It can happen to the best of us. We work hard towards our goals. We get in a rhythm, a routine, and we have a good idea of what works for us.

But then one day you hear someone in your network talking about a new project they are working on that is innovative and cool. And then you look at your work, your goals, and wonder why you've yet to achieve that breakthrough you crave.

It's not that you're not capable of playing on a larger level. It's just that it can be easy to get lulled into doing what's always been done, and following the roadmap, rather than venturing out to explore uncharted territories.

But if you want to get above average returns for your efforts, you've got to break the habit of playing it safe.

18-time best-selling author Seth Godin preaches this approach as well, "the only people who get paid enough, get paid what they're worth, are the people who don't follow the instruction book, who create art, who are innovative, who work without a map."

It's time for you to start playing on a bigger scale. Here are 3 ways to get you ready to do it.

1. Upgrade your network.

Spend time with people who inspire you to push your boundaries and do more. Learning from their experiences will shine a light on what is possible for you. Too much time rubbing elbows with people content with the status quo will limit your ability to see beyond.

2. Look for inspiration outside your industry.

When you look at the same examples as everyone else in your industry, it is all too common to produce a slightly modified version of what already exists. To break out of the sea of sameness, look for inspiration in unrelated fields.

That's what Barry Gordy, founder of Motown did in the 1960's. The label was able to consistently produce hit after hit for its iconic groups such as The Jackson 5, The Temptations, and The Supremes, largely because of their assembly line approach to developing records. That methodology was loosely based upon the assembly line at Ford, where Gordy previously worked.

Gordy adopted the idea of making development a team effort, and, as on an assembly line, each member of the team was given a specialized task to perform. He cultivated a group of experts who, working together, could take unrefined young singers and turn them into hit-makers ready to perform and promote the Motown product: records.

3. Abandon your comfort zone.

In his book, It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be, Paul Arden warned against leaning on the comfort of your experience when it comes to tackling issues:

Knowledge comes from the past, so it's safe. It is also out of date. It's the opposite of originality. Experience is built from solutions to old situations and problems. The old situations are probably different from the present ones, so that old solutions will have to be bent to fit new problems (and possibly fit badly). Also the likelihood is that, if you've got the experience, you'll probably use it. This is lazy. Experience is the opposite of being creative.

To get out of the habit of using your experience as the starting point for everything, step into the unknown. Get in the habit of trying new things.

4. Seek out criticism.

Ideas get stronger when they are battle tested by other smart thinkers. Instead of keeping your ideas to yourself, put them in front of other folks whose opinions you value, particularly those whose backgrounds and experiences are different from yours.

Ask your panel "how can I make this better?"

That's what the Pixar team does to consistently produce outstanding work. Best-selling author David Burkus noted how Pixar battle-tests ideas as a part of their normal routine:

Every day teams gather first thing in the morning to review their work from the previous day. They examine each frame produced in turn and criticize nearly everything about it. No detail is too small to critique and no one is prohibited from arguing against the work of someone else. Everything from the angle of the lighting to the timing of certain sound effects is brought up and fought over. This intense process, sometimes called "shredding," can be draining, but the Pixar teams know that the process is vital to their ability to release quality work again and again.

You can achieve major goals. But you've got to start thinking bigger about what you are capable of producing. And then you've got to engage in the habits that stretch your mind and abilities to enable you to do it.

Get in the habit of following the steps above, and leave small thinking behind once and for all.

Published on: Sep 25, 2017