Navigating your way through complexity in a rapidly changing, information-saturated world

The pace of change has increased, the growth in complexity has multiplied, and information has proliferated at an unprecedented pace.  We are in extraordinary times.  And unprecedented times call for unique and disciplined approaches if we are to survive and thrive. In this sixth of a series, I unpack a set of recommendations for strategies, processes, attitudes, habits and disciplines to build into your lives and businesses in order to help us survive and thrive in these unprecedented times.

We need to make sure that we are building into our lives and businesses the proper infrastructure to help us survive and thrive – both personally as well as organizationally.

It’s like building a sailboat designed for treacherous seas – we need to create the proper sails that propel us forward, and, at the same time, build in the proper keels that keep us on track.  This dynamic tension between the forces that propel us forward and those that hold us back is what allows us to live a life of balance and fulfillment and guides our businesses to realize the potential they have.

So far, we’ve identified these sails – those disciplines, attitudes, and habits that propel us forward — and keels – those that hold us down to unchangeable principles:

Keel: An articulated purpose or vision

Keel: The discipline of regular planning and reviewing

Sail: An acceptance of personal responsibility

Sail: An attitude of openness

It’s time for our next sailA propensity to take risks. 

Now, don’t get the wrong idea.  We’re not talking about skydiving here.  Nor are we talking about sinking your life savings in the new start-up internet company that your friend told you about.  I don’t mean taking risks that might endanger your health, safety, or long-term security.

Instead, I am talking about taking risks that force you to move out of your comfort zones on the job – risks that will stimulate you to stretch yourself, to become more competent, to gain skills that you may not have, to expand your abilities and, maybe, in so doing, help you become more effective and more efficient. Like our other sails and keels, this is both an attitude to build into your personal life as well as a trait to emphasize in your corporate culture.

Here’s an example. When I began my business, my focus was 100 percent on consulting.  I had never given a seminar in my life.  But I read the books on how to build a consulting practice, and all the experts recommended giving seminars as a way to build your consulting practice.  So, I determined to do so.

I developed a program, “How to Find, Interview, Select and Hire a Good Salesperson,” and approached the local business college with a proposal to jointly present it.  They agreed, and a few months later, I presented my first seminar.  It was a huge risk – something I had never done before.  It caused me to stretch myself and to learn a new set of skills.  I could have failed miserably.  But the seminar was successful.  And that one led to another, and that to yet another. Within a couple of years, I had discovered that speaking and training could be major parts of my practice.  Throughout my career, my speaking and training income exceeded my consulting income by multiples.

If I hadn’t taken that first risk, I would never have built a successful speaking practice.  That practice has allowed me to travel all over the country, and to present in many countries around the world.   Not only has my income expanded, but my life has broadened as well.

That’s the kind of risk I’m talking about.  It’s the kind of risk that calls on you to expand yourself.  If you fail, it can be emotionally painful, and perhaps financially troublesome.  However, if you are successful, it can lead you to other, and greater opportunities.

Test me on this.  Talk to someone in your business or industry who has become exceptionally successful.  Ask him/her about the risks they have taken in their professional lives. You’ll find, I believe, that almost every successful business professional has stretched themselves beyond their comfort zones at a number of different times.  It’s one of the characteristics of the highly successful business professional.

If you can build a propensity to take these kinds of risks into your mindset, you’ll grow faster and further than if you remain safely inside of your comfort zones.

You take risks in a lot of ways.  As a salesperson, when you call on a different type of customer than that with which you have become comfortable, you take a risk.  For example, when you call on the Chief Financial Officer of a business instead of just the production supervisor, you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and taken a risk.

In every profession, when you choose to implement any new strategy or tactic, or you chose to do something differently, you take a risk.  When you choose to try a new way to make a presentation, contact your clients, or purchase from a new vendor, you are taking a risk.  When you chose to question and then change some long-entrenched habit, you are taking a risk.  When you expand your efforts in any direction that calls for you to stretch and attempt something new, you are taking a risk.

Some of those risks will turn out well, others will become failures.  Regardless, the simple act of trying something different and new will help you.  You’ll gain confidence in your abilities, and you’ll learn from both your successes as well as your failures. Your life will expand, you’ll grow wiser, and you’ll become more successful.

The propensity to take risks is a sail that powers you forward, both personally land organizationally and forces you to become something greater than you would have if you remained in the relative safety of comfort zones.  If you are going to successfully survive and thrive in this rapidly changing, turbulent environment, you’ll need to add this sail to your repertoire.



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