My wife relentlessly entered HGTV's "Green Home Giveaway," convinced she would win. She registered under five different e-mail accounts daily, dedicated to making her dream of living in Hilton Head, S.C., come true. The drawing is way past press time, so if she's a winner, we don't know that yet. But I can tell you something her whole exercise made me realize: Who among us would have envisioned just 10 years ago that (1) a 24/7 cable TV channel dedicated to gardening and home improvement would (2) generate 40+ million online registrations for (3) a green home? That a channel such as HGTV even exists is a testimony to the willingness of TV executives to get out of their comfort zones. Rather than settle for yet more generic dramas, game shows, and situation comedies, they blew away the status quo and took control of their future.

Our industry is in the bottom of the proverbial barrel, but when you are at the bottom, the only way to look is up, to the sky, to the future. The absolute worst strategic decision you can make is to let the circumstances control your destiny.

An unfortunate truth is that most people–and many managers–would rather be comfortable than excellent. Instead of investing time, energy, and resources to achieve excellence, most prefer to sit idly by and remain merely average.

Too many of us became comfortable with this past decade's seemingly limitless demand for new housing starts–our traditional comfort zone. It's time to break out of our comfort zones if we are to move into the next decade. Here are four powerful guidelines that can help you and your management teams move on.

1. Challenge Core Assumptions. During my strategic planning sessions with executive teams, I ask three important questions: What business are you in? What business should you be in? What business should you not be in? If you view your business as primarily a local lumber and building materials supplier, you may be leaving huge, future potential on the table. Challenge yourself and your team to objectively look at where you need to be a player (remodeling, green, installed sales, upscale showrooms, design) and where you should never be a player. Through careful strategic assessment that challenges core assumptions, you can pragmatically break through comfort zones.

2. Think Beyond the Yard. It is so easy for us to drive to our yards every day, walk into our offices, and see the world only through our little piece of property. Sam Walton spent as much time in other retail and service shops as he did in Wal-Marts, simply to learn fresh ideas and approaches, spot trends, and discover areas he needed to consider. I encourage you to get off your property and look at your community through fresh eyes to seek untapped areas for your services and products.

3. Integrate Opportunities Management. Business guru Peter Drucker taught that the important thing is to identify the "future that has already happened." He challenged businesses to look where they are getting unexpectedly good results, then focus 20% of their companies' time, people, and resources into exploring and growing these areas. He called this "opportunities management," investing in the future you have already experienced.

4. Choose the Future. In today's market, you must invent your future rather than redesign your past. We have nowhere else to look but the future. And even from the bottom of the barrel, the future looks as exciting as it does frightening. Regardless, we are marching into the future, and the future will win.

Challenge your assumptions, think beyond the yard, integrate opportunities management, and pick the future over the past. You will then break through your comfort zones with a powerful new strategy for your yard.

–Dr. Jim Harris is president of The Jim Harris Group, a Pensacola, Fla.?based leadership and management consulting firm.
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