Until recently I spent my days languishing in my comfort zone. Every day was a little different and brought with it a satisfying level of challenge. I knew the landscape of my working world well and it suited me. It was safe and familiar and generally quite predictable. I was content with my lot. I was not looking for change.
You may recognise this situation. You enjoy your current environment and feel concerned about what you might lose if you changed just one thing. It’s not worth taking a risk.
Of course it’s possible that you can’t imagine anything worse than being surrounded by routine and sameness. You need variety, excitement and adventure in your life. Change to you is a daily occurrence. Nothing stays the same for long. You actively seek change.
With the help of recent research we can add some meaning to these different approaches to change, understanding that different areas of our brain are active in each of these scenarios.
If a situation is working in our favour, we’re less likely to seek change. Our needs are being met and we’re able to make some choices within known parameters. Here we develop our expertise and feel rewarded for our talents. We’re exploiting our environment for our own gain and do not seek to change things. The risk of operating only in this mode is that if we never step out, we may not optimise our potential.
If something’s not working in our favour, we might be compelled to look for alternatives. This leads us to increase our level of risk taking, behavioural flexibility and discovery of new experiences and ideas. The danger of spending too much time here is that we never develop expertise in one area and we create so much instability that it leads to an uncertain future possibly realising that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
If we operate exclusively in either one of these areas, we limit our potential for growth and success
Understanding the difference means that when we have a decision to make we can consider the level of exploitation and exploration in our current environment and anticipate the same in our proposed environment.
Coaching can help you to gain insight around this issue. Individuals, teams and organisations can also assess whether they’re only ever operating in their preferred environment rather than having a balance between the two.
- If you want to be in exploitation mode more (so that you can build your expertise), it’s necessary for your current situation to provide you with enough choice and challenge to stop you from becoming bored. You need the opportunity to be able use your talents and to experience reward for using them.
- If you want to be in exploration mode (so that you can step out to optimise your potential), then your current situation needs to be boring. You will need to feel that your talents are not being used so that you feel that the risk of moving or making a change is worthwhile (the promise of financial gain from the change is often a good motivator).
Having moved from exploitation to exploration and back again in my working world, I know I’ll recognise when to change again into exploration. Will you?
Where do you spend most of your time – exploitation or exploration? Does this change for different areas of your life?
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