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

By Nina Spencer

“If I always do what I’ve always done, I’ll always get what I’ve always got!” I first heard this quote (unfortunately without accreditation) back in 1990. Today, doing what you have always done might not even get you what you have always got – it might even get you less! To get something truly different, you have got to do something different. What new or different results would you like to get at work or elsewhere, in 2010? Things for yourself, team, organization or even for your personal life or family?

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 is like the cowboy and the horse. A loving, cooing, “Let’s go darling” whispered in the horse’s ear is not likely to make the horse gallop down the road. What is typically required? Put on your silver spurred cowboy boots, jump on board, grab the reins, and while kicking the spurs into the poor animal’s ribcage, yell “Giddy up!” Why do we wait until it hurts – until we are in literal or metaphoric pain – before we decide to get moving? How about the idea of moving on a new result you deeply desire in 2010 before you feel the pain?

What risks are you ready to take in 2010? What skinny branches are you willing to explore, personally or professionally? What successes are you wishing, hoping, thinking and praying for, for 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 are 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 risk history. Think back and list at least one risk you have taken in each of these categories:

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

How old were you when you took these risks? Did your above risk list date back to long ago, or did you record risks from the past two or three years? How long ago has it been since you took an exhilarating chance? If it has been quite a while, perhaps now is a good time to write a new page! For each of the risks you have 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, and are able to provide you with additional, beneficial observations. Use these examined results to help you plot and plan your carefully and thoughtfully calculated 2010 risk-taking actions. By increasing your examination and awareness of “right” pre-risk-taking circumstances and thinking, you will maximize the probability of getting the positive results you desire. Increase your awareness of what you have done “right” in the past (attitude-wise, behaviourally and strategically), to set yourself up for success in the risks you dare to take on in the year to come.

What is moving you forward, or holding you back, as an individual or a team player? Personally or professionally? Repeat this exercise in reverse and examine opportunities that you did not 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, then ask yourself why? 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 is 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 I learned to drive, my father repeatedly chanted, “If in doubt, don’t.” Good advice when driving. On the other hand, not about driving, I have gained lots of inspiration and courage through the years from another quote: “Behold the turtle, who only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.” Indecision is a decision for it is a decision not to do anything! Better to make a mistake with the full force of your being, than to go through life (worklife or otherwise) head tucked inside a shell, tip-toeing around so that others do not know you exist and carefully avoiding giving your full gusto and energy to an action or idea, for fear of making even the faintest mistake.

Let us take a look at the concept of a “mistake”. In some professions, a humdinger mistake can cost lives. For example, just ask an airport worker who does not 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 potentially cause the death of another. So, making a mistake at work, every now and then, is organizationally acceptable. However, 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. Edison declared it was a 10,001 step success rather than 10,000 mistakes with one success.

What achievements or results have you or your team experienced over the years that were quickly labeled “failures?” 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 did not change the world, but it did make it a “sweeter” place – the creation of 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.

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

January is a terrific time to take -up new, or renewed action. Try this 9 step challenge for starters:

  1. List three risks you are 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 worse case scenario video in your head and be really melodramatic. You know it will not 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 will 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 is important, too. Even if you are ready to take a calculated risk, always work with a safety net! Moving forward with your calculated risk may mean leaving some things behind, but you will gain others.
  6. Ask yourself, What will not happen for me if I do not take this risk? Is that okay with me? Can I ‘live with it/with things staying as they are, for another year?
  7. Exercise Intuition. Listen to your inner voice. Remember multiple-choice tests from school days? Your intuitive first choice (when you were not 100% 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 have listened to my intuition!”
  8. Realize that there are no guarantees that you will always get the results you desire if you take the risks you are contemplating, but there is always the opportunity to assess and reflect on what to do better next time. Remember, you always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
  9. Research, research, research! Do your homework. Look things up. Read. Surf. 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 experience something different in 2010? Do something different. Answer inaction with action. What actions will you take this year? What personal and professional risks will you chance? Take at least one. When you get to the end of December 2010, what will your Year in Review look and sound like? Plan now, so that you will have great victories to report in 12 months time. So, that by December 31, 2010, you can declare, “Now that was a terrific year to remember…a vintage year for my personal memoir!” Join (the metaphoric, not necessarily the literal) New Year’s Polar Bear Diving Club! Come on now … dive in, the water’s great!


Nina Spencer is a Canadian business motivational speaker and author of the bestseller, Getting Passion Out of Your Profession: How to keep loving your living, come what may. Her book may be purchased, and her services reserved, by visiting: https://ninaspencer.com or by calling 416.588.3334.

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