Stay in the Zone with the Growth & Discomfort Index

As humans, we are not gluttons for punishment and as a result tend to fall into easy and old habits. For most, those habits yield a state of comfort, which is not the proper state required for ongoing growth.

As IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said, “Growth and comfort don’t coexist.” So if you are committed to sustained growth in your career and life, you better get used to some discomfort. 

Consider for a moment a recent accomplishment in your life or career; such as launching a new company, raising a new round of funding, closing your largest deal to date, graduating from school, or even shifting from being a mostly self-centered adult to a child-centric parent. All of those accomplishments, especially if they were a step up for you, likely required you to experience discomfort (fear, doubt, uncertainty) at some point, but ultimately growth as a result.

Growth and comfort don’t co-exist. That’s true for people, for companies, for nations.
— Ginni Rommety, CEO, IBM

As executive coaches focused on developing growth-oriented leaders, we created a tool called the Growth & Discomfort Index to help leaders stay “in the zone” of discomfort that fuels growth. The concept was inspired by the Wall Street Fear Gauge as well as the Discomfort Index used by climatologists that evaluates the impact of heat stress on humans by combining the ambient temperature and humidity.

The Group Sixty Growth & Discomfort Index is focused on ensuring that leaders have the right amount of uncertainty, fear, and discomfort to help provide the fuel for ongoing personal and professional growth. To see where you land on the Growth & Discomfort Index, answer the following yes/no questions.

In the next 90 days… 

  1. I have an important goal that I am not 100% sure I will achieve
  2. I will try a new pathway or process to accomplish a key task
  3. I will commit to changing (adding or subtracting) one key habit or behavior in my life
  4. I will commit resources to pilot a new initiative with uncertain revenue potential
  5. I will work on one or more projects where I might fail
  6. I will do at least one task that invokes fear and uncertainty
  7. I will be vulnerable to criticism in working on a key task or activity
  8. I will have a difficult conversation with someone in my personal or professional life
  9. I will commit to changing something in my life that I have tolerated and no longer serves me
  10. I will request a meeting with a professional contact who might say no

So how many “Yes” responses did you provide to the questions above? Use the following scale to determine where you land on the Growth & Discomfort Index:

  • Feeling Comfortable (0 to 3 “Yes” Answers): You might not be pushing yourself out there far enough or you could be in a sprint to execute a key new initiative. If growth is an imperative, consider some of the actions below to move into the zone.
  • In the Zone (4 to 6 “Yes” Answers): You have a strong balance of Growth and Discomfort. Be sure to monitor this over time to ensure you don’t start Red Lining and take on too much or fade back into Feeling Comfortable.
  • Red Lining (7 to 10 “Yes” Answers): You might be pushing a bit too hard, so consider pulling back on one or more key activities or de-risk them in some way. For companies and entrepreneurs in a hyper growth phase, this is likely where you want to be, though beware of the fatigue that can set in over time from sustained Red Lining.

The Growth and Discomfort Index is a useful tool to ensure that you maintain the proper level of growth and discomfort. Do keep in mind that the “best” place to be on the index will depend on your individual and organizational values, beliefs, and strengths as well as the stage and nature (e.g. industry, target customer, basis for competition) of your business. With our coaching clients, we build a custom set of questions based on an individual’s goals as well as their strengths and development plan.

For those of you who are looking to move further along the Growth and Discomfort continuum, consider one or more of the following:

Ideas to Push Your Discomfort Level to Drive Growth

  • Pilot a new idea, product, or service in the next quarter
  • Build the strategy for and launch a moonshot initiative that could change the trajectory of your company’s growth
  • Have a challenging conversation with a team member, partner, or customer that invokes a bit of fear and discomfort, but also has upside to doing so
  • Go after a bigger customer than you ever have before
  • Speak to a bigger, more controversial audience
  • Test a new and provocative marketing campaign to unlock potential growth opportunities

As you move forward, continue to revisit the Growth & Discomfort Index to ensure you stay on the path to sustained growth. As you do, be sure to embrace discomfort and acknowledge its importance in helping you move forward and progress toward your goals.