September 29

On Creative Anxiety

I often meet what I call “nervous” creative pros. They are on edge, con- stantly worried about perception, risk, or organizational standing, and perpetually scanning the horizon for danger.

The phraseproductive paranoiawas introduced by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen in their bookGreat by Choice. They discovered that a healthy amount of the right kind of paranoia can lead to better results. They argued that for leaders, paranoia led to preparation, which led to ultimate success. “By preparing ahead of time, building reserves, pre- serving a margin of safety, bounding risk, and honing their disciplines in good times and bad, they handle disruptions from a position of strength and flexibility.” I agree with this assessment. However, there is a big dif- ference between productive paranoia and paralyzing paranoia.

Paralyzing paranoia is the kind that prevents you from taking any form of risk whatsoever because you are always more focused on the potential problems with an idea than with its possible upside. When this happens, even the smallest risk—introducing an idea, having a difficult conversation, investing a few hours on a hunch that might not pan out— can feel overwhelming. However, not doing those things comes with its own burden, which adds to your send of anxiety and paranoia. It’s a never-ending cycle.

It’s good to be “on edge” enough that you recognize the consequences of your behavior. It’s bad to be so on edge that you invent consequences that don’t even exist.

Paralyzing paranoia can prevent you from acting on your hunches, which only adds more weight to your anxiety.


Where are you experiencing paralyzing paranoia right now?

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