My morning routine gives me comfort. I get up at the exact same time almost every day. My coffee maker is set to turn on 15 minutes earlier, so I go downstairs, pour my coffee and fill my 1-liter water bottle. I then head to my home office and get oriented for the day’s activities.
After about 40 minutes, my coffee cup and water bottle are empty. Then, it’s time to get ready for some exercise. That lasts for about an hour, after which comes the remainder of my tasks to prepare for the day prior to the stampede of our four soon-to-awaken children.
And so on.
These are comfortable routines; they are generally productive habits.
But sometimes habits can become too comfortable. We can stick to routines for the sake of sticking to the routine—when in fact, change is necessary.
For example, I recently had a fairly ambitious exercise regimen outlined for the week ahead. I noticed some pain after a few days, but I ignored it. I wanted to stick to the plan.
Sticking to the plan, though, resulted in a level of pain that I couldn’t ignore, and I ended up having to take the whole next week off from exercise.
This was all because I was stubborn and refused to recognize that the game had changed. My original assumptions were invalid, but I pressed on anyway.
That’s why it takes courage to change, courage to pivot toward a new set of routines. It involves recognizing that some condition or something in the world around you has shifted. It then involve realizing that you must give up something comfortable and sail into uncharted waters. Goodbye, familiar routines.
The same process happens over and over again in teams and organizations. For example, consider the startup Gild Collective.
During the past 15 months, I’ve had the privilege of watching and documenting Gild Collective grow and evolve. This has involved much more than casual observation. In fact, I’ve surveyed the team of co-founders 45—yes, 45—times during these 15 months.
Like most startups, they’ve evolved quickly. And for a number of months, they settled into what seemed like a good set of routines. Their business focuses on making it easy for women to get together and create something beautiful—think art, accessories, and more—all while the group has great time and learns something about themselves and each other.
This was going well, but along the way, they discovered a potentially bigger opportunity—transforming their “get togethers” into professional workshops for the purpose of women’s leadership development.
They realized the game had changed; an opportunity presented itself. But it would require the courage to venture into the unknown, leaving behind their comfortable routines. It would require them, in startup parlance, to “pivot.”
They’ve had to forge new networks, and, above all, adapt to a new sense of who they were as leaders and who they were as a company.
That level of agility—sensing and responding to the forces of change—is hard. It takes courage. But it’s what it takes to succeed in a changing world. And in the case of Gild Collective, I’m happy to say, it’s working. Their new approach is resonating with recent clients (like Procter & Gamble), and many others are starting to notice what they’re doing. (Because their new focus aligns with my expertise, I’ve joined Gild Collective’s advisory board—I’m thrilled to have a role in helping them.)
So regardless of whether it’s with a startup, an established organization, or within your own daily life, I think it’s valuable to remember that quitting the old to take on the new—in other words, being agile—is courageous. We must be open to the possibility that the assumptions under which we made our original plans may have changed. Just because you planned a certain exercise regimen for the week doesn’t mean you should stick to it in the face of injury; just because your original business strategy demanded a certain focus and set of actions doesn’t mean you should stick to it if new information or opportunities emerge.
And by having the courage to pivot, we open ourselves to opportunities; we create the freedom within which we can innovate and evolve into the next chapter of our lives.
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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. Visit www.benbaran.com.