by Deepak Seth

Why CXOs need to jump off a plane

Oct 05, 2017
IT LeadershipMentoringPersonal Software

Being ready to metaphorically jump off a plane seems to be a key requirement to deal with the rapid pace of technological and organizational change. Discomfort is the new comfort zone, and individuals as well as teams must learn to adapt to that.

skydiving collaboration
Credit: Thinkstock

Last year I stepped out of a small airplane at 10,000 feet for my first-ever tandem skydive. I was celebrating a milestone birthday.

As I reflected on it the next day, I could not help but think of the parallels with the IT project execution context.

Starts off with trepidation and uncertainty – a vague understanding of what lies ahead but little clarity. (Project is initiated.

Then comes the chaos of the free-fall. Noisy. Rushing wind. A couple of flips and somersaults while hurtling down. Sensory/information overload. Things happening too quick, too fast. Am I following the instructions correctly? (Scope being defined.

The drogue parachute then deploys. It stabilizes the free-fall but does not reduce the speed. Things are still a blur but clarity emerges. (Scope, costs, plans emerging.

Then the main canopy deploys at 5,500 feet. The sudden jolt. And then serenity of the view. Controlled descent with some twists and turns. Nothing unexpected though. Bliss. Systems and processes are humming. (Plans being executed.

Hit the ground. Prepared for it but still a little choppy, bumpy. Ground winds stronger than anticipated. (Go live/cutover/day one.

Is it already over? 

And, yes, there was a backup safety chute, which could have been deployed if needed. (Risks identification and mitigation plans.

Interestingly, what seemed like stepping out of the comfort zone at the outset does not appear so in hindsight given the people (instructors), processes (skydive tips and techniques) and technology (parachutes, backups) at work to ensure a smooth ride. 

Similarly there are the people, processes and technology we have going for us in all project efforts.

Which brings us to:

Comfort zone

  • It’s a place where we feel secure and where risk is contained. It’s also a place where our performance is not severely tested.

Step out of your comfort zone. Why?

  • This is where the growth happens.
  • This is where the solutions are.
  • This is where fulfillment resides.

In short, the really important stuff happens outside your comfort zone.

Stepping out of the comfort zone: Employees

Challenge your personal comfort zone:

  • Escape conventional norms by taking on professional challenges beyond personal comfort zones.
  • It also means collaborating (often virtually) with new peer groups – inside and outside traditional silos – to find and apply new solutions to critical work challenges, thereby advancing personal and professional growth. It also helps to be aware of the “blind spots” that keep us from seeing an opportunity for change or the value of constructive criticism.

Never stop learning:

  • You need to make continuous learning a permanent part of job description. In the perpetual discomfort zone, it’s not what you know today that counts – it’s how you acquire, refine and apply new knowledge for tomorrow.


Stepping out of the comfort zone: Corporations

Compete on code and manage on meaning: 

  • To compete in the discomfort zone, enterprises must decode the rising volume of data surrounding customers, markets and products.

Agility is the killer behavior: 

  • Business agility has a dual mandate: to drive greater effectiveness and efficiency, and invest in growth-enabling innovation.

Functioning in a perpetual discomfort zone

  • Think fast, meaning abandoning prolonged strategic debates in favor of rapid, real-time, data-driven decisions. Don’t become mired in discomfort, be agile in responding to it.
  • Think forward, meaning create new business models, processes and workplace environments that enable organizations to ride the next wave of innovation – intentionally establishing new areas of discomfort.

How can you maximize trips out side your comfort zone?

  • Acknowledge the value.
  • Lean into the experience.
  • Notice your fear.
  • Don’t overthink it.
  • Play full out.
  • Celebrate the victory.
  • Pause to reflect.

And the caveat? Consider your own personal threshold. Some people thrive on being outside their comfort zones, others don’t, and some people are in the middle. Consider where you are on this continuum and then recognize how much you can handle. Don’t avoid things outside your comfort zone out of fear, but also know yourself and when something is simply too much for you to handle.