Bill Eckstrom: Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life at TEDxUniversityofNevada (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Bill Eckstrom’s TEDx Talk: Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life at TEDxUniversityofNevada Conference. Bill Eckstrom is the President and founder of the EcSell Institute, a company that helps sales departments create world class sales coaching teams.

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Bill Eckstrom – President and founder, EcSell Institute

So, I was on a roll. I was an executive with a nice salary, annual bonuses, and stock options, all the perks. Everything was on track.

And on Monday, January 7, 2008 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, in a small conference room on the top floor of our building, the president of the company wanted to have a quick meeting with me, which wasn’t unusual since he was my boss.

But the meeting turned out to be even more brief than expected. He fired me. And I’ll never forget how his words just sucked the breath right out of me, and I left the conference room in a dazed state, and I went home and curled up in my bed in the fetal position for three hours.

And while I could go on in vivid detail about how I felt, what it did to my self-esteem, my finances, and so on, what I now realize is, while that event created the greatest amount of discomfort I had ever felt, it was that discomfort, the departure from my ordered life, that forever changed it for the better.

You see, friends, what makes you comfortable can ruin you, and what makes you uncomfortable is the only way to grow. Let me say that again: What makes you comfortable can ruin you, and only in a state of discomfort, can you continually grow.

Now, I suppose if on January 8, had somebody come up and said, “Gee buddy, getting fired is a good thing because now you’re really going to grow!” I probably would have smacked them.

But, pretty quickly I became motivated to start a new journey, and after a couple years of work with my new team and a PhD friend at the University of Nebraska, we had this epiphany on how to illustrate and apply the science of discomfort and growth. We called the concept: the “Growth Rings.”

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The Growth Rings represent living environments that promote or hinder growth. And that includes everything from your place of work, to even a fishbowl. You see, what dictates the size of a goldfish is its environment. And while this goldfish lives in a very safe environment, it’s also very limiting in most every way. And when placed in a more robust environment, like, say, a small pond, this can be the result. Now, it also means he could be eaten. But friends, this is you — the environments in which you work, live, and play, they’re all a proverbial fishbowl that dictates your growth.

So, the first Growth Ring represents a low-performing, low-growth environment, called stagnation. Stagnation is understood by having to follow too many steps, and permissions, and minutiae. That stifles creativity, independent thought, and action. To imagine an environment such as this, think no further than our state and federal governments.

Now, the antithesis of stagnation is chaos, also low-growth and low-performing. Chaos can be caused by internal or external events or conditions. We see chaos occur at times in business mergers, natural disasters, and horrific events like 9/11. Chaos is having zero predictability or control over inputs and outcomes.

Coming back down the Growth Rings, next to stagnation is the most desirable environment: order. Order is knowing that what you do, or what is happening in your environment, leads to a predictable outcome. And in predictability, comfort is found. But comfort is also what makes order so dangerous. Because science shows that anytime you continually do something, or even think about something the same way, you’ll eventually stop growing. And this applies to every living thing — even our dog. You see, if Aspen had a chance, she’d choose comfort six days a week and twice on Sundays.

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But too much growth-limiting order would have prevented her from becoming a therapy dog, and had this been allowed, think of the lives this gentle soul would not be touching today. So, before your order continues to limit the way you think and act, remember what I said earlier: Growth only occurs in a state of discomfort.

Now, think about the power of that phrase: Growth only occurs in a state of discomfort. I can unequivocally state, I wouldn’t be standing on this stage today without my uncomfortable, order-disrupting day, nine years ago. By the way I’m not recommending you go get fired to see if it leads to a TEDTalk.

But when you feel discomfort hit, that means you’ve entered the complexity ring. Complexity is nothing more than changed order, but when your order is changed, outcomes are no longer predictable, and it’s unpredictability that makes you uncomfortable. And while most times your visceral response to discomfort is not just “No” but “Hell, no,” you can actually learn how empowering it is to consciously acknowledge discomfort, and then, when appropriate, choose complexity over order. And I know seeking discomfort sounds odd, and not many people do it, but you have to learn to embrace it because it’s the only environment where sustained or exponential growth can occur.

To weave high-growth complexity into the fabric of your lives, there are three primary ways it can be triggered.

Complexity trigger number one is it can be forced upon you. When I got fired, I didn’t have a chance to stay in order, complexity was selected for me. And when this happens, how much you grow depends on how you respond to it. Now, I could have remained angry, I could have used it as an excuse, but what I actually learned is that I suck as an employee, and I’m much better off accepting the risks of running my own company.