"I'm going down,
Follow if you want.
I won't just hang around
Like you'll show me where to go.
I'm already out of fool-proof ideas
So don't ask me how to get started,
It's all UNCHARTED."
-Sara Bareilles, Uncharted
Exploration is a natural human urge. People climb Mt. Everest simply because it's there, knowing full well they might die in the process. Humans had to find out what was across the Atlantic Ocean, traveling with a boatload of smelly people and living on salted meat and other disgusting vittles the whole way over. Heck, even the US government legislated our urge in the form of "Manifest Destiny" in the 1800s. So, why are we so resistant to exploration in a professional setting?
It's that whole "risk management, we have a responsibility to our shareholders, we have to do business a certain way," attitude that is prevalent in business. It's that same attitude that stilts our growth, creativity, and innovation.
Years ago, I made the purchase of a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee. I had wanted a Jeep for many years, and when my previous car began leaking fluids from ever conceivable orifice, it seemed the right time to trade up. As soon as the newly dubbed "Green Machine" was in my possession, I promptly took it off-roading in a pasture. Not because I needed to, mind you. I had, again, just simply always wanted to.
The freedom was amazing! I was having the time of my life, and being quite needlessly reckless with both my new vehicle and myself, when my fun was cut unexpectedly short by running over a tree-stump and poking a big hole in my muffler. It definitely could have been worse. The Green Machine still ran just fine, except that it was just a little louder than it had been before.
"Though I may be going down, I'll take in flame over burning out,
Compare where you are to where you wanna be and you'll get nowhere" - Uncharted
7 years later, I still off-road, except the vehicle I use now is my career and professional life. It's a bit riskier than the Green Machine, but I have a complete and total need to question any roadmap that someone gives me. Sometimes, it bites me in the tush, but for the most part, always questioning has paid off for me. There is no innovation, no new ideas, and no new growth in our professional lives if we're too afraid to blaze a new trail.
On the road, following the lines on a roadmap will allow you to get from point A to point B in relative safety and you'll see the exact same scenery that everyone else who's gone before you has seen. To see anything new, you'd have to add your own path to the map.
You might fail and poke a hole in your muffler. It's a risk. But is that possibility more frightening than always watching someone dilute anything you've ever had that's close to a real spark of innovation? You'll never progress in your career if you're content to sit still and watch the world moving around you. It's not about waiting for the opportunity. It's about making the opportunity.
It's about going somewhere Uncharted.
*This image is used under the Creative Commons License from Flickr User Larry Wentzel