Staying positive through ‘innovation anxiety’ at the start of a new project

Good Morning Incubator Fellows!

My name is Katie and this is my first post for the Education Incubator blog (more details on me below). I’ve decided to focus in on ‘innovation anxiety’ and how it can be turned around to our favour! I hope it contains some #MondayMotivation inspiration for you as you undertake your new Incubator projects.

Project kick-off - a roller coaster ride!

Starting a new project can be exciting, right?

Enthusiasm and high hopes bubble up when grant money is approved, a new business deal is struck, or a new contact seems to promise the world [read: the funding or industry connection you’ve sought for years!]. At this moment you feel buoyant, like anything is possible, and dreams really do come true. It’s. All. Good.

But. If you’re anything like me, it’s not all plain sailing. It’s usually not long before that critical little voice pipes up in your head asking…

Do I have enough time/ resources/ contacts or skills to deliver this? Did they really understand my project proposal? Was I too ambitious? What if it doesn’t work? I don’t think I can do it! 

Kept unchecked, anxieties can snowball from small, valid concerns with project time frames or role allocation, to full-blown ego insecurity and existential crisis (you’re ready to hand back the money, quit your academic post, take a gap-year and train as a yoga teacher in Bali, or fulfill your childhood dream of opening a cafe!).

Newfound confidence can be swiftly knocked down by insidious feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt about one’s ability to deliver. Anxiety can creep up and no sooner than it arrives does the initial flourish of elation dissipate. Before you know it, you’re stuck. Panicking. And not sure what to do next. Or who to ask for help. Desperate times.

A new project isn’t always delightful. It can be unnerving. Daunting. Even overwhelming.

But is this situation unusual or necessarily negative?

Innovation anxiety - a common complaint

Innovation anxiety (or more colloquially ‘the project wobblies’) as a phenomenon is something I’ve experienced personally as a doctoral student, and witnessed in other young professionals new to the responsibility of project management. 

It is an entirely normal reaction to taking on a new challenge, especially if you’re in the field of innovation where stakes are high, resources are tight and outcomes aren’t guaranteed.  

As a former innovation grant-writer I’ve noticed that it is entirely natural for a sense of unease to manifest when the onus of project delivery is upon you, and a project monitoring officer is nipping at your heels for the monthly report.

So, how can we keep innovation anxiety at bay?

Can we turn it around to work in our favour?

Embracing the unknown - positively! A lesson from Sir Alexander Fleming.

First, at these times it is worth reminding yourself that in the field of research and innovation, uncertainty and the unfamiliar are an integral element; sometimes ideas may simply just not work out as expected, and that is a totally valid outcome.

Second, it is possible that the unexpected may even constitute an unanticipated project success. Did you know penicillin was discovered by accident? Due to Sir Alexander Fleming’s careless lab protocol, he left a Staphylococcus contaminated petri dish to fester during his two-week holiday, and upon his return noted a blue/ white mould called Penicillium notatum that had bactericidal properties – penicillin!

Sometimes, whether due to human error or pure serendipity, or more strategically when a bit of breathing space is built in for reflection, new ideas and discoveries can emerge that set us on a new path. New ways forward become visible and soon enough renewed hope is fast on the horizon. So step back. See what happens.

If you’re experiencing any ‘project wobblies’, you are not alone.

Self-doubt haunts even the most consummate academics, experienced professionals, and business folk long-in the game, yes, even your scary boss despite their brave face. When you’re feeling daunted it is the perfect time to step back, look at the big picture and assess what resources you’ll need to get the job done. Panic is a often symptom that you’re questioning your resources or ability to achieve something, so first of all, STOP. And take a break to reflect and regroup.

If any of this speaks to you, congratulate yourself, you are 100% human and you have the resources at your fingertips to make this work. Don’t drown in a morass of project panic or self-doubt alone. Get in touch!

Moving forward, together.

We at the Education Incubator are here to help.

As mentioned at the start, my name is Katie. I am a new Project Officer here at the Education Incubator. I have a variety of experience including innovation grant writing, teaching in secondary and FE sector, and I have a PhD in Human Geography from Exeter. I appreciate the pressures of delivering academic and commercial projects when there is a financial sponsor and tight turnaround.

My masters was in Sustainable Development, where I worked across various sectors to support innovation and change for an ecological future.  In my spare time I am training as person-centred Counsellor, which is flows from my interest in mental health and wellbeing. You can catch me visiting Embercombe for the odd weekend away to clear my head and reconnect in nature. 

I’m excited to be joining the Education Incubator in its second year, and hope that together we can deliver some fantastic innovative pedagogic projects. 

Don’t be a stranger – get in touch.

Best wishes,

Katie

 

Higher Education Project

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