Is Fear Running Your Business? Good

Corporate leaders need to get intimate with those diverse business fears that could make their company irrelevant, so they can put a plan together to shrink them down.

Strengths. Weaknesses. Opportunities. Threats.

For more than six decades, SWOT has been the go-to standard most businesses have utilized for annual planning.

But with all due respect to SWOT creator Albert Humphrey, every time I now use SWOT to assess what is and isn’t working in my business, I find that my “weaknesses” also ended up in “opportunities,” while my “strengths” sometimes landed in “threats.”

Cloudy, say what?

You have to tip your cap to Humphrey because, in the last 60 years, nothing has come close to knocking SWOT off its pedestal. When I started writing my book, “Return On Courage,” I assure you the last thing I thought I would craft was a better way to SWOT.

Coming out the other side, I found a new type of strainer that any organization could count on to run different facets of their business though—and it might even surprise you to learn where I landed when it came to that filter:


There’s a famous proverb that fear and courage are brothers.

That you can’t get to the courageous move without first channeling it through fear.

Of course, many of us at work suppress fear versus address fear. When we turn our cheek on business fears, hoping they won’t become true threats to our livelihood, we’re putting ourselves in grave danger (pun fully intended). The hospitality business didn’t take Airbnb seriously and, well, Airbnb is now the world’s biggest accommodation site on the planet.

Before we allow our emotions to get the best of us, I’d like to propose an unemotional look at how fear could be the greatest tool to proactively help you put a plan together.

Fearing More

Virgin Galactic astronaut Loretta Hidalgo once shared with me, “Fear is just a piece of information. It’s evolutionary, created to protect you. Fear is not trying to hurt you.”

As a guy who spent 1,000 days deconstructing “courage,” I’m not a fan of the word, “fearless.” I prefer we fear MORE.

That means getting intimate with those diverse business fears that could make your company irrelevant.

When was the last time you audited what could take your entire vertical down (industry fear)? Where could your product simply be stronger (product fear)? Is your message and story not as sticky as you hoped for (perception fear)? And do you worry you can’t speak freely because perhaps you’re part of a watch-your-back culture versus a got-your-back culture (personal fears)?

The hope here is to help corporate leaders proactively smoke out and address their business fears so they can put a plan together to shrink them down, versus the alternative, which is having them take YOU down.

Uber was the industry fear to taxis. In Southern California, it is now conceivable that scooter behemoth Bird could be an industry fear to Uber. Most companies are so focused on the day-to-day, they aren’t thinking about what could crumble their vertical. This is the opportunity. The intent here is to jolt that short-term thinking into a long-term plan. Put the business on pause for a few moments and think exponentially vs incrementally. You either have an industry fear or you are the industry fear. Which would you prefer to be?

Back in 2008, Dominos had a serious product fear. When you’re in the pizza business and, in testing, your pizza tastes better in someone else’s box (and their pizza tastes worse in yours) you have a problem that can’t be solved in 30 minutes or less. This was both a product fear for Dominos and a marketing perception fear. Dominos had the courage to throw out a 50-year-old legacy recipe and, through marketing, told America, “Oh, Yes We Did” change everything from the crust up. Their Return on Courage? Taking the stock price from $2.84 to over $300 in a single decade.

This is cheese, sauce, and dough, people.

If they can do it, so can you.

Remember, 52 percent of the Fortune 500 are now extinct. That number is expected to hold. Some 9,000 brands are forecasted to revolve on and off the Fortune 500 over the next six decades.

As a Seinfeld fan, I’ll admit I enjoy being able to say I’m in the fear shrinkage business (Google… “Seinfeld shrinkage”). Now is the time to make fear your friend. The businesses that win shrink fear. They turn the adage, “There’s no time like the present,” into “”There’s no time but the present.”

Being proactive, putting together a calculated plan, and then taking action on that strategy is the difference between being a stasis Coward Brand and a thriving, calculated Courage Brand.

Ryan Berman is the author of “Return on Courage” and the founder of Courageous, a change company that trains organizations how to unlock bold leaders, teams, and ideas. Berman also founded his own Courage Brand: Sock Problems, a charitable sock company that supports causes around the world by “socking” problems and spreading awareness.


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