Safe (adj.) Not causing harm or injury; especially: having a low incidence of adverse reactions.
We had just wrapped up another SUSIE Christmas campaign meeting and each of the interns left with our list of tasks to accomplish. My task was to design the Christmas campaign ad for the next issue of SUSIE. I sat down at my desk, sure of how I was going to execute my vision and clicked out the design on screen. I took a moment, examined my work and placed it into the hands of my creative director.
I was prepared for a few revisions, but instead was met with the challenge to completely redo it. My creative director told me to think big, think beyond Christmas and do something truly unique. I agreed, understanding the directive but still a bit unsure of my next move. After spending some time reflecting on my work and talking with a few of the other designers, it clicked. My work was safe … too safe. And in this case, safe didn’t work. It left me with good work but nothing excellent.
The next week I resolved to battle the safe zone I had put myself in. I made a trip to the nearest Home Depot in a dress and some heels to purchase an 8 X 4-foot piece of plywood (needless to say, I didn’t carry it out by myself). I snagged some paint, nails and a hammer and went to work on my not-so-safe Christmas ad. Co-workers popped in and out throughout the day to see what all the banging was about. By the end of the week, I had finished my big project and was ready to photograph it and make it into an ad.
What if they still didn’t like it? Would this be the breakthrough idea? I had no clue what the response would be. It wasn’t a safe bet. It was risky, but it was a risk that offered the possibility of turning out great — turning into excellence!
The project taught me a lesson that is perhaps one of the most challenging I’ve learned this summer. It is that each of us has a safe zone we must battle. Our type of career offers no exception. Whether a designer, project manager or other team member, every project we take on demands this question: Are you willing to risk enough to make it excellent? Risk is hard. Not only could it mean failure, but it’s usually uncomfortable and definitely not ego-friendly. But stepping out of that safe zone for just a moment offers us the chance to create something better than we’ve ever created before. It gives us permission to try something different — to be excellent.
In the case of designers, we’re often lucky not to function within a one-shot-only system. Premier Studios has given me the privilege of taking each of my failed attempts and trying again. I’ve learned that failing at solving a project the first, second, third, even the fourth time is sometimes necessary to reach the best possible solution. Several failures leading to an excellent ending bring a very sweet victory, one that is only obtained by stepping out of the safe zone.
How about you? Are you or your organization settling for less than excellence because you’re stuck in the safe zone? What does excellence look like for you?