We are all originals. Each of us travels with our own life story, values and dreams for the future. We start forming these from the moment we enter this world and build on them as life experiences influence our hearts and minds. We currently live in a time of constant change and ambiguity: what I term the unknown.
While the unknown can cause considerable anxiety, it also provides a tremendous opportunity to apply our hearts and minds to generating smart ideas to make a difference. Never have we needed new ideas more to improve the lives of those around us.
Yet, when it comes to our own lives, all too often we step away from our original selves, deferring to the agendas and pushback of others rather than pressing forward with our ideas. Why is that, when there is so much richness in going after new ideas? Trying out a new product that improves health, building an initiative to help people communicate more effectively, or creating a service offering that creates tools to promote better collaborative thinking are all important and worthy of your pursuit.
The problem is that with every new idea, there is the distinct possibility our ideas might fail, encounter ridicule, or even cost us our job. They also might lead to something new, exciting and useful. In short, the road to learning whether a new idea will work is paved with uncertainty and scariness.
New ideas push people outside of their comfort zone. Instead of dealing with the discomfort, many people resist it and simply stall out, slipping into habitual defensive behaviors and losing the chance the ideas might be successful. That resistance might include yourself. While wanting to avoid stress is understandable, where would that leave you and your desire to improve the lives of others?
The key to moving ahead is to learn how to take chances and thrive on the bumpy road through all the unknowns you will encounter along the way to making something better happen.
FOUR STEPS THROUGH THE SCARINESS OF THE UNKNOWN
You cannot stop the pace of change. You can create ballast in yourself by understanding who you are, what you want to do and what behaviors might get in your way. Here are four steps toward embracing instead of than avoiding the discomfort that comes with innovation in a way that will move new ideas forward.
Discover your dreams for making things better
Success in the 21st century requires an entrepreneurial mindset. That means rather than coloring between the lines of what is known and usual, you should focus on what is new and needed in a rapidly changing world.
Winners in today's environment jump in with both feet and learn what they can about their customers, co-workers and communities. The grandmother in Hawaii who first came up with the idea of a Women's March in Washington started by looking at her four granddaughters and fearing that they would not have the opportunities she had enjoyed. She was a retired attorney, not a community organizer, but that did not stop her from putting an idea out there into her social media about organizing a national protest march to protect the rights of women and girls, including her granddaughters. She had no idea of how it would go, but she nevertheless plunged into the unknown with an idea to address an emerging need.
In the business world, new opportunities present themselves in every aspect of organizational life, whether it is the company's market position, work culture, talent development or new products. By exploring what is truly new and needed among your various stakeholders you will discover the ideas to make their lives better.
Develop a healthy attitude toward the discomfort of taking risks
New ideas require taking risks. Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury once said, "Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down." In other words, the entrepreneurial mindset accepts the scariness of the unknown as an asset rather than a liability.
With new ideas come risks. You won't know if they will work until you test them. Much can go wrong along the way. Your boss, colleagues, customers or even friends might think the ideas are stupid, irrelevant or too expensive. Your team could respond to working on them with loud criticism, cynicism, or passive-aggression.
The strong feeling of discomfort that new initiatives can cause may not by seen as cool, but at the same time it happens, a lot. In fact, the impulse to flee back into a less stressful place is normal. When you experience discomfort in yourself or in others, you have a choice: You can abandon the idea and go back to same old, same old, OR, you can embrace the scariness as part of the journey. Choosing the latter means you are on the way to something better.
Accept failure as your friend. When you try new things, failure is always an option. For many, it can be associated with shame, lower self-esteem and a reason to hide. These reactions come from many different places including cultural norms at your organization, negative comments from people pushing their own agendas or family of origin issues.
When failure occurs, embrace and celebrate it, especially when the idea is risky and laden with great potential. See it as a moment to pause, evaluate and recalibrate. Look at bumps along the road as learning opportunities, not reasons to slash headcount, slow down or abandon the quest.
Most of the time you misread the needs of your target audience. Use failure as an opportunity to summon up the courage to re-connect with them to learn what you missed in the first place. The conversations might be initially awkward as you learn things you did not know before about them and their needs. However, stay with it and a better idea will emerge. Then try the more informed new idea with the benefit of your new knowledge.
Overcome resistance (yours and theirs) to the discomfort of taking risks
When pursuing those new ideas, watch out for defensive behaviors. Human beings are messy. That's what makes working with them both wonderful and challenging. Unless you figure out a way to test a new idea without any humans involved, including yourself, you will have to deal with many counterproductive behaviors along the way. They will be especially evident while on the uncharted road to new things. The new causes stress, and stress raises defensive behaviors.
Defensive behaviors can give short-term comfort but will take you off the path of traveling to bigger horizons. Defenses are places to hide, and stop growing. Everyone has them. What matters is how they get in the way of your dreams, and then what you do about them.
There are many defenses that people adopt. Three very common ones are micromanagement, personalizing and conflict avoidance.
- Micromanagement gives you the illusion of having control over how something will turn out. In reality, it will only cut off the creativity of an eventual yet to be determined outcome as you obsess on details instead of the bigger vision. They also will numb the thinking of your team members.
- Personalizing will cause you to hear feedback on an idea as a judgment of your personal worth rather than a comment about the broader picture. A presentation may have failed because the audience recently heard a speech on the same topic and had had enough of it, you did not adequately understand their baseline knowledge, or there was someone in the audience who they all knew had tried the idea before at a previous company and failed. Whatever the case, none of those outcomes was a reflection on your self-worth. They are broader communication problems to be solved. Presentations can always be improved, but your value as a human being is not relevant to that improvement.
- Conflict avoidance is not knowing how the other person will react to something you say that they might not like. That uncertainty can be scary. It requires you to know your ultimate goal in the conversation. Do you need that person's friendship or just a respectful consent? Do you need him or her to buy into your whole idea or are you okay with them merely agreeing to approve your initiative and support its implementation? When you know your goal and values, you will know where to flex and where to hold firm through whatever takes place in the conversation.
Surface personal motivators for fuel
To move yourself and lead others through the discomfort of testing a new idea you need a clear sense of purpose.
The road toward better outcomes is uncomfortable. To travel its scary uncharted twists and turns to achieve something better, one needs a good reason to undertake it. This is where you can pull strength from your life story, values and dreams for the future. They define what we most care about, regardless of what others think. The stronger and more personal the reason, the better. Smart navigation of the twists and turns of change requires that you pay attention to what others need to be convinced. Even more, knowing your core beliefs will keep your feet planted solidly on the ground, allowing you to stand tall as you work your way through the testing ground of your new idea.
The Hawaiian grandmother who galvanized the Women's March cared deeply for the future of her granddaughters. That gave her the deep meaning she needed to take the gutsy and scary move of proposing to the social media universe the idea of a national march.
The purpose does not have to be deep. What it has to do is to motivate and provide emotional fuel. You might initiate a new project to provide a compelling tutoring program to young children in underfunded schools, because you remember how you benefited as a child from tutoring by your neighbor, or you simply want to show your rivalrous older sister that you too can make things happen. Either purpose will serve if it results in giving you the courage to push through the scariness of experimenting with program design, funding challenges and building engagement among the children themselves. The key is whether it will give you the courage to embrace the scariness of the uncertainty that comes with trying out new ideas.
Bringing to fruition new ideas to make things better is scary, but your willingness to embrace that discomfort means you may well be on the way to something good, and thus, is well worth the risk.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."