makes people more fearful. So try shrinking the risk: make it smaller, make it less costly (in time and money). Atoms are more permanent than bits, so take your chances in digital. Broadcast is a big scary thing, so make a short film and release it on the web.
Be great for people – Helping people is powerful and courage-producing. It’s also an essential part of healthcare marketing. Make the idea worth the fight. Become a well-informed advocate for patients and physicians and bring those insights to life. It’s easier to be courageous when the spotlight stays on the people you’re helping rather than on you.
Jump in – Can you swim 10 miles? “Absolutely,” said the guy treading 10 miles from shore. When you find yourself in the presence of a good idea that makes you uncomfortable, jump in. Commit yourself to its success. Publicly declare your belief in and support for it. This commitment will make it hard to be afraid.
Speak plainly – Big fancy words (aka marketing speak, aka bullshit) are like fear-inducing pheromones. They force folks to wonder what you’re afraid of and what you’re hiding, and they may make your audience anxious or, worse, aggressive. Puffed- up language projects fear and insecurity, and you tend to get back what you put out. It’s impossible for others to be brave and follow you into a fog of puffery. Use plain English (or the language of your choice). Say what you’re thinking and why. And if you can’t say it plainly, it’s probably not ready to be said. Keep cooking it until it’s ready.
Be empathetic – In the agency world, bravery is a team sport and in healthcare, empathy is crucial. We’re connected to our partners, clients, colleagues, and co-conspirators. We need each other. Be sensitive to what you’re asking for. Demonstrate your empathy by helping your team be more courageous. It will make the work you do more rewarding for both you and the patients you’re serving.
Know less – Knowledge is essential to bravery. But being knowledgeable should never be confused with being a know-it-all (aka, ass). Being the smartest person in the room creates little opportunity for you to learn from everyone else. Be eternally curious. Find strength in listening.
Persist – Bravery is a muscle that you build by using it. Capitalize on every opportunity to be great for people, jump in, speak plainly, etc. Develop your own customized courageous formulation. Just like the best doctors and medical researchers never stop trying to find cures and remedies, healthcare agencies must never relent in their goal of helping people live healthier lives.
As healthcare marketers, we are asked every day to face down our fears and bravely go where we have never gone before. It’s essential to creating better outcomes. It’s also the only way we can make healthcare more user-friendly. While most of what it takes to be brave is obvious, it’s not easy. Which probably means bravery is simply another word for leadership.