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Paul Naysmith

Quality Insider

Where the Magic Happens

When was the last time you experienced something new?

Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - 15:35

From where I sit, flying high in the air, I can see the deep royal blue of the Atlantic. White waves are cresting around an island below, outlining the green and brown blob that, without a map, is nameless and unknown to me. I’m on my way to one of the islands off the east coast of Canada, an island with a miniature population where clocks are set 30 minutes off from the rest of the world’s. This is the first time I’ve approached Newfoundland when it wasn’t in the middle of a snowstorm.

A crackling voice comes over the intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen if you look out the left side of the aircraft, you can see icebergs.” This is interesting. I’ve never seen a real-life iceberg before. I remember the one in the movie Titanic, where it was the villain in the plot and a real hazard to the passengers. I’m transfixed by the marvelous, iridescent pale-blue block below me, bobbing peacefully in the vast ocean. I’m also disconcerted to realize the passenger to my right has decided my personal space no longer belongs to me, and that my knee makes a handy platform to support his frame as he presses his face against the window to get a better view.

So at this point in time, I’ve been gifted with two extraordinary experiences: an iceberg sighting and a traveler making what I think is a very inappropriate man-to-man contact with me. The iceberg sighting I will catalog in my library of really neat and awesome things; for the man seated next to me I’ll have to employ my international diplomacy skills.

I might not necessarily like all my new experiences, but that’s the thing: How do you know if you will like something until you try it? I decide this will be my catchphrase as I travel on business with one of my team, who has never visited Newfoundland before, or even left the United States.

So during the ensuing week I tested this person’s resolve as we sampled life on this island out in the Atlantic. I soon became envious, wishing that I, a heavily seasoned traveler desiring fantastical new experiences, could experience what my teammate was feeling.

What does it mean to try, or not try, something new? How much of it is a risk-taking experiment for the individual? As adults with years of experiences to rely on, we surely know what works or what doesn’t, what we like or dislike. In the business world, we develop a similar knowledge base, although some of the most potentially harmful words you will ever hear are, “We’ve always done it like this,” or something similar. I consider them dangerous because they may prevent us from addressing inefficiencies, or lull us into accepting poor quality.

On LinkedIn recently I saw the graphic below. Unfortunately, I’m unsure about whom to credit for creating it, although I very much agree with the sentiment. I often think that a new experience is magical and will never be found inside our comfort zones:

To be perfectly honest, I’ve used that graphic a few times on a blank whiteboard when I’m trying to express the idea visually to someone who is uncertain about trying something new. I do appreciate that fear is part of the natural instinct for preservation and prevents us from making dangerous leaps into the unknown, but fear can also be a potential barrier to achieving new levels of performance or success. Business and industry are full of examples where sticking with the same and never trying something different has lead to stagnation and failure.

People tend to base judgment calls on prior experiences. For me, having more experiences to pull from (I call this my library) helps me see a situation differently, which helps me make those judgment calls. Traveling to different countries and meeting different people with differing belief systems has helped me appreciate a truly global perspective in my approach to quality and in expressing my ideas. Understanding the values of local geographic markets, experiencing firsthand how speaking just one language is a massive barrier, and realizing that learning about a culture different from my own is a strength, has taught me invaluable lessons that have moved me beyond my comfort zone and into the area where magic happens.

You might not be in a position to travel overseas, but you probably are exposed to many new experiences right where you are. I once heard a motivational speaker say that it’s a good idea to learn something new every day. Although this isn’t always practical or realistic, I like the idea in principle.

So what could be some of the things that could hold us back? Is it a fear of failure, or being proven wrong? For me, finding out that something doesn’t work is a greater learning experience than getting it right.

Many fantastic and high-achieving business professionals are driven to come up with new ideas to solve problems, and I guess they might be seen as “risk takers.” One such business leader would be GE’s former CEO, Jack Welch. In his biography Jack: Straight from the Gut (Business Plus, 2003), we learn that this very progressive CEO introduced Six Sigma across his organization at great expense. Of course, he also earned his nickname “Neutron Jack” for eliminating employees while leaving the factories standing. If we wish to be successful or progressive, we need to combine seeking new experiences with learning from mistakes.

With the pace of competition and innovation that technological advances have given us, business has never been so competitive. I truly believe that quality will keep any business competitive, but it will take new ways of thinking as well as improving every element of how we do things. But as long as this is considered optional, and that maintaining our current levels of quality so we can stay in our comfort zones is more important, we’ll have to be content to watch as our customers go and look for the magic elsewhere.


About The Author

Paul Naysmith’s picture

Paul Naysmith

Paul Naysmith is the author of Business Management Tips From an Improvement Ninja and Business Management Tips From a Quality Punk. He’s also a Fellow and Chartered Quality Professional with the UK’s Chartered Quality Institute (CQI), and an honorary member of the South African Quality Institute (SAQI). Connect with him at www.paulnaysmith.com, or follow him on twitter @PNaysmith.

Those who have read Paul’s columns might be wondering why they haven’t heard from him in a while. After his stint working in the United States, he moved back to his homeland of Scotland, where he quickly found a new career in the medical-device industry; became a dad to his first child, Florence; and decided to restore a classic car back to its roadworthy glory. With the help of his current employer, he’s also started the first-of-its-kind quality apprenticeship scheme, which he hopes will become a pipeline for future improvement ninjas and quality punks.