Dive In, The Water’s Great!: How You And Your Organization Can Take Risks in 2017

nina spencer

“If I always do what I’ve always done, I’ll always get what I’ve always got.”

So said Henry Ford a century ago. Today, however, doing what you’ve always done might get you less. To get something different for your own career, and for the sake of your organization’s health, in 2017, you’ve got to do something different. What different results would you like to experience in 2017–for yourself, your staff and your clients?

The phrase, “If you want to get something different, you have to do something different,” is easy to appreciate, but applying this philosophy is trickier. It’s like the story of the rider and the horse. Whispering something like, “Let’s go darling,” in the horse’s ear isn’t likely to make the horse go. What’s typically required? Putting the spurs to the poor animal! Why do we wait until it hurts before we get moving? How about moving on a new result you desire for your organization, and for yourself, before the pain?

What risks are you ready to take in 2017? What skinny branches are you willing to climb out to and explore? What successes are you wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’ for in this 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 or pursuit, there is an element of risk.”

But what if you think you’re not a risk taker? To that I’d say, sure you are! These days, just going out into the world on a daily basis is a risk (just look at the 2016 stats of the dangers of crossing the street!). Saying “yes” to one thing or “no” to another any day of the week can be risky.

So (re)assess your risk history. Think back. List one risk you’ve taken or facilitated in each of these categories, for yourself and your organization:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Mental/intellectual
  • Financial
  • Occupational/Professional

How long has it been since you took these risks? Did you list risks from 10 years ago or from a year ago? How long ago has it been since you took an exhilarating chance? If it’s been too long, perhaps now, at the start of 2017, is a terrific time 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/our organization to take this chance?
  • What had to happen around or to me/us before I/we were willing to take this risk?

Brainstorm your responses. Consciously look for patterns of personal and/or organization behaviour and circumstances.

Interpret your results, and perhaps share your observations with one or two people who know you well, and/or with your staff, as sharing often provides additional, beneficial insights. Use these examined results to help plot and plan your carefully calculated 2017 risk-taking actions. By increasing your awareness of the pre-risk-taking circumstances and thinking that allowed for risk to happen and pay off, you’ll maximize the probability of getting the results you’re targeting. Increasing your awareness of what you’ve done right in the past (attitudinally, behaviourally and strategically) sets yourself up well for future risk-taking successes. What’s moving you forward, or holding you back, as an individual, team or organization?

Also, consider repeating this exercise in reverse; examine opportunities that you didn’t take because you found them too risky. After reflecting, do you have regrets? If not, great! If you did indeed have regrets, ask “why?” What set of circumstances or thinking caused your hesitation? Did that mindset help or hinder what happened next? Did you go on to pursue that risk opportunity another day, or was it an opportunity lost?

Sometimes it’s smart to think twice and decide to not take risks. And sometimes deciding “no” turns into a life-long regret–“shoulda and “coulda” thinking forevermore.

Let’s take a look at the concept of “mistakes.” In some professions, a 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 inside a patient! Most of us, however, aren’t professionals whose daily work could kill. So making a mistake at work every now and then is tolerable. But before you start labelling your current risk-taking results “mistakes,” consider a lesson in reframing your thinking. Thomas Edison conducted 10,000 experiments before 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 10,001st step towards success rather than 10,000 mistakes with one success.

What achievements or results have you or your team experienced that were labeled a “failure?” Did you learn something? Did you glean 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 success? Sometimes that’s what happens. What mistake/success stories come to mind for you?

What ongoing workplace or personal efforts have you been labeling “failures?” How can you reframe your thinking, attitude and behaviour around your efforts and your current experience, and facilitate colleagues and/or staff to do the same, to see your lessons and successes?

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

  • List three risks you’re ready to take in 2017 (for yourself and your organization/association).
  • 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 scenarios in your head. Be melodramatic–you know it won’t turn out that bad!
  • Flip your questions and answers to step #2: “What could go right? How would I feel about that?”
  • List your cheerleaders. Who’ll positively cheer you on and help you “get there” from your staff/team and your organization?
  • Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” Taking this calculated risk means that you’ll leave your comfort zone. Are you ready for that? Do you have a Plan B and C? 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 that you loved behind, but you’ll gain other delights.
  • Ask yourself, “What won’t happen for me/us if I don’t take this risk? Is that okay? Can I/we live with it and with things staying as they are?”
  • Exercise intuition. Listen to your inner voice. Remember multiple-choice tests from school? Your intuitive first choice was usually right, but, in so many cases, you waffled and chose another (wrong) answer. Then you were left saying, “I knew I should’ve listened to my intuition!”
  • Realize there are no guarantees 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. As “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take!”
  • To prepare for the daring changes you’re musing, make sure to research, research, research. Do your homework. Look things up. Read. Google. Survey. Analyze. Interview others with wisdom in the area of the risks you plan to take. Seek out the wisdom from a sampling of experts. Then, when you’re armed with as much info as possible to take a calculated risk, go for it. It’s not likely you’ll ever get 100 percent agreement or 100 percent of all the information you’ll need to make the risk “risk-free,” but get enough to make a move. Then jump! Go for it. I’ve always loved the expression, “Jump and the net will appear.”

Helen Keller’s age-old, sage words about life and its challenges still serve as a good kick in the pants for risk-taking in 2017:

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

Want to get something different for yourself and for your organization in 2017? Do something different. Answer inaction with action. What actions will you take this year? What professional risks will you chance? Take at least one! When you get to the end of December 2017, what will your “Year in Review” look like and sound like? Plan now, so that you’ll have great victories to report in 11 months. Join the New Year’s Polar Bear Diving Club now. Dive in! The water’s great!

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