Your comfort zone might be your stagnation zone

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A boy living on a farm in the Free State that helps his dad harvest maize during the day can teach himself to play modern Jazz guitar from YouTube – just as a boy in Toronto, Perth or Chicago can. A girl in Diepsloot that helps her mother with the washing every morning can study a fashion design short course through Coursera – just as other girls in Tokyo, Paris or Buenos Aires. What can’t we find online but do we stop to consider whether we are becoming stagnant in the way we seek out knowledge.

I’m sure everyone (or at least in the brand communications industry) can go to credible online sources to retrieve the latest trends, research studies, consumer behavioural movements and more. It might be a great starting point for a project, but surely there are thousands of other brand communicators using the same sources? Yes they may apply those insights or findings differently in the context of the current brand they are working on, but still it remains an idea generated from someone else’s observation.

How often do we really get out of our comfort zones to develop our own insights by interacting with public spaces and individuals? Shouldn’t we rather be at the train station, city centre taxi rank or township gaining insights into how the latest entry-level bank account should be designed, for example? It shouldn’t only be the responsibility of primary research agencies to fill our lives with insights. As Robert Wieder puts it, “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.”

Perhaps the answer lies in living a creative lifestyle. Activities that result in a tendency for us to recognise ideas or possibilities to solve a problem may be the way we stretch ourselves out of comfort zones. Practising sport as a hobby or writing on a regular basis, taking time to observe the world around us, may all be ways we create authenticity in our lives and essentially in our work for clients.

Ultimately it should be seen as a collaboration factor because we, as brand problem solvers, need to decide with whom or what we collaborate. Will it be first-hand process experience, public space interaction, people or just trusted online sources? In challenging ourselves to get out of our comfort zones, I strongly believe we will better recognise consumer patterns and will have the opportunity to leverage current trends more effectively in our efforts to design the future of a brand.

Time will remain a constraint and I don’t see daunting deadlines disappearing, but are we going to tackle our challenges with the same processes or tactics? Or are we really going to challenge ourselves to break away from the familiar and adapt an all-round creative lifestyle with the purpose to create authentic work for clients?

By Jan-Hendrik van Wyk, Strategist at NATIVE VML

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