There is something about the human DNA that makes the majority of us wary of taking any risks and going beyond our comfort zones. Even though society very generously rewards the risk takers when they succeed. It is, probably, this very reward structure that thwarts many from taking the risks. As society can get equally punishing when the risk does not materialize into success.
As Margie Warrell, intrepid Australian, inspirational speaker, master certified coach and author of the book Stop Playing Safe states, nothing can be accomplished from within our comfort zone. It is only when we give up the perceived security this zone supposedly surrounds us with, that we can create new opportunity, build capability and grow influence. According to Warrell, the perceived comfort zone is surrounded by two concentric circles. The “Courage Zone” which encompasses growth and opportunity. And the “Terror Zone” that is enveloped by paralysis and overwhelming fear.
If you let the terror zone expand it pushes your courage zone down, keeping you surrounded by your comfort zone for all time to come. On the other hand, if you expand the perimeter of your courage zone, your confidence to take on the bigger challenges in the world will expand exponentially.
In business, the comfort zone is never a good place to be in. Especially in today’s world where fast-paced external environmental and fickle customer demands encroach on the comfort zone. In recent memory, Blackberry Ltd has been the poster boy for a company that has committed uncalled for suicide by failing to get out of its comfort zone. For a company that revolutionized the mobile telephony industry in 1999, it has met with a very ignominious end. From a position of dominance where it controlled the smartphone market, Blackberry (then called Research in Motion) failed to innovate and bring out newer appealing products. It was well ensconced in its comfort zone and did not take notice of, then, upstart players like Apple. The net result is that it has completely lost market share and has been reduced to a insignificant player. Much like a mosquito bite on an elephant’s back.
In early 1990s’, Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad, noted professors of corporate strategy, co-authored a treatise called The Core Competence of the Corporation and first propounded the concept of core competencies. This called for companies to concentrate on what they did best and not look beyond the “comfort zone” of their acquired competencies. Businesses were advised to shift “context” activities to specialist partners. As the business scenario changed dramatically, the core versus context distinction is less clear and highly fluid.
As a small and medium business owner your comfort zone will be under attack every day. But, Francisco D’Souza, CEO of Cognizant Technology Solutions states, these attacks can create tremendous opportunities to challenge established practices and win against your competition. By continually questioning conventional wisdom, reinventing work and welcoming disruptive innovation, you can increase your courage zone to achieve breakthrough levels of success. This, according to D’Souza, means thinking fast and thinking forward. It, in no way, recommends you throw caution to the winds and begin to take rash steps. It only means that you abandon prolonged debates on strategy in favour of quick decision making based on reliable data. It means being agile and continually re-inventing your business processes and workplace environments to make it easier for you to ride any wave of change.
Encourage your entire team to challenge their personal comfort zones. Create processes that help your team to identify their blind spots. Facilitate their escape from conventional norms by allowing them to take on professional challenges beyond their personal comfort zones.
Make continuous learning a part of your company’s DNA, because it is not what you know today that counts – it is how you acquire, refine and apply new knowledge that will be critical.
So, go ahead. Make discomfort your new comfort zone. You can only transform your business, blaze new trails, expand your capabilities and continuously drive performance and value.