Being an effective lifelong learner often means stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking a few risks. And as providers of learning, it’s important to recognize this so that we can help learners get the most out of each learning experience.
Dr. Andy Molinsky is a professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School and author of Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge and Build Confidence. He is an expert at helping people act outside of their personal and cultural comfort zones in order to reach their full potential both personally and professionally.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Andy about concepts from his book, including why it’s important to step outside of your comfort zone, and implications for both learners and learning providers.
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Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – Highlighted Resource of the Week – a freely accessible Harvard Business Review article by Andy Molinsky titled, “If You’re Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You Won’t Learn Anything.”
[01:08] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Celisa talks with professor, author, and thought leader, Dr. Andy Molinsky about his latest book, Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge and Build Confidence.
[03:03] – Introduction to Andy and some information about his background and interests.
[05:06] – I’m particularly interested in talking with you about your latest book, Reach. Before we dive into some of the specifics, would you give us a little background on what lead you to write this book now? Andy shares there were a couple of reasons that got him to write this book, including that his previous book, Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process was about acting outside of your cultural comfort zone and he got feedback from that which indicated people found the book really useful even though their challenges had nothing to do with crossing national cultures. This made him realize that the idea of simply acting outside of your comfort zone would be a really interesting and useful book. He also says it’s been a theme of a lot of the academic research he’s done for years and adds that he thought about his own experience struggling outside of his comfort zone.
[08:46] – In Reach, you say that, “To succeed in today’s professional environment…we need to reinvent ourselves—often on the fly.” Is there something about the world and work today that’s made reaching outside our comfort zones more important than ever before? Andy points out there is a timeless aspect to it which is that in our own lives, we often encounter critical touch points (ex: leaving college for the professional world or moving from being an individual contributor to a manager, etc.) that require you to act outside of your comfort zone. There’s also the fact that industries are changing and people are experiencing a lot of pressure on their jobs to expand their skills and become more entrepreneurial – even within a company –to be able to develop a fuller skill set in multiple platforms. All of this requires you to act outside of your comfort zone and it’s not simply learning skills that matters – it’s grappling inside with the psychological experience of feeling incompetent, inauthentic, or worrying that you might be an imposter.
[11:42] – Thinking from the perspective of the learner, what do you see as the relationship between comfort zones and learning? Andy explains that when talking about comfort zones, he likes to first distinguish among various zones you have including a “stretch/learning zone” which may make you feel a bit anxious but doesn’t reach the level of the pure “panic zone”. From the learner’s perspective, he says it’s a process and talks about how it’s critical to choose situations and goals that are in your “stretch zone” and to come up with a plan to reach those goals.
[14:16] – A further discussion about the importance of making sure there is appropriateness to how you challenge yourself and that you’re scaffolding it. Andy adds that you want to set yourself up for success but you also want to find a balance between giving yourself a stretch without rationalizing and avoiding. Finding this right balance (hopefully) leads to a more virtuous cycle of trying, experiencing and learning, rather than falling into an avoidance cycle where very little learning occurs. Andy also talks about how in addition to head-on avoidance, there’s other ways that we avoid things outside of our comfort zones including delegation or “inappropriate” substitution.
[17:53] – From the perspective of providers of learning, what should knowledge of comfort zones mean? How might a better understanding of the challenges of stretching outside our comfort zones and the resources we have for helping people reach outside their comfort zones impact how we structure learning experiences? Andy points out that a lot of the learning done in organizations seems to be a little quick and dirty, “check off the box” which is fine in some situations but you have to be honest with yourself as to what your goal is and what you’re actually achieving. If your goal is awareness, then this is fine but if you’re goal is a behavior change to actually develop a deeper skill, then it’s not fine. This is why he’s created an online training (launching in January or February) to help people apply the ideas from Reach to help individuals learn to step outside their comfort zone, which is a whole process/program. He likens this to the idea of learning languages where you immerse yourself in it. You’re learning how to step outside of your comfort zone – in a specific situation at first – but through the process, you end up learning a whole set of tools at a meta-level knowledge of how to then apply that to other situations in your life. He really believes that a lot of organizations don’t hit the mark with this.
[21:38] – Do you think this is something that should be baked into every learning experience, ideally, or is it something that’s sort of taught separately and then you hopefully get people to the point where they then begin to apply these ideas of reaching outside of their comfort zone in various situations? Andy doesn’t think they can be baked in but what he’s tried to do is create a whole system that people can use and apply to a situation that matters to them. When they come out of it, they feel more confident and insightful about the challenges they have and also feeling there is a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of how to overcome these challenges to find their own way of doing it—another key to his approach.
[23:27] – People have talked a lot about the “knowing versus doing” gap. Do you think comfort zones might help explain at least some of the knowing-doing gap and that the kind of work and research you’re doing might be a key to helping make sure more knowledge becomes behavior change? Andy absolutely agrees and shares there are three essential tools he’s found in his research that help people bridge the knowing-doing gap (however, he notes that first there is a self-awareness component as well):
[32:02] – We’ve been focusing on the benefits or potential benefits of acting outside our comfort zones, but let’s talk some about the downsides or why or when we might not want to act outside our comfort zones. What are your thoughts on how building strengths does or doesn’t jibe with acting outside your comfort zone? Andy emphasizes that you don’t need to step outside your comfort zone with everything but you should really pick your spots in terms of situations and timing. And he likes to think of this in terms of a portfolio to have a good mix of different situations.
[34:25] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Andy shares one of the most impactful learning situations for him has been a course he’s created and run for helping people step outside of their comfort zones. In the course, students choose situations and he gets to live it with them and he says it’s an absolute pleasure to teach this because it’s immersive, personal, and rewarding.
[37:39] – Andy talks about how he has personally stepped outside of his comfort zone in the process of moving from writing for academic audiences to more of a public audience.
[38:45] – How to connect with Andy and/or learn more:
- Website: https://www.andymolinsky.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Twitter: @andymolinsky
- LinkedIn: Andy Molinsky
- Facebook: Andy Molinsky
[39:32] – Wrap Up
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[41:06] – Sign off