Most of us strive continually for comfort. The “comfort zone” is where we want to be, and we don’t want to venture outside of it. It is our safe place—no surprises, no roadblocks, no curveballs. But as we navigate life, we find ourselves in positions that are far outside of our comfort zones. Though an out-of-the-box experience can be unsettling at the time, it usually leads to emotional growth and mental evolution.

This concept of embracing discomfort also applies to your brand. Though the reasons can vary, discomfort can happen, and it can happen fast. It is how you respond to being uncomfortable that can make all the difference.

“Brands become uncomfortable for many reasons,” says Bob Rosen, chairman and CEO of Healthy Companies International. “Sometimes a resource becomes more or less readily available, impacting quality or quantity in production. Sometimes a competitor disrupts the market. And sometimes, brands become associated with something negative. It is very easy for a company leader to have their faults exposed to the world, and the brand can suffer for it.”

The real question is how a brand manages that discomfort. Change is difficult, especially rapid, unforeseen change. But that difficulty creates a feeling of discomfort that, ultimately, can be invigorating, and that is required for survival.

That is why, in many regards, discomfort can be a good thing. Discomfort is an indicator of when something needs to be accepted, changed or avoided. “Discomfort is a catalyst for learning and change,” Rosen says. “If we constantly avoid discomfort, we will miss opportunities for essential growth, and will end up digging ourselves into a hole.”

It goes back to the idea of learning from our failures as much as from our successes, and failing definitely throws us out of our zone of comfort.

“You’ve likely heard the quote, ‘Success is just on the other side of your comfort zone,’ and it’s true,” says Kindra Hall, president and chief storytelling officer at Steller Collective, and author of “Stories That Stick: How Storytelling Can Captivate Customers, Influence Audiences, and Transform Your Business.” “Being uncomfortable leads to new stories, and new stories lead to new successes.”

Managing discomfort

The first stage of managing discomfort is to acknowledge it is there, and leave the judgment at the door. Feelings of discomfort do not have to be labeled as “good” or “bad,” and doing so interferes with our ability to adapt.

“Once you’ve acknowledged the discomfort, consider what you can learn from it,” Rosen says. “What is causing the discomfort? Do you need to accept something you cannot change, or does something new need to be developed? Discomfort isn’t an end or a failure. It’s the start of something new, and that new thing depends on you.”

The first stage of managing discomfort is to acknowledge it is there,
and leave the judgment at the door.

For every brand, the “way you’ve always done it” eventually will not suffice. You will be faced with change, and that is not a bad thing.

“Do something different, and if that helps, do more of it,” says Mark Montini, owner of Montini LLC. “If it doesn’t, do something else different. The faster you can try new things, the sooner you’ll find the solution to your uncomfortability.”

Often, a time of discomfort is opportune for brand examination and reinvention. Rosen shares an example of how Healthy Companies International took advantage of the change to undergo reinvention. “As our clients have moved forward in this new digital era, we have had to follow the four practices of being conscious to reflect those changes,” he says. “First, we had to get real, acknowledging honestly what was and wasn’t working, and identifying our strengths and weaknesses. Then, we had to go deep, diving into our values, products and services to re-examine who we were and what we wanted to bring to our clients.”

Rosen says that once it did that, the company had to think big, imagining a world of possible paths to follow. Finally, it stepped up, making bold changes to pursue new platforms with its IP. “We codified eight bestselling books, various materials, and leadership experiences, translating them into scalable products that can help leaders at all levels via digital access.”

And, while Hall has not necessarily had to reinvent herself, she has had to reinvent her message. “One of my primary offerings is as a keynote speaker for companies and conferences,” she says. “My expertise is in strategic storytelling—how using stories can increase effectiveness in sales, marketing and leadership. My first method was to say I could help with their storytelling. However, my potential clients were not looking to be better storytellers. They were looking to get their teams on track and increase close rates.”

“Do something different, and if that helps, do more of it.
If it doesn’t, do something else different.”
— Mark Montini, founder, Montini LLC

Hall reinvented her messaging to focus on the problems her clients were facing, and how her expertise could help solve those problems. “Once I adjusted that story, everything changed.”

For Montini, managing discomfort is somewhat formulaic. The frequency of team meetings is tripled, and the length of those meetings is decreased by two-thirds.

“The frequency serves to create a culture of urgency and also align the team,” Montini says. “The length requires greater focus on a single objective and promotes action over discussion. The result is a greater operational velocity.”