Why Embracing the Uncomfortable is Key to Driving Business Success

While human nature often takes us down the path of least resistance, I want to talk about the possibilities of pushing the boundaries, asking the tough questions, and learning to embrace the uncomfortable.

In the workplace, being comfortable can take precedence over finding the best way of getting the job done. Yet facing up to a little discomfort can actually become a huge driver of success, challenging the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality, and opening up the path to innovation and creativity.

Comfort means standing still, and standing still means falling behind.

As American psychologist and author Dr. Martin Seligman  has said, “It’s not our failures that determine our future success, but how we explain them to ourselves.” Imagine you could tell yourself that regardless of the outcome of a decision, you could learn from it and move forward positively. What steps could you take with your business today?

Most of us have been involved in organisations where legacy processes and archaic systems have become barriers to working more effectively, but no action is taken. In the technology industry, we see this every day when speaking to organisations the world over. And more change is coming. We’re living in a time of political and economic uncertainty—businesses must grasp this opportunity and use this time to challenge the concepts of “normal” and “comfortable” in their organisations.

The term “digital transformation” might be dismissed by some as another marketing buzzword, but it aptly captures the fact that we truly are living in a new world. Businesses have to transform. Comfort means standing still, and standing still means falling behind. When it comes to business technology decisions, the easy option would be for companies to stick with on-premise software, yet the gains in both cost and efficiency from moving to the cloud mean that traditional software will no longer be viable. More importantly, companies that stick with legacy systems may also find themselves no longer viable.

According to IDC, 90 percent of organisations are actively involved in some form of digital transformation programme. At Workday, we’re lucky enough to call some of the world’s largest organisations our customers, such as Dutch bank ING, which has used digital technology to reinvent itself several times since the financial crisis. It has evolved both from a technology and culture perspective to keep pace with new, agile incumbents to the banking sector.

Change in the business world is often viewed as a risk, and that in turn impacts comfort levels. Yet, the number of customers joining the Workday community, and who are deploying cloud-based financial management and human capital management on time and on budget, speaks volumes for the risk versus reward debate. I predict that as more leading brands join our customers on the journey to digital transformation, the industry appetite for challenging comfort and conformity will also grow.

The cost of failing fast will be much lower than standing still and doing nothing, while a younger, more agile competitor steals your place in the market.

In an interesting article on digital transformation, Bernardo Crespo, digital transformation leader at Divisadero at IE Business School, said: “The rules of the game are changing, and anyone seeking to lead this area of transformation must know how to manage uncertainty. For decades, professionals have been trained to control and manage risk, to minimize it, and to make good decisions. Today, it is just the opposite: companies need professionals who are able to accept and manage uncertainty.”

For business leaders looking to challenge their comfort levels, I would offer three tips for success:

1. Don’t avoid the difficult questions that send heart rates soaring.

The mantra “we’ve always done it this way” should be eradicated from every business model in the world. As a business leader, you should be continually questioning the organisation’s processes and which parts of the business are not performing how they should. These tough questions should go both ways, and leaders should encourage others within the business to ask them tough questions.

2. Understand that disruption is ongoing and will continue to challenge businesses.

Technology innovation continues to develop at a pace  few organisations can keep up with, and this is likely to continue. Embracing disruption means understanding your business will need to continually change and flex. Business leaders should see self-disruption as the new normal and, by asking the difficult questions I mentioned above, they will equip themselves for a world of ongoing change.

3. Don’t be afraid to fail, but always fail fast.

If we look at ING for inspiration, we should understand that with the right mentality, digital transformation is really possible. But, this will never be achieved by being risk averse, and business leaders must not be scared to fail. True disruptors fail quickly and learn their lessons before bouncing back. The cost of failing fast will be much lower than standing still and doing nothing, while a younger, more agile competitor steals your place in the market.

As the pace of change and the business environment continue to accelerate and become the new normal, the ability to embrace a little discomfort will become a true business advantage. Business leaders who are not afraid of asking tough questions and can learn quickly from failure will find themselves ahead of those who simply stand still.