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The promise of the empty jar

By June 18, 2010Myth or Reality

I heard this story the other night:

There’s a CEO of a company in Manhattan that has a Fear Jar on his desk. And whenever anyone in the office says something fearful, they have to put $1 in the Fear Jar. At the end of the year, there was enough money in the jar to finance the company’s holiday party.

One of about 100 things I find fascinating about that story is the CEO’s definition of ‘fear’. It encompassed:

  • negativity
  • anger
  • frustration
  • dissatisfaction
  • unkindness
  • fatalism
  • doubt
  • distrust

This CEO was smart enough to know that every one of these feelings/behaviors is sourced from fear. And there is some serious fear in that company as evidenced by the holiday party funding.

What would happen if you had a Fear Jar on your desk? How full would it be if you opened it up to your office, your community, your family. What if it was just for you?

How ‘rich’ would you be?

Image credit: Caro’s Lines

Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • Van says:

    If MY boss had a “Fear Jar” on his desk I’d go broke. I’m always expressing a bit of doubt over some questionable marketing things we launch. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. If you “doubt” it’s the best you want to fine tune it for success.

    Still a fascinating social experiment! And funny that he threw a party from “Fear Money”!

  • I loved this story!

    I once consulted with an organization, where the founder members said, we want to create an organization where people don’t need to feel fear. So they had some amazing policies in place. Unlimited sick leave. Unlimited maternity leave. No check on attendance (time or days). As long as work got done, nobody asked wierd questions about where you were.

    I loved it!

    • Jacki Dilley says:

      I appreciate your telling us about this company. Unlimited maternity leave — wow! Now that’s progressive:
      pro-family, pro-women, pro-kids. Do you know how the company is doing presently? I hope they’re

  • Ron Miller says:

    Interesting approach, but I also think you have to foster an atmosphere where people can openly question and debate without fear (if you will) of being called negative. Sometimes the people being negative are just that, but sometimes they be pointing out flaws in the approach and they shouldn’t have to fear repercussions (if even if it’s just putting money in a jar on the CEO’s desk) for brining up valid holes in a strategy.


    • Julie Roads says:

      Ron – this was a 2 minute story I heard about a company – a successful one. I think we can safely assume that they had a lot of flows in place for improvement and chenge, etc…

      Do you really think this was all they did? Threaten their employees with finance charges for being negative or questioning methods? Come on…

      My understanding was that it was a cool tool he used for this team to really notice how they communicate…when most of us just spew without really hearing what, how and why.

  • Uzma says:

    Wow, what an unusual story and completely new way to deal with fear. I would be very rich if I had a fear jar.Now to be poor again. Kinda life the Sufi perspective of loosing everything, of becoming empty or poor, to wander without attachment to fear and in love. Thanx for the great post.

  • OH Snap! I love this idea as a tool for bringing fear to your consciousness.

    One of my favorite quotes recently was this:

    “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.”-Carl Jung

    What an exercise to bring the unconscious conscious. Plus you hit where it’s probably felt the most, in the wallet.

  • This is fabulous, Julie! My first reflection was wondering how full the jar might be – and thinking maybe it would be a good exercise to take on. My second (and better) reflection had me recognizing that though my fears exist and need to be named, I’m more interested in getting “rich” from places of strength, courage, initiative, creativity, and hope. A different jar to fill, for sure, but one that invites the faith and truth that repays in far more than $1 bills.

    Thanks for this.

  • Jed says:

    Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it protects us at times. I suspect what this CEO is talking about is more along the lines of negativity…which can stifle productivity and creative thinking.

    • Julie Roads says:

      Well, Jed. It was called the Fear Jar – but I explained his broader definition. See my comment to Ron – and also PicsieChick’s below. Of course there is more to this.

      Are all men this literal? Or is it just you and Ron? ;)

      • Renae C says:

        Well Julie, just so you know – it’s not only the guys. I wondered the same thing as Ron and Jed. I wandered over from a fb post by Ronna. While I agree that some of the emtions on the list are secondary emotions, possibly driven by fear, and while I see the point of working to eliminate fear – I have to admit that my initial thought was that I would not want to work in an office where any frustration, doubt or dissatisfaction was penalized. I guess it’s because I question authority a lot. And those questions don’t necessarily come from a place of fear. In fact, asking the questions often demands I face down my fear – especially in a hierarchical, masculine, patriarchal organization – in order to bring to light some truth.

        So, just thought you might like to know that someone besides a guy had these thoughts. Bringing consciousness to our communication is critical – and this indeed may be a cool tool to do that. But it raised some questions for me too.

        • Julie Roads says:

          I know sarcasm is hard to come by online…but I really was kidding. Didn’t honestly think they both thought that because they were men. Regardless I find all of the comments fascinating – especially the fact that some people went to ‘punishment’ while others went to ‘enlightenment’…

          Thanks for adding your thoughts.

  • PicsieChick says:

    At first I was thinking that the exercise re-inforced people’s fears by rewarding them with a party….but the more I think about it, the more it seems that the mere exercise of naming your fear, admitting that it is lurking there, removes a lot of its power. When we keep our fears in the dark, behind the curtains, they gain dimension and strength that withers in the clear light and thought of consciousness.

    The party at the end would be so full of light and laughter that the last of the fear demons would melt away into flimsy memories.

    I wonder if they raised as much money in the second year.

    Hugs and butterflies,

  • Julie Roads says:

    Ronna and Picsie, Tony and Uzma – Love your takes on this.

  • Andi says:

    Great idea! I have a swear jar at work. Every time I swear I have to pay a $1, but so do my co-workers. At the end of the year we take ourselves out to a nice lunch with lots of drinks!

  • Jacki Dilley says:

    Thanks, Julie — I love this idea.

    I’m currently working on an article about taking small steps of generosity. I’ll be linking to this story — it’s a fun and creative take on doing good.

    I first heard about you this morning when I listened to Srini Rao interview you for his Blogcast. Your comments were so helpful — I took lots of notes.

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