I have to admit that I don’t usually worry about being comfortable. Life has been pretty good to us. Any problems we have are largely “first world problems” that the greatest majority of the world would happily take on along with the life we have been blessed with. My wife Kendra is really good at reminding me that we need to be grateful and even more act on that gratitude because of this.
Recently I’ve been working with a coach who introduced me to a different view on comfort. Bill Harrison of Level Up Management Consulting has an interesting model that provides some really good insight into how comfort acts on us in life. Bill has developed a simple model that shows how we work out from our comfort zone in order to learn. The model also suggests that there are limits to how far outside our comfort zone we can go, and when we reach the limits we hit the panic zone, which may send us back to the comfort of the comfort zone! In between these two is the learning zone, where we are able to grow as human beings.
Bill raised this model with me because he sensed in our conversations that there were aspects of my life where my learning zone seemed quite narrow, or in other words, I was quite obviously in my comfort zone and also quite obviously not in my learning zone. We started to explore what might be going on for me in that respect. That was at the end of one session with Bill and I put some thought into what might be happening for me during the two weeks between our sessions. What I found was quite interesting for me.
I first started looking at the model from the perspective of why my comfort zone had grown so large so as to overtake my learning zone. When I really looked at it I could see that wasn’t really how I show up in the world. I love to learn and always have, but in these particular life circumstances I seemed to venture out into the learning zone and then retreat reasonably quickly.
So I came to the conclusion that what was happening was that my panic zone was getting bigger when I dealt with certain things like moving into my ‘first retirement’, relocating to another part of Canada, etc. So my first discovery was that the learning zone can get smaller either because we are too comfortable and don’t want to venture out, or because we venture out and encounter our fears/uncertainties very quickly.
As I got together with Bill we started to talk about why this might be. What stood out in our discussions for Bill was that I have highly developed critical thinking skills, and when I’m out of my comfort zone they are my “go to” tool set. I want to take in all the data I can find and use it to converge on a solution. When I’ve converged then I can retreat back into my comfort zone feeling good that I have a solution.
When we identified this we next explored if that was always true for me and discovered that it is not. There are many parts of my life such as work, writing, travel, artistic endeavors, etc. where I love being in the learning zone and even push past the boundaries of the panic zone. So it came down to where there was a sense that my basic need for security and certainty in certain aspects of life (see both Abraham Marlow’s and Anthony Robbins’ hierarchies of needs), my panic zone grows and shrinks my learning zone. My comfort zone doesn’t actually change.
This really got me thinking about the applications for these concepts as a leader. How do we assess whether our team members are spending time in the learning zone? Do we watch for resistance to change? Are we looking to see how many questions are being asked that reach to the edges (and beyond) their current job responsibilities? Are we alert for convergent thinking, where problems are solved using known solutions?
How would we use this model to help build development plans for our team?
What would we do where we sense a team member’s comfort zone is too big? Would we start to have conversations about adding more challenge to the existing role? Would we look to move them to a new role with new challenges? What other strategies could we use to move this person back onto a growth track and thus into the learning zone?
More on this topic next week!