The dangerous comfort zone

by daniel on July 26, 2009

Sleeping on Couch

Every person has a comfort zone, where the competence is known and the risks of making fool of oneself are low. The comfort zone is like a good comfy home, where the inside is suited to stay for as long as possible. Outdoors looms the danger, full with traps and unknowns.

Some people always stay indoors; keep themselves only doing what they know, risk haters. Others are the opposite; always stay outdoors, where the danger is constant, risk lovers.

Who are you? How do you divide you attention?

In this age of information and constant change, the comfort zone is a dangerous place. Technical capacities needed today may be obsolete and the comfort zone becomes a trap. Some examples that come to mind are vacuum valve technology, mainframe maintenance and IBM AS400 programming. All of the above became obsolete within some time frame and the jobs related to them as well.

On the other hand, the risk obsolescence of new technologies, or Buzz, is even greater. What was the “emerging technology” a year ago? What about the “latest trend” that was forgotten almost as soon as it emerged? The rate of change and introduction of new “innovations” has increased to the point of being almost impossible to track.

The correct course of action should be defining circles of interest:

  1. Comfort zone: in this zone the capabilities should be strong, understood and feel natural, almost self evident.
  2. Technical similarity zone: in this zone the capabilities are limited, but that can reuse some knowledge or thought processes from the comfort zone.
  3. Green Field: in this zone new capabilities are required, completely different from the comfort zone.

In the comfort zone the information on changes is gathered as ongoing task, so it does not require special effort. The technical similar zone requires extending the inquiries in a direction not obvious, like learning DBA expertise for a network admin. The real growth comes from exploring and learning in the green field. What would happen for the same network administrator if he learned selling capabilities?  In case of searching a new job, he will be able to be able to sell himself better or even look for a sales position.

The actual mix of learning new capabilities vs. reinforcing existing ones is very personal, but it should contain some of the three zones. Although the green field is the most difficult, it is the one who can bear more fruit that staying in the dangerous comfort zone.

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