Busting Out of Your Skill Set Comfort Zone

In marketing and in technology, if you aren't learning and growing, then you are getting closer to getting bumped out of your job. I'm sure that's the case for a number of other professions, as well. People can be resistant to change for a lot of reasons. Change takes time. Change is difficult. Change may not always seem to be the best solution. And on and on it goes.

Doing the Right Thing: Poorly and then Well

In Flying without a Net: Turn Fear of Change into Fuel for Success, author Thomas J. DeLong describes how, in order to become better at something, we sometimes have to go through a process of unlearning. We have to give up the way that we know in order to be able to make a breakthrough.

DeLong illustrates the process as follows.

Flying without a Net: The Quadrants
Flying without a Net: The Quadrants

We do what we think works under our old system. We know it's not working as well as it should, but we're comfortable there. We know what to expect, and we can deliver consistent results. We sense that we should improve, but we're at an impasse. We can't continue on in the old way.

When we're ready to try something new, it's going to take a while for us to learn it. In fact, we're not going to be great for a time. This is where we need the most courage -- not in the deciding to do something new, but in the moments where we're trying to implement the new. We will hit obstacles. We won't be perfect. Others may notice. Only by persevering through these moments can we come to the final quadrant: doing the right thing well.


When I learned to type, I had a lot of unlearning to do before I could become competent.

We had our first computer in the house when I was in elementary school. I remember some big assignments for my fifth grade English class that required quite a bit of typing, and I hunted and pecked my way through several type-written pages. I eventually got pretty quick at punching the keys with my index fingers. By the time my eighth grade typing class came around, I was quite resistant to learning the "proper" method of typing. After all, I was pretty good at hunting and pecking, and learning the keys according to each finger's position on the keyboard seemed ridiculous. There was no way that I would be able type as quickly.

I'd love to say that I picked up in a few days and never had any troubles, but I didn't. It was hard. It took weeks to get comfortable. At this point, I can't imagine going back to the "hunt and peck" method, but it served me true for many years. Every once in a while, I'll need to type something one-handed, and it's as difficult as trying to write with a pencil in my left hand. It's doable, but it ain't pretty.

What's Worth Learning?

To go through such a process of discomfort that learning can sometimes require, it is worth considering if all the change is really worth the effort. I have a number of hobbies that I could be better at. I enjoy cycling, but I don't see myself ever going hardcore enough to try to be actually competitive. I tried my hand at web design and found the limits of my interest rather quickly.

Marketing is worth the trouble for me. A healthy lifestyle is worth the trouble. There are other things worth the effort, but I only discovered them by clearly figuring out what wasn't worth the effort.

A final word on the process: find a teacher / mentor / group that you can help you grow. It's more effort (at first) and probably more cost to find that person or persons, but you'll see the benefit in no time. The fact is, even if you know you need to change, you don't always know how to change. A good teacher will help diagnose your problem and point you in the right direction.

You'll certainly be glad for the company as you move from doing the right thing poorly to doing the right thing well.