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  • March 27, 2014

Fear and Fruitful Projects

Off the top of my head, I can tell you that I’m afraid of flying, public speaking, and savory Decorative Illustration foods that contain hidden fruit. I’m also afraid of starting a new project. But, I dive into new projects just like I risk biting into mango every time I go for the summer roll, because I know that fear of the unknown isn’t a bad thing.

Fear is a natural reaction to the unknown, but as a society, we don’t really like to talk about it. Not many people will openly admit they’re afraid, because, well, it’s uncomfortable. Admitting your fears makes you vulnerable. It also makes you human. When it comes to the world of digital projects, admitting fear is sometimes likened to admitting defeat. It’s not. It’s a normal reaction to the various unknowns that exist at the start of a project.

When I’m apprehensive or afraid of certain aspects of a larger project, it’s usually because I have no idea how they will be accomplished. This used to make me freak out, but then I realized that worrying wasn’t helping—and it definitely wasn’t productive.

In any project, there are always lots of unknowns. I start a project knowing the basics, but the particulars are undefined. Creating a project plan really only outlines the process and goals. But, the unknowns still lurk. Identifying and recognizing these question marks upfront can save everyone a lot of headaches down the road.

I don’t believe that fear will ruin a project, but ignoring it might. Facing your fears can be the difference between a moderately and wildly successful project.

Let it out

I always ask clients at the beginning of projects what they think might cause the project to fail. It’s a bold question, but it works. By asking clients to help me identify potential risks, it lets them know it’s okay that they don’t have all the answers—and it sets the stage for an open, honest relationship. If clients are encouraged to share their fears at the beginning of projects, my hope is that they will continue to feel comfortable sharing anything and everything as the project progresses.

I don’t put the full burden on the client; I ask the project team its thoughts as well. Together, we identify the unknowns—the specific aspects of the project that we aren’t quite sure about and need to investigate. Not everything can be answered right away, but at least we’re aware of the unknowns.

Articulating fears as well as goals isn’t just helpful—it’s crucial to the project. The sooner we acknowledge any potential for failure, the sooner we can start working on how to turn that into potential for success. Trust your instincts, and don’t ignore that voice pointing out the red flags.

Talk through it

Once we’ve identified the unknowns together, we can start brainstorming solutions. The best part of working on a team is that everyone has different strengths, and what I think of as a huge obstacle might be a basic task with a simple solution to someone else. I’m not running the project alone, and the team is there to share the fears as well as the victories. Trust yourself, and trust your team.

Make mistakes

There will be mistakes. As with anything in life, sometimes you try things and they don’t work. If handled correctly, mistakes can actually make your project stronger—if you learn from them. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because they can lead to amazing discoveries. Trust the process, and embrace small failures.

I will never stop being afraid, and I’m sure I’ll continue to grip the hell out of the armrests every time a flight takes off, but I’m getting more comfortable with the idea that fear can help me focus. Is something freaking you out? There’s probably a reason for that. Don’t run away from it, because it will still be there when you get back.

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