How to Conquer Doubt: Impostor Syndrome in Innovation

Many people are too blocked by impostor syndrome to bring great ideas and innovations to the table. How do we beat impostor syndrome and what game-changing innovation are we potentially losing to the impostor syndrome?

“I’m out of my depth.”

“I don’t belong here.”

“I’m gonna be found out.”

Ever had these kinda thoughts messing with your head? You could have a case of impostor syndrome. The feeling that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications. Its telltale signs are feelings of inadequacy, incompetence and failure, in the face of first-rate performance reports, promotions and grades.

But not to worry. It’s fairly common and it can be managed. In this post, you’ll get some handy hints on how to deal with this black dog of doubt.

First and foremost, you should take heart in that you’re not alone. Studies have shown a whopping 70% of people experience these feelings at some point in their life.

And you can be cheered knowing that it’s the high achievers who are most likely to suffer from it. So, you’re probably pretty smart and a bit of a success story. Just saying.

The Low Down on Impostor Syndrome

The concept of impostor syndrome was first given a label in 1978 when the psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term impostor phenomenon.

Impostor syndrome is defined as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".

You can feel its smack in multiple ways. For example, you are:

  • Unable to internalize achievements and downplaying accomplishments
  • Fear being “found out” or exposed as inexperienced or untalented
  • Avoid feedback
  • Reluctant to ask for help
  • Turn down new opportunities
  • Second guess decisions and avoid extra responsibilities
  • Overwork to the point of burnout to prove you’re “enough”
  • Fail to start or finish projects

A Downer for Innovation

Impostor syndrome is bad news, not just for you, but also for innovation. First up, those working in the innovation and creative roles are more prone to it. That’s cos innovation and creativity are thought of as “gifts”. These types are used to skills coming easily. So when they have to put in an effort to accomplish something, their brains tell them that’s proof they’re an impostor.

And crucially, impostor syndrome can inhibit or drive out creativity. Especially if the person thinks they have to come up with ideas that no-one on the planet has ever thought of - good luck with that!

An innovator that feels they’re a fake and a phony can be too blocked to bring great ideas and innovations to the table. Startups and entrepreneurs often struggle with this. “I don’t even believe in my own idea, how can I convince anyone else?” “It wasn’t entirely my idea, I did get inspiration from others, better keep it to myself.” Classic thinking patterns of an impostor.

Failure in Innovation

There’s an irony here in that the innovation community worships the ‘fail fast, fail often’ mantra. At least, it frequently espouses it. It's one thing to encourage people to fail fast and innovate. But what if someone is so constrained, they can't even begin to start failing, much less innovating?

In innovation, we need every single person to be able to take risks, make decisions, be critical thinkers. If something needs to be done, everyone needs to step up and take action, without fear of failure. And everyone needs to be personally engaged in highly collaborative teams.

Ridding the Impostor in the Room

How do we rid ourselves of this impostor in the room, then?

  1. Group work - experts in the syndrome say that one of the ways out of it is through group work. It’s vital to have a cohort of peers with whom you can bounce ideas off and chat about work.
  2. Outing the syndrome - workplaces should be outing the syndrome. They can run their teams through the official impostor scale developed by Dr Clance. Brainstorming on how to get out of the syndrome produces brilliant ideas and is a great way to build teams.
  3. Mentoring - innovation leaders need to mentor others to believe in themselves. This is because impostor syndrome thrives when there are few mentors to provide a reality check.
  4. Adopt a collaborative approach to innovation - if innovation is treated as an ongoing process rather than a one-time decision, promising ideas can move into a phase where the team works to de-risk them. You can use an innovation platform to help you here.

Some Final Tips

If you’re suffering from impostor syndrome, don’t let your dirty little secret steal your best ideas. Remember:

  • Being in the business of innovation means you’re dealing with uncertainty, risk, and … failure.
  • Admit you don’t have all the answers, and shouldn’t know everything - this doesn’t make you a fraud.
  • Thinking you’re gifted is hocus. Creativity is a skill you learn, practise and become proficient at.
  • Everyone’s in the same boat. Nobody’s an impostor.

And saving the best for last: take validation from the renowned speaker, Denise Jacobs: “You will only experience impostor syndrome when you are competent and skilled”.

Looking for an easy way to share your ideas, collaborate and beat the impostor syndrome? Look no further than our app.

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