The Comfort Principle

A few years back I had the honor and pleasure of spending New Year’s Eve with the Sy family, including Henry Sy Sr. and children Tessie, Herbert and Hans. They told the amazing story of Mall of Asia: how it was a dream of their father’s tracing to the times when the family would take picnics alongside Manila Bay. How the project was so big, so scary, so risky, that each of the children begged their father not to proceed with the project. And they told of how Henry Sr. stood resolute to pursue his dream of MOA, for all Filipinos to enjoy. And finally, they have finished the amazing story of MOA, saying that, in retrospect, not only was their father a great visionary, but in fact, they now wish they had made MOA even bigger!

The MOA decision was a brilliant move. But it certainly could not be called a “comfortable” decision at the time. The group was contemplating a project so large it could possibly drag down the entire company had something gone wrong. Think about it. There is nothing comfortable about that thought!

And herein lies an idea: nothing important ever happens when you are comfortable.

If one looks at any breakthroughs in history, be it religion, science, art — you name it — you will find that the breakthrough was preceded by a great deal of uncomfortable thought and moments. Just imagine Galileo taking on the conventional logic and challenging the Church — under penalty of death — for proposing that the planets circled the sun. Or Christopher Columbus, contemplating possibly sailing off the edge of the earth in pursuit of the New World. Very uncomfortable to contemplate indeed! Risky, big, innovative ideas have sharp edges, which can and do cause huge levels of discomfort.

This is certainly true in business. You won’t get a breakthrough in your business by being comfortable. MOA is just one example. How about the Gokongwei Family taking on Coke, Pepsi, Nestle and others with C2? Taking on the big boys could not have been comfortable to consider. But today they have a great brand in C2.

There is nothing sadder for me than sitting in a meeting with my young team, when someone says, “It could be a huge idea, but I have to admit I am just not comfortable going ahead with this.” I have a standard response to this: “It’s not my job to make you comfortable. It’s my job to make sure you are uncomfortable. Because when you are uncomfortable, this is when you grow, and when big ideas emerge, when breakthrough results happen.”

It is our role, as business people and business leaders, to ensure we understand this. And we must seek to shake ourselves, and our organizations, out of their comfort zones. Comfort is the enemy!

And that, in essence, is the Comfort Principle. Nothing important ever happens when you are comfortable.