The Comforts of Culture

Comfort zones are obviously places where we feel comfortable - and they can be found almost anywhere, doing anything. But while there's a reasonable assumption that they're a good thing, they may possibly be not so good and they could of course be a bit of both.

Elite athletes will often say that their very demanding training regime - which most people would run a mile from - is their comfort zone. As soon as they hit the pool or the track, they're at home. They admit it may be an obsession, but that's where they want to be and they're doing it of their own free will.

The other type of comfort zone is where we do things wrongly and we know it, but for whatever reason we don't try to change our behaviour. Still with sport, a comfort zone can be a sub-optimal golf swing or a kink in our swimming stroke that we're somehow happy to live with. The possible reasons for that could easily fill another post in this Section.

So how to reconcile these two ideas? Maybe it's all about the seriousness of the behaviour in the zone. If a training regime in fact causes physical or psychological damage, it's probably a bad thing, however much it might appeal in other ways. Similarly, if the bad habit doesn't really spoil or enjoyment, why worry, especially if we do a sport just for the enjoyment?

Not surprisingly, comfort zones abound in business, both for individuals and organisations. It's not uncommon to hear that a promoted manager appears to carry on doing their previous job for a while, rather than fully embracing the new one. However, that may make sense - after all, why take a leap when you can "play yourself in", always assuming that's feasible. Organisations can be accused of a lack of adventure, being slow to innovate, not investing, sitting on cash. Such criticisms may be reasonable, but there are constant examples of organisations that have gone outside their comfort zones - into unfamiliar markets and products, appointing people they wouldn't normally hire - with disastrous consequences.

So, as ever, the assessment relies on the specifics of the case. There are no hard and fast rules. One of the many quick and easy definitions of culture is "the way we do things around here". It's not too much of a stretch to say that culture is perhaps the next best thing to a comfort zone, with all that that might mean as well.


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