Smashing Paradigms – your Comfort Zone is no longer safe..wait, what ?

Latest in the series on Smashing Paradigms. For my story-telling explanation of the definition of a Paradigm, see “What is a Paradigm“. One way of defining a paradigm is “we’ve always done it this way”



Banks don’t like to take risks, so they lend money and make sure they have security and are first paid if something goes wrong, but they don’t make high returns on their loans

Entrepreneurs hold the equity in a business, so when it works they get the high returns, but if it doesn’t they are last in line to be paid.

So, Entrepreneurs first need to see an opening, a gap in the market, but they must also be risk takers, they must have a high tolerance for risk.


In fact, if your risk profile is less than 6 out of 10 on an online risk indicator I’ve had many people take, I advise them to NOT try being an entrepreneur. They are too risk averse.

So far, so normal, yes ? Nothing new here.

What if, however, taking the comfortable option of a regular job is MORE risky than starting your own business ? What if comfortable is no longer safe….

comfort zone safety zone

In the Icarus Deception, Seth Godin wrote about the idea that, in our incredibly fast changing world, we make the mistake of relaxing and assuming that staying in our comfort zone overlaps nicely with playing it safe.

When I was growing up, the expectation was to study hard in our school education system designed for rote learning and making us a cog in the industrial era machine. We then go to a good college and get a good job with a respected large corporation and stay in that job until we retire at 65. Then, with a life expectancy of 70, we have five years to enjoy the fruits of our roughly 40 years of labour in that machine.

Gosh, sounds awful, but that was the life we were brought up to do.

The thing is, it isn’t even safe to do that anymore. School and University education is increasingly redundant as they can’t remotely keep up with the speed of change, then big corporations are increasingly sluggish at innovating and more and more people find the cultures there simply untenable to be a part of. Finally, assuming we do get that “good job”, we can commit ourselves for the long term only to find that the safety zone moves and the company itself becomes irrelevant and the jobs disappear.

As an example, I was recently told that one of the “Big 4” accounting firms this year had their all time peak intake year for accountancy student intake. They know this as they themselves are innovating technology to replace their own people with technology. Historically one would have 14 years of school, 4 years of University, 3 years of study to qualify as an accountant, but then after those 21 years, you’d be set with a good job for life.

No more, at the end of the day auditing jobs are still mostly routine and recurring tasks, and those jobs are disappearing from the economy at a rapid rate.

21 years of study to be an Accountant ? Not safe

Even longer to be a Doctor ? Not safe (yes, GPs and other practitioners are being innovated out of their safety zone too).

Is your comfort zone still safe ?  If not, what is the alternative ?

The alternative is to be an Artist ?

What ? Head exploded yet ? Shaking it vigorously ? I get you.

Read what Seth has to say though, and note he wrote this over five years ago. Prophetic.

Be an Artist, and Make Art !

It’s simple. There’s still a safety zone, but it’s not in a place that feels comfortable to you.
The new safety zone is the place where art and innovation and destruction and rebirth happen. The new safety zone is the never-ending creation of ever-deeper personal connection. Successful people align their comfort zone with the behavior that keeps them safe.

But what happens when the place of safety moves… and you don’t? Moving to a new safety zone is a little like learning to swim.

It’s clearly better to have the ability to survive (and even have fun) in the water, but for a long time it’s not comfortable. Recognizing that the safety zone has moved might be the prompt you need to reevaluate your comfort zone. 

If you become someone who is uncomfortable unless she is creating change, restless if things are standing still, and disappointed if you haven’t failed recently, you’ve figured out how to become comfortable with the behaviors most likely to make you safe going forward.

Art Is the New Safety Zone. Creating ideas that spread and connecting the disconnected are the two pillars of our new society, and both of them require the posture of the artist. Doing these two things regularly and with abandon is where the new safety zone lies.

Maintaining the status quo and fighting to fit in no longer work, because our economy and our culture have changed. The bad news is this: Artists are never invulnerable. This safety zone isn’t as comfortable as the last one was. It took a hundred years for us to be brainwashed into accepting the industrial system as normal and safe. It is neither, not for long. 

Forget Salvador Dalí. When you hear the word “artist,” do you picture the slightly crazed Dalí or the self-destructive Jackson Pollock? Perhaps you’ve been trained to imagine that you need to be someone like Johnny Depp or Amanda F. Palmer in order to make art.
This notion is both dangerous and wrong.

Oscar Wilde wrote that art is “new, complex, and vital.” Art isn’t something that’s made by artists. Artists are people who make art. 

Art is not a gene or a specific talent. Art is an attitude, culturally driven and available to anyone who chooses to adopt it. Art isn’t something sold in a gallery or performed on a stage. Art is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another. Most painters, it turns out, aren’t artists at all—they are safety-seeking copycats.

Seizing new ground, making connections between people or ideas, working without a map. These are works of art, and if you do them, you are an artist, regardless of whether you wear a smock, use a computer, or work with others all day long.

Speaking up when there’s no obvious right answer, making yourself vulnerable when it’s possible to put up shields, and caring about both the process and the outcome—these are works of art that our society embraces and the economy demands.

Be an Artist



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