If you ask people if they are risk-takers, you would probably get a distribution of answers that would be something like this:
In other words, the answer would overwhelmingly be NO or a cautious response (which by definition is not risking).
Really, only a very small percentage of people see themselves as risking and they are usually perceived of as crazy people who drive too fast, jump out of airplanes and make silly investments their their money.
Why are we so skewed in our view of RISK? Perhaps the real issue lies in the societal perception and definition of what it means to be risking. Typically, it is viewed as a bad thing with a negative connotation including foolishness.
Specifically, risk means “taking a chance on something that could turn out bad” or “doing something that could lead to losing face.”
No wonder we are risk adverse.
In fact, in most large organizations, there are entire departments dedicated to lowering risk – RISK MANAGEMENT.
If these negative (harmful) perceptions are true, then why would we ever risk? Of course one answer would be that we would risk only if we have nothing to lose – for example, jump out a burning building to avoid burning to death or on a lesser note, ask a person for a date because you will never see them again if they reject you.
However, the larger answer to the question, “WHY RISK?” lies in the domain of creating VALUE for yourself and others.
Here’s a diagram that may illustrate the point:
The box itself is known as our COMFORT ZONE – we are comfortable inside our box because things are predictable and boring. We look outside to things like MONEY, HEALTH, PEAVE, AND LOVE. As we move toward one of these desired results, we encounter the “perimeter of fear.”
I want LOVE – but I FEAR REJECTION
I want MONEY – but I FEAR FAILING
I want PEACE – but I FEAR being LONELY
I want HEALTH – but I FEAR the PAIN of exercising & eating properly
So we bounce around inside the BOX and although we look busy, things are really boring. What does it take to break out of our BOX and experience something VALUABLE and EXTRAORDINARY?
How does this apply in our business world and organizations? Here’s another diagram that shows the connection:
This illustrates that almost by definition, High Performance requires a certain level of RISK – willing to break through our “perceived fears.” Perceived fears are not real fear – like being in a room with a TIGER…that is REAL FEAR because your physical life is at stake. They are fears like being rejected or looking foolish, losing face, etc. High Performance Leaders and companies foster creativity by driving FEAR our of the organization.
For example, in the early 1960’s when U.S. President John F. Kennedy gave a speech that promised to send a man to the moon and return them safely, the head of NASA was faced with the near impossible task of fulfilling that promise. We simply didn’t have the ability to return a spacecraft without it burning up on re-entry. NASA realized that to accomplish the challenge they needed to be extremely CREATIVE and INNOVATIVE.
In order to do that, they needed to drive fear out of the organization. They were willing to RISK trying new things. They became willing to RISK FAILURE and RISK SUCCESS. Every time something failed, they celebrated their new knowledge and took more RISKS – to succeed. Miraculously, within 7 years (more than 20 years faster than the predicted schedule and 3 years ahead of Kennedy’s promise) they were able to land a man on the moon and return him safely.
This is my definition of RISK:
Willing to fail, willing to succeed.
Before you conclude that RISKING will solve all of your problems, I want to point out that risk is a balance point that lies between STUPID/DANGEROUS and SAFE, PREDICTABLE, NOT LOSE.
On the other side, we RISK too little to achieve High Performance while on the other, we RISK too much and endanger ourselves (for example, it is both RISKY and STUPID to run across a busy highway). High Performance confronts “Perceived Fear” by being honest, brave, courageous, etc. We are willing to honestly discuss and address interpersonal issues with others. We risk asking for help and including others in our endeavors. We risk communicating our ideas publicly. We tell others that we care. We are willing to dream big.
These are examples of High Performance. It is action without knowing the outcome, willing to fail, willing to succeed.
As we conclude, here are two assignments you may want to take on: