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Using fear as a business tool

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Fear is a good motivator. It’s the hidden engine behind many driven leaders, including Andy Grove, the force behind microprocessor giant Intel.

Even though fear is a dangerous emotion that can paralyze as well as motivate, Grove believes in the fear of failure more than the joy of success.

In Only the Paranoid Survive, Grove says the only way to cultivate the fear of losing in your employees is to feel it yourself. His own words:
  • “It is fear that makes me scan my e-mail at the end of a long day, searching for problems.”

  • “It is fear that makes me read the trade press (and) tear out particularly ominous articles … for follow-up the next day.”

  • “It is fear that gives me the will to listen to Cassandras when all I want to do is cry out, ‘Enough already, the sky isn’t falling,’ and go home.”
Example: In the 1980s, fear of earthquakes in California drove Intel to build additional manufacturing plants in New Mexico, Oregon, Arizona and Jerusalem. Although the “big one” hasn’t come yet, Intel generated the extra horsepower it needed when Compaq and Dell demanded powerful computer chips to compete with IBM.

Lesson: Paranoia may not sound like much fun, but Grove is the only high-profile leader who publicly advocates using fear as a business tool. Works for him.

—Adapted from Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American, Richard S. Tedlow, Portfolio.

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