I was having coffee with a good friend in the venture industry as we were talking about corporate innovation. Wondering what hindered real corporate innovation or large-scale change, I concluded that some large corporations have become incapable of discovering the unknown. It’s not only large corporations that have this “problem.” It can easily manifest itself in our own lives. After this talk with my friend, I tried to piece together what the cause is. Why aren’t we in general capable of discovering the unknown?
You need to look up and confirm you’re running in the right direction every now and then.
I was limited by my experience and hindered by my routine. A combination that makes it difficult to see opportunities right in front of you. My experience provides me comfort. I can recognize a situation I have been in before and act accordingly. My routine helps me to be efficient and get the most out of my day. But what if this also puts me into a comfort zone, preventing me from innovating or forcing real change. Looking back at my own attempts to create impactful change in my life, I made one classic mistake. Instead of opening my mind to new input and attempting to discover the unknown, I was stuck doing what I know. Instead of working smarter, I worked harder. There is nothing wrong with working hard, but it’s not always the smartest thing to do. Imagine you’re running a race, and you take a wrong turn. No matter how hard you run, you’ll never reach the finish line. You need to look up and confirm you’re running in the right direction every now and then.
Current times make it almost impossible not to take a step back and reflect on life, career, friends, family, etc. As the months pass by during the pandemic, days started to feel like Groundhog Day. How do you discover the unknown and prepare yourself for 2021? What is the best way to break through the comfort zone and drive change in your life? I don’t have the exact answer, but I can share what I have learned. Although not conclusive, there was a study done by psychologists from the University of Utah on Inattention Blindness (not seeing what is in front of you). One of the conclusions of the famous Missing the Gorilla video was, “Because people are different in how well they can focus their attention, this may influence whether you’ll see something you’re not expecting…”
Seeing the unexpected or being open to unconventional solutions helps me discover the unknown and create more impact — a small personal example. Although I am quite introverted, I am usually a social person. I enjoy having friends around or hosting social (work) gatherings. It is also an essential part of my work as a venture capitalist. Over time I got more frustrated. The busier work got, the more social gatherings I had, the less time I had to do actual work. I didn’t see a way out of this spiral other than just putting in more work hours. This, in turn, made me feel exhausted. Working more hours wasn’t a solution. Being smarter with my time was. Doing more of the same never gets you a different outcome. My answer was to significantly cut down on social meetings and only prioritize difficult and more complex tasks. I hated it at first. The eventual result was that I could focus better, be more in the moment, and feel less anxious. There is nothing wrong with an empty schedule at times.
I want to leave you with a few tips that helped me.
Listen to advice.
It doesn’t help to be stubborn for the sake of being stubborn. Listening to advice or feedback usually doesn’t hurt anyone. You can always decide not to follow the advice if you strongly disagree. For me, advice is crucial. It helps me discover my blind spots. The people that are vested in you will likely give sound advice. Just make sure you understand their motivation for giving you advice.
Frame your ideal outcome and design a path to achieve it.
Take time to understand what your ideal outcome is. How often do you stop and think about what you really want out of life? Whatever that answer is, are you able to draw a path towards that outcome? If you can, which steps have you taken to reach your goals. If you can’t, what is stopping you?
Try something unexpected every now and then.
This is the best. Try to do something (anything) that no one would expect of you and makes you feel uncomfortable. It helps me get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Believe in your ideas and solutions.
Some of your own ideas are so simple and brilliant that you refuse to believe it could work. Or even worse, why bother when someone else is already doing it? Never underestimate your own ideas. Your ideas deserve to be tried and tested. You can start small in a comfortable environment if starting your idea makes you nervous. Build confidence, get feedback, and slowly expand. If it doesn’t work, you have at least tried something unexpected.