How to fail, in 3 easy steps!
Lean Journeys Brad Cairns

Your comfort zone is one of these three zones. The "magic zone" is the same as the "panic zone," but it's where action happens.

There are volumes written on what we need to do to succeed, so I’m going to take a slightly different approach and outline the three keys to ensuring you fail. Perhaps this perspective will resonate differently and help get you going on the track you need to be on.

Step 1: Stay in your comfort zone
This is a surefire way to guarantee that positive change doesn’t find you. We like to teach that there are actually three zones. Generally, we all like to stay in our “comfort zone,” this is where everything comes relatively easy. Stress is low, and it’s like having the cruise control set on your car. But just outside of the comfort zone is the “learning zone.” This is where you realize the need for some change, step out of the comfort zone to acquire new knowledge or skills.

Naturally, there is an associated discomfort with the learning zone, so you will bounce in and out of there from your comfort zone. Then just outside of the learning zone is what is perceived as the “PANIC zone.” This is where you are totally out of your element, you have done some homework (in the learning zone) but you’re freaking out a bit because the rubber is about to hit the road. And there is never any guarantee of the outcome. But in reality, this should be called “The magic zone.”

This is where all the hard work comes to fruition. Where you get to see for yourself the hypothesis turns to reality. Think if the Wright brothers stayed in the comfort zone, or constantly studying in the learning zone, we probably wouldn’t have the modern airplane. They had to get out there, strap themselves in and hope it worked.

Step 2: Blame your people
There will never be a day that goes by without a plethora of things going wrong. If you find yourself always saying, “If only they would have done this, inserted that or if I just had better people.” There are two key principles here that are a bit tough to swallow. But the first one is: These people are just operation in the system you developed. Your company will not rise to its potential; it will actually fall to the level of your systems. And the second principle is: Everything is actually your fault.

I know, I know, you’re saying, “IMPOSSIBLE, how can that be?” Rather than trying to convince you, I will consider this a seed planted. In the wise words of Dale Carnegie from the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” he says, “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”

But trust me, when you accept this one as truth, everything will get better. We actually think keeping stuff like this top of mind is so critical, we developed a line of T-shirts, so everyone in your factory doesn’t have to get tattoos.

Step 3: Let your ego prevail
I’m going to quote my mother here (boy, she would be proud): “You can’t know what you don’t know.” And keeping your ego in the driver seat is a surefire way to miss a lot of opportunity.

I have a real-life example from the Wood Pro Expo Florida show. I ran into someone one evening. We got talking about business. Turns out, they are a personal development trainer. I thought how exciting, I feel like I know a thing or two about that. Then she stopped me in my tracks by asking if I were coaching my people or problem solving.

I went through a phase of denial and defensiveness. Then realizing, that’s just my ego, next phase was questioning, was she right? Followed by, geeze, I can’t know what I don’t know… So, we scheduled her to work with my manufacturing company to teach us what coaching actually is, and get us out of problem solving mode.

Once I got my ego out of the driver’s seat, I got excited about acquiring the new information. The moral of the story is not to be too proud to ask for help. You never know when or how that information will come to you. There is a good possibility you can learn something from anyone. Make it your mission to be humble and accept what others have to offer. If you want to take that to the next level, seek what they have to offer.

Flipping it around
Now let’s flip this around. You can literally reverse all of this almost as fast as flipping a light switch.

Expand your comfort zone through learning. My secret weapon for this is audio books. Make use of all that downtime while driving, doing laundry or cutting grass. Find time where you would normally be doing some trivial tasks and turn your car, garage or front yard into a business university.

Literally accept that everything is your fault. So long as it’s someone else’s fault, it’s out of your control. As soon as you accept some level of responsibility, then you know you created or contributed to the problem. That’s when you have the power to reverse it.

I’m going to use a wonderful quote from the book “2 Second Lean” by: Paul Akers. He says, “Your ego will stop you from learning the thing you need to know the most.” I really believe this to be true.

Remember, if you’re reading this, you are in the top 2 percent, use these principles and keep it that way.


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Profile picture for user bradcairns
About the author
Brad Cairns | President/Owner/C-Level

Brad Cairns is a partner at Quantum Lean and is dedicated to improving the woodworking industry in North America using lean methods. He puts lean thinking in action at My Door Factory, a cabinet door manufacturing business he founded in St. Thomas, Ontario. And he is also founder of Stolbek, a machinery manufacturer. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].