The reality of our world is this: competition is increasing, the pace of change is accelerating and even the once successful companies find themselves amongst the disrupted. Another reality we, as business leaders, must face is the struggle to stay relevant and rise above the reality of our world.
We can do this by stepping out of our comfort zone and take risks.
As Mark Zuckerberg once said: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking any risks.”
We can never hope to achieve success unless we’re willing to embrace change and risk and, sometimes, the discomfort of failure. In fact, these days we must be willing to get comfortable with failure if we want to stay relevant.
The Comfort Zone
The “comfort zone” concept is not new and dates back to an experiment in 1908 by psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson. Their findings suggested a relationship between a certain level of anxiety and performance of tasks, indicating a comfort zone we are constantly in.
By definition in the Cambridge Dictionary, the comfort zone is “a situation in which you feel comfortable and in which your ability and determination are not being tested”.
The point about the comfort zone is there is really nothing wrong with it. But the longer you stay in your own comfort, the more likely you and your organisation fall behind in the constantly changing world.
The Three Downfalls of the comfort zone
The choice between getting out of a comfort zone and remaining in it can be the difference between a business rising as a disruptor or falling into the ranks of the disrupted. Let’s look at three reasons why.
The comfort zone does not necessarily mean the safe zone, especially in our rapidly changing world.
Even a successful business that refuses to step out of its comfort zone ultimately gets disrupted. Without change, there’s no progress for yourself or your organisation, and for change to happen, you must venture outside the zone.
Staying in the comfort zone can lead to missed opportunities.
This happens when you remain as you are without going beyond to try new things. Comfort usually leads to the dismissal of new opportunities, because organisations assume that the way they are is good enough, so why bother changing? It is only when you step out of that comfort zone that you’ll be able to see those opportunities and seize them.
Third, the comfort zone acts as a roadblock to organisational growth, as well as your own.
Rarely will you see organisations growing while still within their comfort zones. Just like opportunities, growth is something that is out of reach when you’re boxed within your comfort zone. Yerkes and Dodson explained in their research that being in a state of comfort creates a stable level of performance. But that also means there’s no development or growth as your performance is constantly the same.
Taking Risks and Getting Out of the Comfort Zone
Some failure is unavoidable when you take chances or risks. Not everything you try will work out, but that’s the only way you can ever accomplish anything.
As a great leader you need to do two things to help your organisation escape the comfort zone: become the role model for embracing failure and change the culture to celebrate failure. At the same time, you need to change the system to fail earlier, faster, and more cheaply.
I know that failure can bring discomfort to many people. It is difficult to be willing to step into the unknown and take risks, but sooner rather than later you will need to learn (and lead others in most cases) to embrace failure as part of the process of experimentation. It’s not easy, but it’s becoming more of a necessity and less an option in the current business climate.