I’m sure I’m not the only one who has reached their destination earlier than they hoped and sat in their driveway, catching the last few minutes of a radio program. On my way home from the grocery store this weekend, I encountered an interview with Dr. Brene Brown on the TED Radio Hour on National Public Radio. In the interview, Dr. Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, described her work with vulnerability and shame. She originally set out to study shame and the powerful specter it has over people’s lives. In her research, however, she recognized the importance of vulnerability in cultivating good relationships, being good parents and spouses and leading productive work lives. Her research on vulnerability was detailed in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
Her research has been captured in two different TED Talks and has been viewed by millions of people worldwide. Due to the fame and recognition Dr. Brown has received from her talks, she is often asked to give keynote addresses and presentations at business conferences. Most times, she explains, they ask her to speak on topics besides vulnerability. The most requested topics include innovation, creativity and change. What Dr. Brown said next kept me sitting in my driveway, as the ice cream melted in the grocery bags in the trunk of my car.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
Most people, Dr. Brown explains, see vulnerability as a weakness. They see being vulnerable as leaving one’s self open to criticism, doubt and failure. In Dr. Brown’s view, however, vulnerability is “the most accurate measure of courage.” It means putting yourself out there and taking the chance to fail, to be criticized and to be doubted. To be creative or innovative, you have to be willing to fail. You have to be courageous. As Dr. Brown explained to those in attendance at her latest TED talk, the TED conference is really an assembly of failures. The conference celebrates their great achievements but for most of the people in attendance, their failures far outnumber their successes. But they continue to take the risk, courageously face their self-doubts and open themselves to fail. They dare greatly.
To bring the point home, Dr. Brown quoted President Theodore Roosevelt from a speech he made on the Citizen in a Republic.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
As many campuses have headed back to class recently, it’s important to remember Dr. Brown’s work and President Roosevelt’s words. When you have that great instructional idea that you know could work out incredibly or fall flat on its face, be open to taking the chance. Be vulnerable. Put yourself out there. Be willing to stand in the arena, strive valiantly and innovate.