Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How much of Scott Mautz’s discussion of a survey on fears should you take seriously – some or none?

On September 12, 2017 there was an article by Scott Mautz at the Inc. web site titled 11 Famous failures that will inspire you to success. (It also appeared the next day as a post on his blog. And it is on page 28 in the Google Books preview of his Find the Fire: Ignite Your Inspiration – and Make Work Exciting Again). He began with a startling statistic about fear of failure: 

“Nothing debilitates us as much or is as scary as a fear of failure.

In fact, research indicates that our fear of failure tops the list of our phobias with nearly one in three people having a fear of failure (31 percent), ahead of our fear of public speaking or fear of spiders (30 percent each) or even our fear of the paranormal (15 percent).

A close fifth was our fear of another Transformers movie being made.”

The last one is obviously meant to be humorous, but the others seemed serious. I didn’t recall seeing those numbers before, so I clicked on his link for that research, which led me to a press release from October 14, 2015 titled Research reveals fear of failure has us all shaking in our boots this Halloween. It said that Linkagoal had a survey of 1,083 American adults done by the commercial polling firm YouGov. The press release talked about fears, not phobias. Back on October 11, 2011 I blogged about What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia? That press release listed the percentages shown in the following bar chart:

Compare them with Scott’s Top Five list:

His begins with fear of failure (31%) rather than fear of horror films (32%). He also adds fear of public speaking (30%).  

I try to get detailed results from a survey, so I searched on Google but couldn’t find them for Linkagoal. Instead I found a blog post titled What scares us most: spiders or failing? Linkagoal’s Fear Factor Index clears the cobwebs that showed an infographic with another top five fears list with horror movies first (but that added fear of flying at 20%):

I emailed Scott Mautz as follows:


How did you decide that fear of failure tops the list? The press release about research you linked to in your second paragraph instead says it was fear of horror films. And, it says nothing about fear of public speaking, so where did you find that 30% statistic?

An infographic in a blog post from Linkagoal lists the Top 5 Most Scariest Things, which were: Horror movies - 32%, Failure - 31%, Spiders - 30%, Flying - 20%, and Ghosts -  15%. Public speaking isn’t on that list either.

Richard Garber

He replied:

Hi Richard-

thx for taking the time to engage with your question. I should have made it clearer in the article that the top fears we humans have comes from a cross section of a number of sources, not just the one I linked to. Also, important to note that what humans find scary and what they have a fear of are two different things.  For example, for certain watching scary movies is very scary to adults.  But it does not rank at the top for what humans are afraid of- they are not afraid of watching scary movies- they're afraid of failing.  Hope this helps. 


Based on that evasive and condescending reply, I don’t think ANY of Scott’s discussion of the Linkagoal survey should be taken seriously. How fears rank can be stated either as what more people fear (like Scott did, in units of percent) or in terms of what people fear more (on a scale from say one to ten, via something psychologists call a fear survey scale). Back on October 23, 2012 I blogged about how Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear. That post linked to another one from October 13, 2012 titled In a 1992 study of U.S. university students, fear of public speaking ranked sixth for men and eighth for women. In that study fear of failure really was ranked first. 

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