I’ll admit it: I like to be right.
When I’m right, my ego glows with satisfaction. I love the feeling of closure when the two sides of my hypothesis turn out to match. Growing up, I thrived on being a good student and achieving high grades. Being right: what’s not to like?
It turns out that what makes you a good student can get in the way of continued growth and development.
Last week, I worked with a group of new members of the adult workforce. Recent college graduates, some were literally in their first week on the job. Recruited into a top tier company, they’re all smart, hard working, and ambitious.
I led them through a complex business simulation. The project did not have a “right” answer. Instead, there were multiple potential directions to head in, lots of scattered information, tight timelines, and no singular solution to the business problem.
Sound familiar? Welcome to the “real” world.
Swimming in simulation’s “sea of ambiguity” made some people really anxious. Working in this vague environment was very different to how they’d operated at school. After struggling for some time, Alicia, one of the participants, had a great insight:
What got me here isn’t going to get me to where I want to go. I need to get outside of my safety zone of thinking there’s a right answer. That’s where I can keep learning.
It can feel scary to move out of the comfort zone, but that’s where growth and learning happen. The learning zone is the place of development and opportunity.
Many people resist leaving the comfort zone because on the far side of the growth zone is the overwhelm zone. This is where there’s too much, too soon, and too new. We can’t make sense of things here, we shut down, and retreat back to the comfort zone.
While the comfort zone seems safe, there are three huge downsides you could experience when only operating in the comfort zone:
When you stay in the comfort zone, you go and do the same things over and over again. In interviews with old people towards the end of their lives, it turns out their biggest regrets are not about the things they did. They regret they things they didn’t do. Staying in your safety zone means you’ll miss out on opportunities that you’ll regret later.
2. Less Creativity
Creativity is a process. That process starts with collecting and generating lots of ideas: the more, the better. Quantity is key. If you are unwilling to step outside of your comfort zone, you only have one set of ideas to draw on over and over again. You can’t create new solutions to new problems, because you keep going to the same old ideas for all your solutions.
3. Losing Flexibility and Open-Mindedness
The longer you stay in your comfort zone, the less you push up against the outer borders of it. Which means that over time, the borders start to shrink, and your comfort zone gets smaller and smaller. The net effect is that your tolerance for anything new and different diminishes. You literally become smaller-minded. Do you know those people who can only go certain places, spend time with certain people, and do certain things? Don’t become one of those people.
Moving outside of the comfort zone means taking a risk and being willing to “fail”. It also means being willing to succeed. After all, if you’re not failing, you’re not learning.
What techniques do you use to intentionally move into the growth/learning zone? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.