We’ve all heard the phrase, ’nothing ventured, nothing gained’. Most of us agree, at least in theory, that if we’re to make great leaps in life and business, we must be willing to take a few risks. And in moments of little consequence, even the most risk-averse among us can find a way to trade what is for what could be.
But what about when the stakes are higher? When the potential outcomes are more uncertain? Or when there’s no precedent to plan for or against? Like leading a business through a global pandemic? Or making the right career move in the midst of a recession? Surely, in such a volatile economic climate, when the losses and gains underpin our livelihoods or the long-term happiness of our families, the best thing we can do is play it safe.
Or is it?
The irony is, business has always thrived on risk. Real success, the kind we read about and aspire to reach, has never come by playing it safe. It’s the result of doing what others can’t or won’t for longer than they can or will. It’s not about being foolhardy, reckless or irresponsible. But it is about being brave, trusting your gut and taking action.
Right now, when everything has been turned upside down, the safest thing you can do is get dangerous. And by dangerous I mean doing something different.
The biggest threat to your business or career is not that things will change. It’s that you won’t change in response to them. That you’ll hang on too long to the safety of what you know or waste too much time trying to mitigate the risk of taking a risk.
Not convinced? I’m not surprised, we’re biologically designed to resist change. But there are dangerous consequences to playing it safe.
Miss The Moment
Despite much of the world being confined to their country, neighbourhood or residence, things are moving fast. Supply chains are being disrupted, departments are being downsized, entire industries are shifting online. There are limited windows of opportunity to test ideas in response to what is emerging. And I’m not just talking about maintaining profit or market share through innovation.
This could be the best opportunity you’ll ever have to make a sea or tree change. To build a better work/life balance. To reconnect with your kids or your community. Don’t miss the moment this moment presents by fighting to protect what was. Maybe you’ll be happier and more successful at what’s next.
Dilute The Dream
In a crisis, it’s natural to want to lower expectations. To rework the numbers, rehash the intended outcomes and reposition the anticipated results into something more reasonable. By lowering the bar, you assume there’s a higher probability of success. In this climate, small wins can mean large gains.
The problem is, what was once a bold, beautiful vision can begin to look kind of beige. Over time it gets harder to stay inspired by its potential. You, your team or your clients can become less motivated to see it through or underwhelmed by the final result.
If you’re not careful (or being too careful) you’ll end up with something so tame that even if it is delivered as it was designed (and it never is), it doesn’t make any significant difference. You end up with work or a career you’re neither proud of or inspired by.
Acclimatise And Atrophy
But the real threat of trying to smooth out all the bumps, prepare for every pitfall or alleviate all the risk, is that you end up becoming the very thing you used to resist. You get far too comfortable being comfortable. Settle for the safety of the status quo. And forget altogether there is always another way.
At this point, your business or career has shrunk so much in response to all the uncertainty, there’s little left to salvage and even less enthusiasm to salvage it. You’ve become merely a commodity or a cog in the wheel, neither of which has a meaningful place in the future of work.
Make a habit out of taking risks. Everyday commit to doing something different. Start small, but start now and repeat. Call someone you usually wouldn’t. Invest resources into something you shouldn’t. Make a change you always thought you couldn’t. Then do it again tomorrow.
And if all that still feels a little trite, reflect on the words of the late, great David Bowie, ‘If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable … [when] your feet aren’t quite touching the bottom you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.’
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