comfortable? it’s time to shake things up.

Comfort is the enemy of fear and fear is the enemy of progress. Our biggest barrier in life and in business — fear. Fear of failure. Fear of being wrong. Fear of not hitting the goal. Fear of looking foolish in front of our peers or the marketplace. But fear is simply an emotion we project upon ourselves and it can easily consume us if allowed.

Fear is defined by Merriam-Webster as a “strong emotion caused by anticipation of concern, danger or the unknown”. From a business perspective, it’s what allows us to rationalize living in comfort. It causes us to relax, not look forward and it ends up being invisible handcuffs, forcing our perspective and view of possibility to stay embedded in what we know to be true from the past.

The most important word in the definition is “anticipation.” We do not know what will happen if we try something new because, well, it’s new. It’s something we haven’t tried or explored. However, when we live in fear, we spend hours of time anticipating all that could go wrong and what others will say if it does. Imagine if we invested that same time to say “what if.” What if this does work and what opportunities will it present for me or my company.

Stuck in the Middle

The vast majority of us get stuck. Stuck from fearing where my decision will lead. Stuck with the amount of boldness to project. Bathed in fear, we make unproductive decisions such as:

  1. Do nothing, which is actually a decision of not to act
  2. Doing the same, only trying a little bit harder, living in the perpetual industry sea-of-sameness
  3. Scale down a big idea to something that everyone can agree on — something extremely safe

All of these choices live in catatonic comfort and result in the deficiency of innovation and possibility of higher levels of business opportunity.

Sometimes we get stuck in the middle, not knowing what to do. As a result, we do a little of each, trying to be like our competitors versus taking a stand and playing in a unique space. Look at down trodden Kmart. It’s not that their products were necessarily bad or their advertising ineffective (I do love their ads a few years back on “shipping your pants” – but that’s the grade school boy still left in me). It’s that Kmart is lost. They don’t have a strong vision or position in their category. They’re stuck in the middle, trying to be a little bit of Target and a little bit of Walmart. The worst place to be strategically is in the middle.

Target’s position is providing the most unique designs for a fair price. They demand new, unique designs from their suppliers. Walmart, on the other hand, is positioned as offering a high variety for the lowest prices. Both companies are uniquely positioned and live their missions through all business operations. Their customers clearly understand who they are and what to expect when visiting the stores or online. However, Kmart has tried to play both platforms, whether trying their hand at custom apparel from retired big-name models, or their blue light special low-cost deals. And to top it off, Kmart recently announced they would resale various outdated, overstocked products like a second-tier discount outlet mall. Clearly, they’re lost. Kmart leaders and employees don’t know who they are, so how can they expect customers to know what to expect in an experience with their brand. When you confuse your customers, they’re likely to abandon ship. Kmart has been abandoned.

Seeing Possibility in Everything we Touch

The way to overcome fear is to see a new level of possibility. As business people, that’s where the fun lies. Looking at trends, how people engage with brands and how the channel will transform. What we get paid for as business people is extrapolating data and deriving insights that will help set us apart from the rest of the industry. Then we need to leverage these insights into monetized strategies that will advance and transform an industry. Note: Marketing professionals — if that’s not on your current job description, then change it.

But don’t be fooled or misguided in your strategic planning hoping technology is the differentiator. Technology isn’t the answer. Technology is merely the enabler of bringing a transformational insight to life. That’s why the app craze a few years ago didn’t sustain itself. It’s not about the app on my phone, it’s about the unique value it brings (or doesn’t) to my life or business that others don’t. The best example is Uber. The technology platform is great but it really started with the insights around pain points of all in the channel; Passengers (waiting in the cold, dirty taxis, no idea of costs, fumbling with money), Drivers (too much investment, no control over time, underpaid) and Taxi Companies (reduced profits, asset management). The takeaway is that the 6,300 taxi companies in the U.S. knew all these pain points. They are managing 171,000 taxi cabs, transporting 1.4 billion travelers a year. But none of those 6,300 companies thought outside their ideation of “this is just what the industry is” to address the pain points that are obvious. It took an outside entity to extract the insights and solve for them.

The DATA is right in front of you

As you look at industry data points, scrub all your internal data and explore external trends — these and many other data points should tell you a story. If the story makes you uncomfortable, that’s perfect and this means that you’re looking at a lot of the right data. If it’s more of the same with moderate change, then be concerned. One thing we know to be true is that change is moving at a pace never seen before, and it will not slow down. Only those companies that embrace change (versus trying to explain it away) will be the ultimate winners. If you choose to stay comfortable, you will continue to miss what your brand stands for, lose position in the market, usually not seeing your demise before it’s too late.

Your homework: Define one critical piece of insight from your business and conduct a Possibility Session to build a case of 1000% growth potential around that insight. Lock the door to those team members (we all have them) that say, “our industry is unique,” “it can’t work in our category,” “we tried that 10 years ago.” Candidly, they are no longer needed or valuable on your team (another hard decision that should be simple to see and execute). You will be surprised at the outcome of ideas from that Possibility Session and if you are fearless enough to execute it, you’ll be rewarded with sustainable results that will help improve your business over the long-term.

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