Juggling the Pros
and Cons of Taking Risks
By Jon Wee and Owen Morse
succeed in business today, you have to take risks. You need to step
out of the norm and try something new or unusual to stand out and
make your customers take notice. At the same time, however, you
don’t want to do something that is “risky” or unwise. In other
words, you need to balance the benefits of taking the risk (the
possibility of success) with the negative aspects of any risk (the
potential for failure).
risk as a juggling routine. Every time a juggler throws something in
the air, he or she might not catch it. But in order to wow their
audiences, jugglers must add new and exciting items to their
repertoire. So while not juggling chainsaws and flaming torches
would certainly be safer, jugglers have to take the risk and juggle
such items in order to be different and rise to the top of their
profession. The same applies to you.
though your risk may not involve juggling razor sharp daggers, in
your business or industry your risk may be just as dangerous. To
minimize the negatives inherent in any risk, consider the following:
Prepare for the risk (or practice your routine): If you’re going
to try something new, do your homework and make sure your skills are
up to par. For example, if you’re launching a new sales campaign
that depends on skilled salespeople making face-to-face visits, but
you don’t have anyone on your team who is great at in-person sales,
then you’re setting yourself up for failure. That’s why you need to
do a thorough analysis of your company’s or your own attributes
prior to launching the new initiative. Research the situation, the
client, the market, and everything else that might help you prepare.
Preparation could also involve reading books, taking classes, or
doing role-playing to hone your skills. Do whatever you must to
become an expert in the risk’s topic. That way, when you throw that
ball in the air, you’re prepared to catch it.
have a few contingency plans. Detail what negatives could result
from the risk. If any of those should happen, what would you do? If
you’ve ever watched a good juggling routine, you’ll notice that when
the jugglers drop something, they always have a funny line to say
that makes the audience laugh and takes the attention away from the
dropped item. Those funny lines usually aren’t improvised. They’re
planned out in advance so the juggler gets the most reward from the
Take action (or be willing to let go): While preparation is
certainly important, be careful not to get stuck in “prep mode.”
Realize that if you prepare too long or wait until everything seems
perfect, then chances are that you’re never going to take action.
Or, if you are that safely prepared, maybe you’re not stretching
your abilities enough and the thing you’re preparing is not as
exciting or dynamic as it could be.
jugglers perform a new routine in front of an audience for the first
time, they never feel as if they’ve prepared enough. So even though
they take all the basic safety precautions, they’re never going to
be totally comfortable performing something on stage until after
they actually do it a few dozen times.
Fortunately, you learn a lot from “performing early.” You discover
which elements are working and which aren’t, and then you can decide
what you really need to do to make the situation better, or minimize
the risk. For example, even though you think you have rehearsed the
perfect sales pitch, word for word, once you’re actually in front of
a live prospect, your sales talk may take a very different
direction, depending on the interaction with that person. So while
you have to prepare as well as you can, you also have to realize
that things could go differently than you expect.
feel yourself getting stuck in “prep mode,” stop, assess the
situation, and tell yourself that it’s virtually impossible to get
in a total comfort zone with the new endeavor until you actually
take the plunge. You usually have to take the plunge while you still
have some butterflies in your stomach. Be willing to say, “Okay.
I’ve done my due diligence and have honed my skills. There’s nothing
more I can do right now to prepare. I just need to jump in and make
jugglers have a routine they’re nervous about, they often “sandwich”
the new material in between two other routines that they know are
strong. You can do something similar. When you take action on your
risk, piggyback the new item on something your company does well.
Keep your company’s strengths in the forefront so that if something
doesn’t go well with the new initiative, you can always shift the
focus back to what you know works. For example, if you’re launching
a new product, don’t ignore your current products. Keep the
successful products in the limelight while you launch the new
product on the coattails of the successful ones. If the new product
flops and your risk doesn’t pan out, you still have the fanfare of
your successful products in your customers’ minds.
Constantly analyze your progress (or keep your eye on the ball):
Both during and after your new venture, you need to analyze the
situation. What worked? What didn’t work? What met your
expectations? What surprised you? Knowing what you know now, what
could you have done differently? What feedback are outsiders giving
you? Often people outside the risk see it very differently than you,
so be sure to get their opinion on your progress.
jugglers are dropping things on stage, they know they have a problem
(and so does everyone else!). What does a problem look like in your
risk scenario? Any risk requires constant analytical process during
and after the event. You have to be conscious of every move, and
track your progress the entire time. Once the risk event is over,
you need to discuss what happened with others involved and talk
about any surprises—both good and bad. Only then can you learn from
your risk, fine-tune your process, and reap the full rewards of
stepping out and trying something new.
Your Chainsaw! The most important thing about risk is simply
being willing to take one. Think about it… if everyone were to
operate in their safety zone, there wouldn’t be amazing
accomplishments and advances in the world. Additionally, doing
things that are creative, different, and interesting is a lot more
fun than playing it safe. And the potential reward is a lot higher,
too. Doing what’s easy is a recipe for mediocrity and boredom.
who are willing to try something new, difficult, and what others
deem “crazy” are the ones who make a real difference in the world.
So be bold. Take that risk you’ve been thinking about. When you do,
you’ll be the one who gets noticed…and who reaps the resulting
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Wee and Owen Morse.
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