Risk Taking in 2010: Dive In, The Water’s Great!

Are you placing enough interesting, freakish, long shot, weirdo bets?
— Tom Peters

“If I always do what I’ve always done, I’ll always get what I’ve always got!” I first heard this saying (accredited to the founder of McDonalds, Ray Croc) back in 1990. Today, doing what you’ve always done might not even get you what you’ve always got! It might get you less. To get something different, you’ve got to do something different.

Now that this new year is almost a month old, and now that some of those promised new year’s resolutions have already gone by the wayside, how about settling in and trying once again with those goals?

What new or different results would you like to get, at work and/or in private life, in 2010? For your team? For your organization?

“If you want to get something different you have to do something different” is easy to appreciate, but putting this into practice is trickier. It’s like the cowboy and the horse. A loving, cooing, “Let’s go darling” whispered in the horse’s ear isn’t likely to make the animal go, go go. What is typically required? Putting on your silver spurred cowboy boots, jumping on board, grabbing the reins, while kicking the spurs into the poor creature’s ribcage, yelling “giddy up”!

Why do so many of us wait until it hurts–until we’re in literal or metaphoric pain–before we decide to get moving? How about getting moving on a new result you deeply desire in 2010 before you feel the pain? What risks are you ready to take this year? What skinny branches are you willing to explore, personally or professionally? What successes are you wishing and hoping, and thinking and praying for, in this brand new year?

Edward DuBono (author of “The Six Thinking Hats”, “The Use of Lateral Thinking” and “Serious Creativity”) states, “Any successful person has chosen action against inaction. In any initiative or opportunity pursuit there is an element of risk.” You think you’re not a risk taker? Sure you are! These days getting out of bed and going out into the daily world is a risk! Saying “yes” to something, or “no” to something else, any day of the week, can be risky.

Examine your own risk history. Think back and list at least one risk you’ve taken in each of these categories:

  • physical
  • emotional
  • mental/intellectual
  • spiritual
  • financial
  • occupational/professional

How old were you when you took these risks? Did you list risks from a long time ago or did you record risks from the past two or three years? How long ago has it been since you took an exhilarating, daring chance? If it’s been quite a while, perhaps now is a good time–the start of a new year–to write a new page!

For each of the risks you’ve identified, ask yourself:

  • What set of circumstances, and/or what thinking, allowed or inspired me to take this chance/this risk?
  • What had to happen around or to me, before I was willing to take this chance?

Brainstorm your responses. Consciously look for patterns of personal behaviour and circumstance. Interpret your results, and perhaps share your results and observations with one or two people who know you well-people who are able to provide you with additional, beneficial observations about yourself. Use this examined results to help you plot and plan your carefully and thoughtfully calculated 2010 risk taking actions.

By increasing your examination and awareness of your “right” pre-risk taking circumstances and thinking, you’ll maximize the probability of getting the positive results that you’re targeting. Increase your awareness of what you’ve done “right” in the past (attitudinally, behaviourally and strategically), to set yourself up for success in the risks you dare to take on now.

What’s moving you forward, or holding you back, as an individual or a team? Personally or professionally? Repeat this exercise in reverse–examine opportunities that you didn’t take because, at the time, you found them to be either too physically or emotionally risky. With reflection, do you have any regrets about not taking those chances? If not, terrific. If “yes”, ask yourself “Why?”. Why do you regret not taking those risks/those chances? What set of circumstances or thinking caused you to hesitate? Did that mindset help or hinder what happened next for you? Did you go on to pursue that particular risk opportunity another day, or was it an opportunity seemingly lost forever?

Sometimes it’s definitely smart to think twice, and decide “no”, about taking some risks. Sometimes–perhaps more times than not–deciding “no” turns into a life long regret, inspiring “should’ve and “could’ve” thinking forever more.

While learning to drive, my father repeatedly chanted, “If in doubt, don’t”. Good advice when driving. On the other hand–not about driving–I’ve also gained lots of inspiration and courage through the years from another quote (by James Bryant Conant): “Behold the turtle, who only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.” Indecision is a decision–a decision not to do anything! Better to make a mistake with the full force of your being, than to go through life (work life or otherwise) head tucked inside a shell, tiptoeing around so that others don’t know you exist, carefully avoiding giving your full gusto and energy to an action or idea, for fear of making even the faintest “mistake”.

And let’s take a look at the concept of a “mistake”. In some professions, a humdinger mistake can cost lives–just ask an airport worker who doesn’t put enough fuel in an airplane, or a surgeon who leaves a sponge or two inside a sewn up patient! Most of us, however, are not in professions in which our day-to-day work would kill another. So making a mistake at work every now and then is organizationally acceptable. But, before you start labeling your current results “mistakes”, consider a lesson in reframing your thinking. Thomas Edison is said to have conducted 10,000 experiments before successfully producing the light bulb. When asked, “How did you feel about your 10,000 mistakes, before you got it right?”, Edison declared it was a 10,001 step success, rather than 10,000 mistakes and with one success.

What achievements or results have you or your team experienced over the years that were quickly labeled “failure”. Did you learn something? What not to do the next time, perhaps? Was there a good lesson in this experience? Did the first “mistake” pave the way for a later and bigger success? Sometimes that’s exactly what happens. What “Mistake/Success” stories come to mind for you? The one that quickly comes to my mind–it didn’t change the world, but it did make it a “sweeter” place–is the one about the Aero Chocolate/Candy Bar. All those distinct visible chocolate bubbles were created by a “mistake” in the chocolate making process, and the results were almost thrown away. What a pity that would have been! Are you thinking you could use one right now?

What ongoing work or personal efforts have you been labeling “failure”? How can you reframe your thinking, attitude and behaviour around your efforts and your current experience, to see your lessons and successes?

The end of January is a terrific time to take up new, or renewed, action. Try this nine-stepped challenge for starters:

  1. List three risks you’re ready to take on in 2010.
  2. Acknowledge fears you may have about taking these risks. Ask yourself, “What could go wrong? How would I feel about that? What would happen if I failed? Run the worst-case scenario video in your head, and be really melodramatic about it; you know it won’t turn out that bad!
  3. Flip your questions and answers to number 2, “What could go right? How would I feel about that?”
  4. List your cheerleaders. Who’ll positively cheer you on and help you “get there”?
  5. Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” Taking this calculated risk means that you will leave your comfort zone, at least for a while. Are you ready for that? Do you have a Plan “B” and “C” in mind? That’s important, too. Even if you’re ready to take a calculated risk, always work with a net. Moving forward with your calculated risk may mean leaving some things behind, but you will gain others.
  6. Ask yourself, “What won’t happen for me if I don’t take this risk? Is that OK with me? Can I ‘live with it’/with things staying as they are, yet another year of my finite life?”
  7. Exercise Intuition. Listen to your inner voice. Remember multiple-choice tests from school days? Your intuitive first choice (when you weren’t sure of the answer) was usually the “right” one but, in so many cases, you waffled or hesitated, and chose another (wrong) answer. Then you were left saying, “I knew I should’ve listened to my intuition!”
  8. Realize that there are no guarantees that you’ll always get the results you desire if you take the risks you’re contemplating, but there’s always the opportunity to assess and reflect on what to do better next time. Remember, you’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!
  9. Research, research, research! Do your homework. Look things up. Read. Surf. Contemplate. Daydream. Interview others with wisdom in the area of the risks you plan to take.

Helen Keller’s age old words of wisdom and inspiration about life and its challenges still serve as a good kick in the pants:

“Security is mostly superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Want to get something different in 2010? Something that’s new, exciting, daring, interesting, inspiring, adventurous and/or memorable? Do something different. Take a chance. Answer inaction with action. What actions will you take this year? January may be all but over, but the good news is: you still have eleven months to make good…to make this year a most memorable one…for you. What personal and professional risks will you chance? Take at least one! You will win something, no matter what the results. When you get to the end of December, what will your “2010 Year in Review” look like? Sound like? Will it be, “The same old, same old”? When you look back on all the years of your life—work life or otherwise–will you make this year stand out as one most positively memorable ones you’ve experienced in quite a long time, or will your 2010 be destined to be merely a repeat of some other, bland, beige and auto-pilot year that you can barely recall? Life’s short. We know that, and yet we’re still so surprised when another birthday comes and goes, another decade presents and yet another significant birthday passes or looms just ahead on the horizon). So remember that it all moves along so quickly, and plan now for the balance of your 2010, so that you’ll have great, perhaps even life-changing, personal and professional victories to report in 11 months’ time. Even if you don’t join the literal New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swimming Club, join the metaphoric version of this exhilarating club (the members of which plunge into cold wintery North American lakes all over the place each New Year’s Day). What would those “polar bears” tell you? Come on–dive in! The water’s great! May you “go for it” this year–whatever your heart desires–and have an absolutely wonderful, blissful and rewarding time doing so!

P.S. Here are some of my favourite quotations on daring and risk taking.
Feel free to email me yours:

What is more mortifying than to feel you’ve missed the Plum
for want of courage to shake the Tree?

— Logan Pearsall Smith

A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are for.
— John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic

If you’re never scared or embarrassed or hurt,
it means you never take any chances.

–Julia Sorel (Rosalyn Drexler), See How She Runs

Take risks: if you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.

— Author Unknown

Prudence keeps life safe, but does not often make it happy.
— Samuel Johnson

The healthy being craves an occasional wildness, a jolt from normality,
a sharpening of the edge of appetite, his own little festival of the Saturnalia,
a brief excursion from his way of life.

— Robert MacIver

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare,
it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.

— Seneca

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves
— in finding themselves.

— André Gide

There are those who are so scrupulously afraid of doing wrong
that they seldom venture to do anything.

— Vauvenargues

We fail more often by timidity than by over-daring.
— David Grayson

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.
— Leo Buscaglia

Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that,
but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

— Mark Twain

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I…I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost

The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.
— Goethe

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