It's easy to start familiar projects with confidence, to win our clients over right out of the gate and start fresh with a new project team knowing we are going down a familiar path. The confidence we start these projects with shows to our customers and it certainly makes it easier to get these projects off on the right foot with our project clients because we know what we are doing...there really isn't any learning curve. But, keep in mind, there really isn't much career or professional growth involved, either.
On the other side of the fence...going outside our comfort zone can feel awkward, cause us great concern and stress, and...if not handled properly...cause our customers concern and stress as well if we appear to lack confidence. Lets' look at the pros and cons of taking on projects within...and outside...of our professional comfort zones...
Going outside of our comfort zones and immediate areas of knowledge can serve several very positive purposes including:
Knowledge gain. By going outside our comfort zone we can acquire new knowledge, try new strategies, test new technology and keep challenging ourselves. At the same time we bring new project capabilities to our organization's project offerings.
Expansion of client base. By going outside our comfort zone we can appeal to a broader client base. As a consultant I've been able to do that by attracting customers that may not be very related to project management and / or professional services. As a project manager, I've done that by leading projects for clients outside the area of normal usage for our products and services, thus expanding our niche in the industry and our client base at the same time.
Expansion of services offered. When we go outside our comfort zone, we are open to new and innovative requests from our current project clients. I've had several innovative clients ask for services or content that I had not worked on previously, but in the long run it greatly increased my service offerings to all clients and, therefore, my revenue as well as my service offerings became even broader and more appealing.
Obviously, there are some very good reasons for going outside of our comfort zones. But with this shift in focus outside of our comfort zone and immediate areas of expertise, comes a realization of a few potential risks. What these are and how we deal with them are specific to our industry, service niche, and the types of customers we are working with, but some general ones that come to mind include:
Vulnerability to cybercrime or data breaches due to working outside expertise and safety zone. Let's assume that you and / or your organization are as tuned into cyber security as you may claim. Even if you are, once you stroll outside your area of comfort and expertise you may also be taking a walk outside your area of data and data center protection. If you are going where no man in has gone before in your organization, that doesn't mean you aren't going right where the hackers find you the most vulnerable. And we now know that everyone and everything can eventually be hacked...we are all merely just trying to catch up with the hackers at all times. They are ahead of us, not vice versa...no matter what your IT guys claim.
Increased project failure potential. Project failure happens more frequently than we care to admit and accept anyway, even when we are operating within our comfort zone and areas of expertise. Once we venture outside of that and take on projects in unfamiliar surroundings using unfamiliar technologies with customers in new industries that we haven't worked in before, we increase the possibility for project failure – at least at first – exponentially. It's ok, you have to start somewhere, just be mentally prepared and do some extra risk planning just in case.
Winning these projects may be a tougher sell. If you're use to winning projects easily within your comfort zone, you may need to check your ego at the door and be ready to face some rejections. When asked what credentials you have to take on these new and different projects, don't lie. But be ready to be heavily questioned by cautious potential clients as to why they should go with you over 'x' competitor who has expertise in this particular area where you are lacking. Do research and be ready to respond to such questions. They will come.
Summary / call for input
I'll be the first to admit, I'm not usually one who likes to go outside my comfort zone. At least I wasn't most of my life – I've gotten better at it in recent years. I even liked to take the same vacations over and over again. Trying new foods? Never. Now – fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it – there isn't much I won't eat. Thankfully, my wife is a great cook and takes pride in serving our large family healthy food so my new lack of pickiness has made her very happy. I've managed to take that same open mind into the things I do professionally – including the projects I work on and the customers and technology I work with. It's opened me up to knew project and consulting opportunities, helped increase my revenue and the revenue of the organizations that I work with, and it's made me a better and more well-rounded professional.
How about our readers? Are you comfortable outside your general area of expertise? Are you comfortable learning new things? Have you taken on projects for your organization that were outside either your comfort zone or the organization's normal area of focus? How did it go? What did you learn?