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What’s stopping you from being an innovator?

Book Review: F.E.A.R. can make change work for you and your bank

Make Change Work For You: 10 Ways To Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty. Perigee/Penguin Random House, 302 pp. Make Change Work For You: 10 Ways To Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty. Perigee/Penguin Random House, 302 pp.

Do you or your bank face uncertainty, as you look to the future? 

Is there more you wish to achieve?

Are you concerned with even remaining relevant? 

If, like most bankers, you answered yes to these questions, Scott Steinberg—CEO of TechSavvy, a consulting and market research firm—has a solution: Make F.E.A.R. your friend.

Do so, he promises, and you’ll future-proof yourself and realize personal and professional success.

What kills innovation in the egg?

The key to successfully navigating current and future changes is innovation. How we respond to change and the actions we choose to take (or choose not to take, which in itself is a choice) will determine our future success.

Steinberg warns that our fear, anxiety, and hesitation in the face of uncertainty are barriers to success—and ones that we place on ourselves. Energy devoted to this defeatist behavior limits our ability to identify and deploy innovative solutions to make the most of the uncertainty we all face.

The good news, according to Steinberg, is that through managing the emotional responses we feel when faced with seemingly difficult choices—and an understanding of the principles for making better decisions—we can be future-proof.

What’s holding you back?

What are the biggest constraints that you or your company faces in executing on innovative ideas?

Author Steinberg shares an internal study by Royal Dutch Shell where the two biggest problems faced by their employees weren’t lack of resources or time, but, rather, lack of risk tolerance and resistance to change.

This challenge is what I took to be the book’s primary theme: How we limit ourselves through our fears, anxieties, and insecurities.

(While Steinberg doesn’t explicitly address it, I would add confusion to the list. Often, not knowing how or where to start forms barriers to our personal and professional success.)

In companies, the challenges manifest themselves as an unsupportive culture, one that fosters fear and anxiety, where processes don’t exist to enable the pursuit of innovative ideas that presents the barrier. Positive change can’t grow where it isn’t cultivated.

Steinberg’s contention is that barriers can be overcome. He insists that we can make better decisions, ensure optimum productivity, and respond more effectively to any scenario through the use of what he calls the “F.E.A.R.” problem-solving model: Focus, Engage, Assess, React.

The premise of the model is an effective way to solve problems. More fully stated, F.E.A.R. stands for:

Focusing on the challenge before you.

Engaging directly in addressing the challenge.

Assessing responses to your tactics.

Reacting, based on what you’ve learned.

Steinberg provides several examples. One I found especially interesting was at Master Lock, where following the F.E.A.R. model enabled the company to successfully counter significant competitive challenges that threatened its future.

Steinberg grabbed me with this segment leading into the Master Lock case:

“In the mid-‘90s, padlock maker Master Lock, an eighty-year-old corporate institution, faced a mounting threat in the form of value-priced foreign competitors, who threatened to transform its brand-name products from preferred goods into cheap commodities.”

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

Master Lock President John Heppner’s solution impressed me—turning away from price competition to instead become known for superior design. Additionally, he rethought the company, turning it, as Steinberg says, “from a hardware manufacturer to producer of premium security products for cars, sporting goods, and retail outlets.”

Anticipating challenges before they have an effect can allow you to employ the F.E.A.R. model and plan for and exert a major influence over the potential outcome of events.

Future-proofing you or your brand

So, though there’s an element of common sense to it, this, in essence, is how you “future-proof” yourself.

Steinberg defines being future-proof as: “… being flexible, greeting change, and innovating your way out of problems by training yourself to put fear on the backburner, make decisions under duress, and make the most of the tools and resources available.”

The author believes that:

• Everyone is an innovator.

• Change is your secret weapon.

• Disruption drives learning, growth, and success.

• Relevancy is reinvention.

• Flexibility makes you future proof.

This is a powerful and inspiring message for those with the determination and desire to succeed.

We all have the capability to be future-proof, but it will take overcoming our fears, of which, Steinberg notes seven that are especially dangerous: fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of losing control, fear of rejection, fear of confrontation, fear of isolation, and fear of change.

Taking action in the face of uncertainty is always difficult. “To succeed in increasingly unpredictable and uncertain environments, we can’t simply remain static,” Steinberg writes. “Rather, we must constantly change, adapt, and strive to fan the sparks of innovation.”

There is risk in both taking action and in not taking action. Intended or not, doing nothing is a choice, one which relinquishes the initiative to others.

Good advice. Now how do I apply it?

Practical application of the book’s principles is something I would have liked Steinberg to cover in more depth. Frankly, he tends to oversimplify what it takes to put his advice into action.

Consider these two passages from the book:

“Watch for emerging trends, but avoid those bright and shiny fads and fleeting diversions that can steer us off the most direct path to success. You can do this by thinking several steps ahead and dealing with even the most challenging adds by picking the time, place, and condition under which you’ll fight your battles.”

“You don’t have to be a master strategist. Merely look to the horizon to anticipate coming trends in the business or job market and then prepare yourself to be at the right place with the right capabilities, resources, and contacts at the right time.”

Good advice. However, separating the signal from the noise and focusing on the “right” things is not such an easy task.

Let’s think about Steinberg’s ideas in a banking context for a minute.

Take payments. The payments industry is going through significant changes, with new platforms, products, and capabilities being launched, seemingly, every day.

Which payments platform/product will win? How quickly will consumers move from debit cards to alternative payment options like Apple Pay? How soon will merchants be ready to accept the new methods—and which new methods? How will banks maintain their relevance in the payments ecosystem?

These are all real challenges, genuine questions that bankers face today. They would do well to follow Steinberg’s advice on how to approach planning for the future. But it won’t be easy.

To his credit, Steinberg does speak to the commitment, courage, and grit required to execute on your plan and be in the position to capitalize on the change. Where his readers could benefit would be in a more balanced view on what it will take to get there.

Significantly, Steinberg offers a bit of guidance on asking for help. This is a much overlooked skill. A good inclusion—but I would have liked him to explore the matter in more depth. I have found that asking for help can be one of the most powerful tools available. Not only are most people willing, within reason, to assist, the act of asking for help goes a long way towards engendering trust.

Not letting pride—or fear (the emotion)—get in your way and seeking help can open doors, make resources available, and create allies in your quest to be future-proof.

Good book—but I wanted more

I recommend Make Change Work For You for anyone interested in learning how to make better decisions, especially in times of change. Steinberg’s work serves as a good reminder of what it takes to be successful.

Overall, while I believe the book tends to oversimplify how readily principles can be put into action, it is a worthwhile read. I also liked that the book is structured so that you can easily skip to sections that best resonate with your own challenges. The action steps at the end of each chapter are helpful summaries.

Additionally, Steinberg’s use of stories effectively illustrates how the principles can be leveraged to achieve success. One example, drawing a lesson from famed magician Harry Houdini:

“My chief task has been to conquer fear,” the illusionist once explained. “The public sees only the thrill of the accomplished trick. They have no conception of the tortuous preliminary self-training that was necessary to conquer fear … no one except myself can appreciate how I have to work at this job every single day, never letting up for a moment. I always have on my mind that thought that next year I must do something greater, something more wonderful.”

Sounds a lot like modern American business, doesn’t it? Greater? More wonderful?

Better get started.

Brian Higgins

Brian Higgins is first vice-president–digital, payments & innovation for First Financial Bank, a $8.7 billion-assets community bank headquartered in Cincinnati serving Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. He is a frequent contributor to Since joining First Financial Bank in September 2012 Higgins has leveraged 20 years of financial services experience to bring a fresh perspective on the challenges faced by community banks. Previously Higgins worked for Vantiv Payment Solutions and Fidelity Investments, serving in a variety of roles in business leadership (Operations, Product, and Marketing) and strategic planning. Contact him at [email protected]
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