So I was on a roll I was an executive with my salary annual bonuses and stock options all the perks everything was on track and on Monday January seventh 2008 at three o’clock in the afternoon in a small conference room on the top floor of our building the president of the company wanted to have a quick meeting with me.
Which wasn’t unusual since he’s my boss but the meeting turned out to be more breathing expected he fired me and I’ll never forget how his words just sucked the breath right out of me and I left the conference room in a daze state and I went home and crawled up my bed in the fetal position for three hours and I could go on a vivid detail about how I felt, what I did in my self-esteem, my finances and so on.
What I now realize is well that event created the greatest amount of discomfort I had ever felt. It was that discomfort the departure from my order life that forever changed it for the better you see friends what makes you comfortable can ruin you.
All makes you uncomfortable is the only way to grow.
Let me say that again : ‘what makes you comfortable can ruin you and only in a state of discomfort can you continually grow’.
And I suppose fun generate somebody come up and said gee buddy being fired it’s a good thing because now you’re really going to grow. I probably want to smack them but pretty quickly became motivated to start a new journey.
And after a couple years to work with my new team and a PhD friend at the University of Nebraska, we had this epiphany on how to illustrate and apply the science of discomfort and growth we call the concept the growth rings the growth rings represent living environments that promote or hinder growth and that includes everything from your place of work to even a fishbowl you see what dictates the size of goldfish is its environment.
And while this goldfish lives in a very safe environment, it’s also very limiting and most every way and when placed in a more robust environment likes a small pond this can be the result it also means he could be eaten but friends this is you the environments in which you work live and play there all proverbial fishbowl that dictates your growth.
So the first thing represent a low-performing low growth environment called stagnation ‘stagnation’ is understood by having to follow too many steps and permissions of my new shot the stifles creativity independent thought and action to imagine.
An environment such as this thing no further our state and federal governments now the antithesis of stagnation is ‘chaos’ also no growth and low performing chaos can be caused by internal or external events or conditions is having zero predictability or control over inputs and outcomes coming back down.
The growth rings next to stagnation is most desirable environment ‘order’. Order is knowing that what you do or what is happening in your environment needs to a predictable outcome and predictability comfort is found the comfort is also what makes order so dangerous because science shows that anytime you continually do something even think about something the same way you’ll eventually stop growing and this applies to every living thing.
Even our dog you see if Aspen had a chance she choose comfort six days a week and twice on sundays but too much growth limiting order would have prevented her from becoming a therapy dog.
And had this been allowed think of the lives this gentle soul would not be touching today.
So before your order continues to limit the way you think and act remember what i said earlier ‘growth only occurs in a state of discomfort’.
I think about the power of that phrase growth only occurs in a state of discomfort i can unequivocally state I wouldn’t be standing on this stage today without my uncomfortable or disrupting day nine years ago.
When you feel discomfort hit that means you’ve entered the complexity ring complexity is nothing more than changed order but when your order is changed outcomes are no longer predictable and its unpredictability that makes you uncomfortable and while most times your visceral response to discomfort is not just no but hell no you can actually learn how empowering it is to consciously acknowledged discomfort and then when appropriate choose complexity over order.
And I know seeking discomfort sounds odd and not many people do it but you have to learn to embrace it because it’s the only environment were sustained or exponential growth can occur ok to weave high-growth complexity into the fabric of your lives there are three primary ways it can be triggered complexity.
Trigger number one is it can be forced upon you.
when I got fired I didn’t have a chance to stay in order complexity was selected for me. And when this happens how much you grow depends on how you respond to it.
Now I could have remained angry, I could have used it as an excuse but what i considered what actually learned is that i suck as an employee and I’m much better off accepting the risks of running my own company.
Complexity trigger number two : someone can help you get there.
This is the role of parents teachers coaches and bosses because the left on their own people will consciously or subconsciously select the comfort of order and they then need to be pushed into complexity in order to continue growing.
My youngest daughter spent most of her high school life training to play tennis and her coach was pretty familiar with our work on complexity and the growth rings so i called him up one day to check on Maddie’s progress and i was able to raise my question like this i said hey neat how long has been since Maddie’s been pushed deep in the complexity.
These response funny and ask bill we got there yesterday she broke down into tears on the tennis court huh well knowing how tough my daughterís and the fact that she never cries told me she was deep in the complexity.
But friends this is where critical developmental decisions are made because the old bill the pre growth ring bill would have intervened and wanted to know what was making her so uncomfortable then I would have done everything I could to try and get her happy again.
What I really would have been doing is removing the complexity and putting her in order i actually would have been stifling her development.
But the new post growth ring bill relished in his daughters discomfort and it was the coaches next words that told me everything I needed to hear he said ‘it took a heck of a lot more to get her to the limits of complexity this month than it did last month’.
Discomfort was causing her growth okay, but what if you’re not lucky enough to live or work in a robust I growth environment.
What if you’re stuck in order even worse stagnation all the great news is everyone can trigger complexity at any time so complexity.
Trigger number three : trigger it yourself.
take a journey with me back to montgomery alabama and the nineteen fifties. Imagine if you will a young girl whose black and she attends an all-black high school and she takes the city bus to get there at home which was an unusual in that era and a march second 1955. She boards a bus to come home from school and she sits near the back in the first row of seats were blacks were allowed to set and as a bus continues to fill with white people there’s eventually no more room in the front of the bus and according to local law.
She needed to move further back to create room for white people to set you see Montgomery had an order in place than one followed it to a very predictable outcome repression of people with little conflict but 15 year old car that Colvin had just spent the last month in high school studying black history and she was understandably fed up with the historic in existing atrocities.
And so on this day she decided she didn’t like my montogmery order and by refusing to give up receipt she sent a community our laws and our entire country in the complexity yes nine months before Rosa Parks made her famous decision to stay put who’s a fifteen-year-old girl that was handcuffed dragged from the bus and taken to prison it was Miss Colvin not Rosa Parks who first fought the law and by the way was also the star plaintiff to testify in the famous lawsuit that went all the way to the US Supreme Court so i use closets actions not to heighten awareness of race issues.
Although that’s not necessarily bad but I used as an example of every issue of every situation in an ordered environment it’s a real and perfect example of complexity forcing people our communities and our courts into discomfort and the downstream impact.
That can occur anytime someone elects to move from order.
dr. serene Jones in a recent book summarizes this concept very eloquently she said the constant facade of order hides the wilderness that is craving to see bounty church that knife wasn’t created, to be what we think it is beyond words we must experience the wilderness to be taught what cannot be.
Otherwise known so friends it’s not the discomfort of losing a job it’s not having a child breakdown on the tennis courts but its order you should fear the most because it is a threat in order disrupting people like Jesus, Galileo and maybe even a few of you have already proven and I think about this it’s not the complexity triggering individuals or events you should fear the most but it’s your own willingness to accept or seek discomfort that will dictate the growth of not just you but our entire world.
Thank you very much for allowing me to be a part of us.