It’s Time to Expand Your Boundaries

I’ve always had a passion for doing. Or perhaps overdoing, as my friend Marc likes to say.

While I’m fortunate to work in a wonderful industry doing something I truly love, that’s never stopped me from pursuing a host of other interests – from writing books and taking ballet to training therapy dogs and working as a crisis counselor.

Marc shakes his head at all this. He’s convinced my biggest problem in life is that I’m too much like McDonald’s.

“McDonald’s,” he says, “is always trying to do something new… burgers, wraps, salads, fruit, yogurt…they even tried a McLobster sandwich. What you really need is to be more like Kentucky Fried Chicken. They do one thing – chicken – but they do chicken right.”

It’s been a point of contention between us for many years, his insistence that success is about a willingness to pick one thing and stick with it exclusively. By contrast, I’ve always maintained the “more irons in the fire” mentality, convinced that the more you do, the more you learn, the more you grow and the greater your opportunities for success.

So I was rather surprised the other day – and admittedly delighted – when I walked into KFC to discover their menu had expanded to include salads, sandwiches, even fish.

Clearly, I’m not the only one who’s come to see the value of expanding one’s horizons.

I believe the same thing is true in the kitchen and bath industry. For many years, kitchen and bath professionals were sold a bill of goods telling them they had to specialize. They could design beautiful kitchens and bathrooms, but venturing beyond those two rooms was a big no-no.

This was the going belief, despite the fact that many of the skills kitchen and bath designers use every day are actually a perfect fit for other rooms.

Fortunately, that view is changing, as kitchen and bath designers spread their wings to tackle other areas of the home, from designing efficient laundry spaces (see related story, Page 98) and creating luxurious master bedroom suites to handling entertainment areas, home offices, closet systems, children’s spaces and even wine rooms.

But expanding one’s horizons goes beyond just designing other rooms. It can mean speaking at a home design expo, doing a radio show, signing up for cooking classes or joining a gym. It can mean volunteering for a cause, joining a softball team or going on a safari.

It’s easy to become so insulated, sitting in our offices, that we forget how much we can learn from taking a step outside. But the truth is, some of our greatest career learning experiences happen outside of the office.

For instance, from dance, I learn discipline; from crisis counseling, I learn to work in highly charged emotional situations; from training dogs, I learn to communicate in different ways, with a totally different species. All of these are valuable skills that I use in my day-to-day work life.

Granted, your daily job may not involve communicating with other species (though with some clients, it may feel that way!). But you might be surprised how many of your “outside” interests and activities can help you in your career. For instance, taking a cooking class might inspire you to offer cooking classes at your firm, or even to partner with an appliance showroom or area chef. The gym is a great place to network with potential clients – and getting in shape will certainly make it easier to cover more ground at trade shows! And volunteering for a cause you believe in might take your firm in a whole new direction – perhaps focusing on green issues, or designing for the physically challenged – while rekindling your passion for your work by making it more personally meaningful.

Indeed, while some will argue that diversification weakens your ability to do your primary job well, working on projects outside your specialty area can actually teach you valuable skills that make you better at your core competencies.

Just as traveling the globe can provide a world of design inspirations, the “armchair traveling” we do in our various life activities can make us better designers, and better business people. By getting out of our comfort zone, we gain perspective, which can get us out of the rut of “same old, same old” and help us tackle problems from a different point of view.

In other words, creating the occasional salad can actually make us better at producing great chicken…not to mention creating new profit opportunities and more options for those who might want something other than chicken.

There’s nothing wrong with honing a specialty. But in an increasingly competitive market, it’s important to remain open to new opportunities – in work and in life. Chicken is fine, but sometimes it takes experimenting with a metaphorical McLobster sandwich to produce the golden egg.