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Will You Leave Your Comfort Zone? Ask Yourself This Question

Many new business owners rely on past experience to make decisions. How to break that pattern.
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I live in Basel, Switzerland, which might have the best public transportation system in the world. It is clean, fast, on time, and can get you where you want to be. In fact, it's so fabulous that I've lived here for four years and still don't own a car.

So, I was somewhat amused to look out the window of my tram this morning and see at least 100 people, in business attire, with small suitcases, waiting for taxis. (There's a huge jewelry convention in town.) The woman next to me on the tram noticed too, and we laughed. Those people will be standing there at least an hour waiting for a taxi to get them to their hotels. In the meantime, they'll get cranky and hot (most were wearing black and it's in the mid 70s today), and will arrive at their hotels far later than they would if they crossed the street and jumped on a tram.

So, why wait for a taxi when it would be far easier to take public transportation? I think the answer to this is indicative of problems small business owners face as well. Here's what I think is going through their brains--and your brains--and how to fix it.

What is going through their brains: I know how taxis work. I don't know how the tram system works. I'd have to ask somebody what tram to take. What if I make a mistake? I don't speak German. Yes, I see the big information booth, but if I walk over there I will lose my place in the taxi line. Plus everyone else is in the taxi line. They will think I'm cheap and not hip if I take a tram instead of a taxi.

Here's what goes through the brains of new business owners: I know how my old manager managed me, so I'll manage people like that. There's resources to help people like me out, I think, but I'm not quite sure who to ask or what to say and if I say it wrong, people will think I'm stupid. Besides, by asking, people will think I don't know what I'm doing, so I'll just keep doing what I'm doing even though it doesn't seem to be working very well.

Why do we do that? Why don't we just ask the darn questions? There are resources out there, but sometimes they require us to step outside our comfort zones. Sometimes they require us to say, "Hey, I don't have a clue what I'm doing here. Can you help me out?" Sometimes it requires that we ask a question of (gasp!) a subordinate who has more knowledge and experience in that particular area.

If you start asking questions, you'll find that there are fabulous resources. You'll find that there are (probably) better ways to do whatever it is that you need to do. And if you are lucky enough to find out that you're doing it the best possible way, you can go forward with confidence.

If those people waiting for the taxis were able to step outside their comfort zone just a little and walk to the information booth, they'd undoubtedly discover that there was information available in a language they speak, their hotel was less than a block away from the tram stop, and that a tram ticket will cost about five francs instead of the 40 to 50 they'll have to pay for a taxi.

What will you find out if you step outside your comfort zone and ask?

IMAGE: chrisjongkind/Flickr
Last updated: Apr 25, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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