When we’re taken out of our comfort zone, our default is to slow down, seek guidance, and avoid mistakes.This is because uncertainty makes most people nervous.
Howard H. Stevenson, a professor emeritus at Harvard’s Business School, teaches that this way of thinking results in a lot of missed opportunities.
One of Stevenson’s former students Eric Sinoway wrote a book on the professor’s teaching titled “Howard’s Gift.”
In the book, a the two discuss a friend of the author’s named Michelle is scared about her future after her boss and mentor retired suddenly.
Stevenson says that situations like this one are called “inflection points” and should be taken advantage of.
Stevenson told Sinoway:
“In Michelle’s case, it’s coming at a moment in time when the structures are removed and the rules are suspended. A moment in which she can reflect inwardly about what she wants, and then act to redefine the situation in such a way as to help her accomplish it.”
We spend so much time following rules and being guided that we panic when those guard rails are removed. The easiest and safest course isn’t always the best one. An unexpected shock can help to remind us that there are other options.
That’s a lesson that extends beyond individual careers to businesses. One CEO, confronted with the worst financial crisis since the depression, went on a hiring spree and increased her marketing spending. By doing the opposite of everyone else, by moving when others were paralysed, she was able to get talent that wouldn’t have considered her company before and significantly increase sales.
By focusing on novel opportunities — not on what can go wrong — you can make the unexpected work for, rather than against, you.
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