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Brené Brown: Being Vulnerable Is a Key to Innovation

Brené Brown believes in the power of vulnerability.

At the Inc. 5000 conference in Palm Springs on Wednesday, Brown, the founder of Brave Leaders Inc. and a professor at the University of Houston, expanded on her viral TED Talk on the subject. She called vulnerability one of the “Four Pillars of Courage,” along with clarity of values, trust, and “the ability to get back up”–that essential stick-to-itiveness that sustains a business.

The challenge for a business leader, according to Brown, is to answer this question: “Can you get the people around you to answer their personal call to courage, in the service of your work?”

From her countless research interviews and consulting jobs, Brown is aware that discussing emotional turmoil at work may sound counterproductive. But the ability to show fear and uncertainty is a prerequisite to effective teamwork, she said. Innovation comes as the result of dealing with doubt and being willing to face hard conversations.

“Vulnerability is the willingness to show up when we can’t control the outcome,” Brown explained. That’s a hard thing to do–sharing your personal frustrations can be scary. “We have fallen victim to the idea that we’re supposed to be comfortable all the time,” she added. But that’s not where progress comes from.

“If you’re brave with your life, you’re going to get your ass kicked,” Brown said frankly. With bravery comes the certainty of failure, and yet there is no other avenue to success. Innovators and trailblazers have to accept that they will fall down along the way, and learn how to pick themselves back up, she said.

Brown also cited a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt that has informed her perspective as a businessperson:

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; […] 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.

She encouraged the audience to figure out the short list of people in their lives who are “actually in the arena” along with them, striving and taking risks, and to turn to those people for feedback. Vulnerability doesn’t mean accepting criticism from just anyone, but it does mean being open to learning from the people whose opinions really matter.

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