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These days, people can barely go a week without hearing phrases like “the new normal” or “a return to normal.” People naturally resist change and tend to prefer a sustained state of normalcy, but this is the opposite of growth. Normal is stagnant, and a mindset stuck in keeping things “normal” will stagnate your business.
There is no such thing as normal. Growth only comes when we take this word and throw it out the window. To grow is to evolve, and this is true in every aspect of life. As children get older, they confront challenging moments of newness, and by integrating those transitions into their toolkit of knowledge, they take the next steps into adulthood.
This idea is especially important in business. To succeed, we need to change our vocabulary: Instead of focusing on staying “normal,” we must take on what comes “next.”
A focus on the next step includes risk-taking
To grow, we have to leap forward into the unknown, separating ourselves from the rest of the world and what they have come to see as “normal.” This is a required risk. When we look to what comes next, we stop being stagnant and ignite opportunities for what could be rather than what is. In our company, our 2020 fiscal year was up 40%, the following year it was up 50%, and in the first six months of this year, we’re up 80%. That happened not by looking back and trying to stay “normal,” but by looking forward to what could be.
Let go of the mindset of normal and look ahead to the next by creating a culture that embraces risk. Normal provides safety and stability because we know what to expect and what others expect of us. As leaders, we are responsible for drawing people out of stagnancy and establishing an environment where risk is not only okay, but expected. We should always have a safety net in place to catch people when they fly off the trapeze so we have a learning experience instead of a disaster, but the point is never to let people feel afraid to step out there and try.
Fear is a “normal” experience; now move on to the next
People resist change because they fear stepping out of their comfort zone, but while fear is a natural part of overcoming change, it becomes unhealthy if you get stuck in it. My son started a new job a few weeks ago, and while he feels excited, he also has his concerns. I told him he was in the spirit of discovery, and this was precisely how he was supposed to feel. To move on to the next step — from fear to growth — he could schedule a meeting with his boss to walk through and alleviate all of his concerns. Feeling afraid is okay, as long as we learn to move out of that space and overcome those fears by confronting them, not wallowing in them.
Growth and success happen over a series of challenging steps, not in one day. For people just starting this process, step into “next” one action at a time. Keep pushing yourself to get rid of preconceptions until you can evolve out of that stage of stability without fear. Try pretending to be a teenager again and draw that fearless and confident mindset to the surface. As teenagers, we thought we knew everything, making it less frightening to step out and explore. We took risks and embraced the things that scared us. This means we also probably did some dumb things along the way, but we learned from those mistakes, and they made us who we are. So go ahead and embrace that confidence without fear.
When to let go
Of course, some people are fine staying stagnant. When I was young, many farmers around my family were buying more land and growing into bigger spaces, but not my dad. “When I can’t make a living on 200 acres,” he told me, “it’s time for me to be done.” Unless your business is always continuing to get better, eventually, it will get the best of you. My dad retired when he was 70. He rented those 200 acres to someone who wanted a bigger farm enterprise. He enjoyed 12 years of a comfortable retirement and left a good nest egg for my mom. Today, a farmer probably couldn’t make a living on 200 acres as the value proposition has changed. It was okay for my dad to be comfortable in his lifestyle because it was what he wanted, and he had a way out: to rent that investment to others.
For growth, leaders have to keep pushing their companies. If this is something you don’t believe you can or want to do, that’s okay. But you need to have a way out so your company doesn’t suffer from the lack of progress. In today’s fast-paced world, staying “normal” holds you back, but moving forward to what’s next builds a successful company.