My first job out of college was an adventure. I was curious about everything since it was all new. My boss told me that handling what we know is easy, it is what we don’t know that can catch us at a disadvantage. I walked away from that discussion intrigued and committed to finding out more about the unknown. This has been a common theme of my career and has influenced almost every major decision I have made in my job choices.
The first thing I learned is that the unknown does not exist in the middle of things, but can often be found at the fringes. Just like the cartographers of old, we find new ways to mark the edges with dragons and monstrous sea creatures to warn us away from risky ventures. Today they look like red markings on a risk management chart, a high hurdle rate, or an assumption that an existing trend line will continue on the same trajectory into the future. We take these as truth, which makes it is easy to get trapped into the comfort of the known.
I am curious by nature and it is great to have joined an organization that includes embracing the unknown as one of its core principles. Rarely satisfied, it seems that there is always another question to ask, another route to explore. My curiosity extends beyond the work I do and focuses on how people engage in the world around them. It comes from observing without judgment, exploring new ways of approaching problems, and participating in activities that help to push the bounds of creativity.
There is a legend that the Conquistador Cortez, chose to scuttle his ships and remain in the New World rather than to be tempted to return to Spain. This was to impart the knowledge to his men that there would be no turning back from the adventure that lay before them. At that time Spain ruled the seas and exploration by ship was being pursued by other adventurers in competition with Cortez. These adventurers were focusing on what they knew how to do. Land, explore and return to the ship to move to the next location, where they would repeat the process. Cortez considered moving inland and into the unknown, where risks were high. Cortez plunged into the jungle and won an empire.
When you come to work each day, do you first check your outstanding emails, your favorite websites or your twitter feeds? Or do you take a moment to sit back and think about what your company needs that it may not even know about? Go forth with the knowledge that danger and great success often go hand in hand and spend the first minutes of your day asking yourself a few simple questions: What is a completely different way to look at a problem I am facing? What small step could I take that would generate a disproportionate return? What question could help reframe the challenge ahead?
Who knows, an empire may be yours for the taking.