A Creature of Habit is defined as a person who “develops (generally inadvertently) a set pattern of doing the same thing(s) during a certain time period of the day, week, etc.”

We are all creatures of habit. Everyone has a routine that keeps us in our comfort zone both in personal and professional lives. We drive the same route to work, park in the same space every day, drink the same coffee, shop at the same grocery store, and buy the same brands.

So, as professionals, the challenge is getting creatures of habits to break out of their comfort zones and choose to work with you, buy from the business you represent, and purchase the product or service you are selling?

Last week I drove from Boston to Canada to Baltimore. I took a secondary road and then transitioned to the highway, relying on my trusty GPS for the best directions. About 20 miles down the highway, I passed a truck. It was the exact same truck I had passed just before exiting the secondary road. The driver apparently had taken a different route, a better route, which cut time and mileage off his trip. As a creature of habit, I had relied on my GPS, as usual, but had not made the best choice. If I only had only known that I could have followed the truck! You better believe that the next time I will check for alternatives! Too often, we confuse guidance with direction. At school, teachers provide information that guide us and influence choices throughout our lives. A GPS system provides guidance – alternatives – that shows how to move from point to point. At work, managers provide training and guidance designed to help us excel. While essential, any information we get – whether from teachers, technology or managers – does not mean it’s the best direction in every situation.

The only way to get most people out of their comfort zones and motivate them to break habits is to get them to change their way of thinking or, as the saying goes, to get them to think and act outside the box, to change their perception. If two people look at the same picture, they will each see it if different ways. One may see the sun breaking through a storm and another may see a storm brewing. While neither perception is wrong, yet typically an individual’s perception rarely changes. As creatures of habit, we follow the same routine every day. We drive the same roads, stop at the same coffee shop, shop at the same stores, and buy the same brands. We live, work and play in the same box, even if it’s not the best choice.

If I had stepped out of my box and thought about alternative routes, I would have arrived earlier. I stayed in my comfort zone, my box, and followed the directions my “guidance” – my GPS – told me to go.

Yet, look what can happen when individuals and companies break out of their comfort zone.

  • Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he finally succeeded. In the early days, Ford built cars one at a time. The car sat on the ground as mechanics and their support teams sourced parts and returned to the car to assemble it from the chassis upwards. Henry Ford to “put the world on wheels” and produce an affordable vehicle for the general public. He knew that to do this he had to produce the largest number of cars, to the simplest design, for the lowest possible cost using what he called a moving assembly line. Ford invented machines and then kept experimenting until every practice was refined, and his mass production vision became a reality. A bare chassis moved along the line and through different workstations until a complete car was driven off under its own power. Ford’s moving assembly line started an industrial revolution.
  • Another Detroit example is Lee Iacocca who saved Chrysler from bankruptcy in the 1980s. Iacocca had an uncanny knack for understanding what the American car buyer wants to drive. While not every car he conceived was a success, he never stopped inventing with car buyers in mind and created numerous hit vehicles and new product segments for both Ford and Chrysler.
  • The Ford Mustang 1964 – By seeing what a racy body with a long hood and a short rear deck could do for a plain-vanilla Ford Falcon chassis, Iacocca created the Mustang and launched a class of vehicles known as pony cars. The Mustang set a record for first-year sales and has remained in Ford’s car lineup as a core vehicle ever since.
  • Ford Pinto, 1971-1980 – To fend off small cars from Japan, Iacocca ordered up a subcompact that would weigh less than 2,000 pounds and sell for less than $2,000. In the rush to economize, the Pinto’s fuel tank was left vulnerable to rear-end collisions and resulting fires. Ford was accused of preferring to absorb potential lawsuits for death and injury rather than pay $11 per car to fix the defect.
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee 1992 – Built in Detroit and the first unibody SUV, the Grand Cherokee caught the initial wave of sport-utility popularity and continues to deliver outsize profits to this day.
  • Fred Smith wrote a term paper based on an idea for reliable overnight delivery service. His professor gave him a C because the idea wasn’t feasible. Years later, many potential investors agreed with the professor, refusing to send capital Smith’s way. The funds he did raise in 1971 and 1972 were gone by 1974, along with his investors. One catchy slogan –     “FedEx-when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight” – and several million dollars of hard-won capital later, Federal Express was on its way to profitability and long-term success.
  • Steve Jobs wanted to give everyone a computer at a time when nobody realized computers were necessary. He founded Apple to create home computers, experienced some early success and even changed advertising with the infamous “1984” commercial that changed the way people thought about computing. Apple faltered in the consumer market with the expensive Macintosh and Jobs was ousted from the company he founded but was eventually asked to return to his first love, where he turned around Apple at a time when it was in trouble.
  • A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Disney declared bankruptcy several times before he built Disneyland, which was originally rejected by the City of Anaheim.
  • Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, was rejected by twenty-seven publishers. The twenty-eighth publisher, Vanguard press, sold six million copies of the book.

Some people are motivated by the word no and by failure, and are driven to look for a new way to do things. For them, no means go, and fail means sail. All it takes is a different look, a change of perception. It takes you. If you don’t change anything, nothing changes at all. Yet, change brings benefits.

Comfort Zone Different Way Why Benefit for Business
Mop and bucket iRobot Roomba Saves time Revenue
Checkout line Self-checkout Faster, easier

More customer aggravation

Lower personnel expenses
Specialty stores (grocery, bakery, hardware, etc.) Warehouse stores Convenient, lower prices Higher revenue and sales; lower overhead
Electric ovens for all baking and cooking Microwaves/convection ovens Convenient, fast, more even cooking New revenue stream up sell
External hard drives for backup storage Cloud computing More secure Recurring revenue

The difference between people who stay in their comfort zone and those who get out or change is a willingness to take the risk. And, if the risk doesn’t work, to persist, to try again, to make it work. They never quit. Look at examples above. Each of these individuals, regardless of their field of endeavor, was a risk taker. They left their comfort zone repeatedly and accomplished exactly what they envisioned, what often they were told could never be possible.

In sales, the constant question must be, “What are you going to do differently tomorrow that you didn’t do today?” Success comes when YOU thinking out of box. Ask yourself:

  • How do I communicate with my boss, my customers?
  • Am I always learning about my business?
  • Am I looking for new things that are coming out?
  • Am I willing to learn from every day experiences?
  • Do I look for new ways to solve problems or am I complacent?

Unless you view your situation from different perspectives, think outside the box, and try or invent new ways of doing things, no book or training, or class will ever make a difference. And, if you can’t change your own perspective, you’ll never change anyone or anything else.

About the author

Richard F. Libin

Richard F. Libin has written two acclaimed books that help people of all walks…

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