The Safety Matrix


There’s something that’s been eating at me lately and I’m trying to work my way to the bottom of it. There’s a lot of buzz within organizations that perceive themselves as creative-friendly about fostering a “safe environment” for ideas to flourish. I agree, and I’m all for allowing for safe places and not pre-maturely judging concepts, but there’s a sinister downside to all of this buzz about safety.

The reality is that great creating requires risk, and a part of that risk is the fear of not getting it right. When we become obsessed with safety, we can run the risk of smoothing over our hard edges and creating a workplace where everyone gravitates toward mediocrity. A place where there are no bad ideas. A place where we inadvertantly become less creative via the very systems that are supposed to free us up.

Call me crazy, but I think it’s a good thing if in the back of someone’s mind is the possibility of losing their job if they drop the ball in a significant way. I think it’s a good thing if there’s just a tinge of fire under someone’s pants as they are driving toward a deadline. This is not to say that these things will ever come about, but when we create an environment that embraces mediocrity because everyone subsconsciously realizes it’s in their short-term best interest, we’re eating away at our very soul.

There’s a principle called the “safety matrix” I’m working on. It embraces that there is a certain amount of safety required for great creating, but a certain amount of danger required for great productivity. After all, ideas are nothing without implementation.

As I’ve often said – safety is not an option. Eventually, all creating requires risk – be it organizational or personal.

Just my 2 cents…what are your thoughts?

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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