A bold but careful approach to taking risks
When you play it safe, staying in the comfort zone for too long, you stagnate; and that puts everything at risk, according to Doug Sundheim in his book Taking Smart Risks: How Sharp Leaders Win When Stakes Are High. Playing it safe means that you are disengaged from meaningful challenges, are not pushing yourself or your organization to grow, and are not creating your future, but rather being passively dragged into it.
So how do you go about taking on an appropriate level of risk? Smart risk taking, according to the author, involves thoughtful reflection and preparation before taking the risk, as well as intentional learning and communication during and after the risk-taking activity. The five key steps in smart risk taking are:
- Identify a motivating purpose (which the author refers to as Something Worth Fighting For)
- Clarify the real objectives, plans and intended results
- Move quickly to test and learn what does and does not work before investing too many resources
- Make communication a priority, and keep probing to understand others’ thinking
- Embed the smart risk taking process in the organization’s culture.
The idea of smart risk taking is closely related to organizational change and perhaps even more closely to entrepreneurship. Both types of activity require the courage to step out into the unknown, which is the essence of risk taking. There are plenty of books which describe risk taking within the context of effecting change or beginning a successful enterprise, but this book distils the elements of risk taking as a separate abstract discipline.
At the end of each chapter the author provides ideas and tools for action. The reader who is contemplating an idea which involves risk will benefit most by using the author’s tools and giving the idea a thorough work-out before attempting to put it into action.