June 14, 2011

Doing Nothing is A Real Risk


There is an incredibly pervasive belief among people that it can be too risky to speak up, to try new things, to do something very different.  But that belief offers nothing but false security.

Doing nothing could risk everything.

If we are unwilling to fail or fall short at something, we will never innovate anything.

Individuals who are in temporary volunteer leadership roles can be more risk-averse.   They don't want to be the ones who "screwed things up."  Individuals bring their own beliefs about risk into the work setting and the boardroom.  We would be wise to help people make their own perspectives transparent and to discuss how those beliefs relate to the level of experimentation and risk-taking that needs to occur for them to be good stewards of the organization or their particular responsibilities.

Harvard Business School professor and popular author Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests a mix of experiments in her innovation pyramid.  It can be a useful framework for leaders looking to make strategic investments in calculated risks.  Determining the right mix depends on an organization's goals and the returns it needs to generate. something individuals should understand from their own financial planning efforts.  And this HBR blog post from Innosight's Scott Anthony highlights four low resolution ways to test possible innovations.

At some point,  every individual or organization has to put something at risk and in play in order to ensure or increase their future success.  I'd rather have lots of times at bat to achieve winning results:  strike out sometimes, get base hits other, and continue to work my way around the bases.

If the only way to win is to get a grand slam home run in the bottom of the 9th, that may be the riskiest position of them all.  So now is the time to step up to the plate and take a swing at something.

The next time you find yourself in a situation where everyone is talking about what can't be done, see if this question helps move you forward: What's the most significant step forward that we can commit to right now?

4 comments:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

I've always thought of myself a bit like "Chance the Gardener" in "Being There" -- that perhaps I am slow and totally naive because I just "do it" or "say it" when it comes to risk.

When it comes to thinking about taking risks, I often use the Open Space laws -- "when it starts, it starts" and "whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened" - they get me through.

And if no one takes risks or speaks up, we have the same old stuff and I am pretty fed up with it.

(Oh I think I digressed....)

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Love the Chance the Gardener connection.

Good application of the Open Space philosophy to other choices we make as well.

Scott Briscoe said...

Thanks Jeffrey, enjoyed the post. At the Invitational Forum last week Toronto U.'s Jennifer Riel shared this thought that resonated well with me:

What you are doing now already has inherent risk built into it. At some point you chose to do it, but before you did so, the action you were contemplating had risks associated with it. And many of those risks are still.

So, when thinking about change, you not only have to factor in that change avoidance risks obsolescence, the current course has it's inherent risks, too, which must be weighed and considered in your decision-making process.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

That's an interesting observation from Jennifer. Thanks for posting it Scott. I'm meeting with her in Toronto in a few weeks and will chat more with her about it then.

I guess the bottom line is that risk is embedded in all choices, past, present, and future.