Positioning for Growth and Innovation: Finding the Sweet Spot

We live in times where society presses us toward near constant growth and begs for meaningful innovation. As education practitioners and leaders, it is up to us to take up this challenge and show the way forward in our areas of passion and expertise. It is increasingly clear that if we hope to create and shape the learning environments today’s learners need and deserve, we must be willing to do the “heavy lifting” necessary to create them.

Innovation or Status Quo?
Growth and innovation are complex and require a variety of skills. These experiences often are accompanied by awkwardness and discomfort. At times, they can stimulate a level of uncertainty and bewilderment that can strip us of our best thinking and even leave us feeling paralyzed.

On the other hand, if we stay in a position of constant safety, relying on the skills we already have, the approaches we have always used and are satisfied with the results we have always seen, growth and innovation are not likely to be a part of our experience. As a result, we may squander what is arguably the best opportunity to transform formal learning we have faced in more than a century.

Comfort vs. Tolerance
The key question is: How can we position ourselves to make growth and innovation more likely without moving us to a point of freezing up or giving up? Fortunately, there is a way to think about these seemingly conflicting experiences and use them to guide our work and stimulate our best thinking and efforts.

Maximum growth and innovation are most likely to occur just outside of our “comfort zone” and just inside our “tolerance zone.” Each of us has comfort and tolerance zones that are unique to us. What works for others may not be best for us. The point is that we need to find and frequently occupy this space if we are to realize the potential we possess and enjoy the growth and satisfaction that comes with being our best and doing our best work.

The Right Balance
We need to be sensitive to our feelings, fears and levels of frustration. When we are most comfortable and confident it may be time to nudge ourselves to try something new, take a risk in our practice, or engage with someone who sees the world and our work from another perspective. As a result, we may gain a new insight, see a new option or find a new path. At the same time, when we feel ourselves becoming overwhelmed and disoriented, it may be time to take a step back and reflect, look for connections to what is familiar and find more “solid footing” that allows us to re-engage and move forward.

We know that students learn best when they know themselves well and are in a position to be partners in their learning. The same is true when it comes to our learning, thinking and creating. We need to listen, press, push, and pull back in response to where we find ourselves. Our constant search needs to be for the “sweet spot” found in the space between our zone of comfort and our zone of tolerance.

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