“Get out and stay out!” – those were the words Thankyou founder Daniel Flynn challenged the attendees of a recent event (including myself) to say to the people next to them. Needless to say, we were all a little surprised.
Daniel’s purpose was not to have most of the audience leave the room. Instead he was hoping to provoke our thinking. He wanted us to realise that getting out of our comfort zones is a good thing, and that when we learn to stay out of our comfort zones for more than a few moments at a time, we can achieve amazing things.
Australian businesses would do well to learn the same lesson. Because Australia, at a macro level, has had relatively strong and uninterrupted growth, businesses have become quite risk averse. Australian business leaders seem to have developed a mindset that focuses on protecting the downside rather than increasing the upside.
The word ‘risk’ has become a little bit like the word ‘failure’. It is a charged word, one that people are uncomfortable with.
There are two other terms I’d prefer to use. One is ‘change’, because at Salesforce that is what we fundamentally help our customers do. We help them transition to something new and exciting, and that in itself can seem a risky proposition to many. It means changing from your current state to a reimagined reality.
The other is ‘growth mindset’, which is a different way of framing failure. I am not a fan of the narrative that tells people to be comfortable with failure. I think it can be misinterpreted. So I talk about having a growth mindset that says you should embrace every opportunity to learn. It is related to the Japanese saying ‘better, better, better, never best’.
There is always an opportunity to improve and, if you have that mindset, you’re always looking to push to the next milestone. You are always willing to step outside of your comfort zone and to stay out of it.
We are not in a dire state economically, but to improve we do need a sense of urgency, and that is something Australian businesses generally have not had. How do you create that mindset within a business and, more importantly, how do you model that as a leader within the organisation? The leaders, in their modelling and in the culture that they promote, give ‘permission’ to the organisation to behave a certain way.
Many ask how you drive a culture of innovation. The answer is to develop a growth mindset. If you’re trying to get innovation to come from all parts of the organisation then employees have to be comfortable with the notion that should they try something, should they take a risk, then it will be okay if it doesn’t work out. It’s not a career-limiting move.
If a person tries something and it doesn’t work out, as long as it’s not because they were incompetent or unethical, then it’s simply a great opportunity to learn, reflect, recalibrate and move forward.
How do Australian businesses make this happen in a practical sense? There are two main ways.
First is that we model the Daniel Flynn story. We have real courage to put ourselves out there as managers or as employees. We move into unknown territory and embrace it. For this to happen our leaders must model the behaviour.
The other is to adopt what, at Salesforce, we call the “beginners’ mind”. That is to approach everything with a childlike naivety. Most children model the exact behaviour we are looking for.
My kids constantly try new stuff and if it doesn’t work they throw a tantrum, then move on to try it a different way. They repeat this pattern until they get it absolutely right. If I tell them something isn’t going to work, they constantly question my logic. They refuse to believe they won’t achieve something, and most of the time they’re right.
Imagine how potent Australian businesses would become if they had this growth mindset. Imagine how much we could achieve if we pushed outside our comfort zones and stayed out, if we did not accept the status quo, and if we worked with that childlike naivety. It would be a powerful state of mind, indeed – minus the tantrums, of course.