Stop using your comfort zone as a defence, says leading entrepreneur

Comfort zones can be business killers, says Jonathan MacDonald, keynote speaker and author of the Sunday Times Bestseller Powered by Change.

The serial entrepreneur, who is one of many business speakers working with international events bureau Speakers Corner, has an impressive portfolio in digital strategy. Today his priority is helping businesses use change to their advantage – something he says many leaders fail to understand the importance of.

“Some of the main challenges companies have, paradoxically, are around the comfort they have in their original success,” he explains. “Comfort zones are really hard to break out of.”

Jonathan says this comfort is a key reason for business failure because it causes organisations to stagnate. Together, comfort and fear are the two biggest threats to growth.

“Fear of failure is a huge point of resistance,” Jonathan says. He finds that in cases where comfort isn’t the barrier and executives understand the things they need to do, fear can cause a lack of action, too.

“The fear that it might go wrong is a massive blocker,” he observes.

To Jonathan, the difference between success and failure is simple. “When the winds of change are blowing, some build a wall, and others build a windmill,” he says.

That’s the basis of Windmill Theory – the latest insight he is keen to share with business executives.

Jonathan is also interested in the precise motivations behind the decisions we make in business, which is why he has studied neuroeconomics, an emerging interdisciplinary field looking at how economic decisions are made in the brain. 

Researchers have earmarked the discipline as a marketing aide – but it could have far-reaching uses in psychiatry and may one day predict financial crashes.

“The way that we think about things determines a great deal of our success,” Jonathan explains. 

He also identifies some common thought patterns that characterise a stagnant business.

“We’re already thinking about that,” is common, Jonathan says. “Notice the word ‘think’ rather than ‘do’.”

Another is financially motivated. “We’ve got enough money, so we can compete anyway,” is a dangerous way to think in business, according to Jonathan, no matter the organisation’s size. Thinking action is unnecessary because you haven’t seen competitors doing anything in a certain space is another key pitfall.

He calls these types of thoughts ‘business poisons’ that can cause organisations to self destruct. These observations come from experience as commercial director at the Ministry of Sound and the nine startups Jonathan has under his belt. But, Jonathan says his family background proved educational, too.

“I was brought up in a family of retailers,” he explains. “They were a small, tiny company that originally just sold light bulbs. As the internet was becoming more popular I was helping their business to go online.

“I had the role of convincing the suppliers to the shop that they should use the internet as well, and also that other retailers should be using the internet and where the huge efficiencies were.

“And of course I was faced with massive resistance and people were confused about this ‘internet garbage’. Surely we can just write things down on a piece of paper and send them in the post?”

By taking a chance, Jonathan learnt early on that getting ahead of change is the single best business strategy there is. His next book, which is due out in 2020, focuses on strengthening business mindset to promote growth.

Jonathan hints that his other interest – jiu jitsu – may make its way into the book. He says the sport has conflict resolution lessons to offer corporate decision-makers.

“I’m fascinated with the core ideology,” he says. “When conflict occurs, the best force to utilise is the one that is pitched against you, since it is easier to use that force than to generate one’s own.”

In fact, jiu jitsu has many teachings for business leaders – such as the principle of using minimum force for maximum effect and the concept of ‘building a frame’ around your business for constant protection.

If his bronze medal success at the 2019 Sports Jiu Jitsu World Championships is anything to go by, Jonathan’s lessons on the proper use of defence – beyond merely sinking back into your comfort zone – are bound to be insightful.

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