We tend to play life on the safe side. Safe is comfortable. It is familiar. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and criticize our favorite team for not making a certain play. It’s easy to analyze a business decision for hours only to decide against the riskier move. It’s easier to talk ourselves out of taking a new job than it is to face the unknown. Unfortunately, the reality is that risk-taking is never easy, but it is critical in getting ahead in business and life.
That’s because risk sparks innovation. Some may even say risk is innovation. Either way, it is the risky, unknown opportunities that allow businesses and individuals to get ahead and it’s the leaders and innovators that stand out as the high impact performers. Whether within the walls of a large organization, inside a classroom, or on the playing field, those that strive for and achieve innovation are usually the ones that are playing a more adventurous game.
This is not to say that all gambles are worth taking. Our approach to every scenario should include evaluating both the risk of taking action and the risk of inaction. You’d be surprised to see how often inaction can result in greater defeat.
So, how can one take part in calculated risk-taking in order to capitalize on opportunities for innovation? Here are a few key points that have helped me leave the safety of the known:
1. Take on a Challenge.
When a new problem arises, what do you do? Fight or flight? Risk takers roll up their sleeves and jump in to find a solution. They don’t get railroaded by obstacles, but view the unknown as an opportunity to achieve something greater. The same goes for old problems. Just because there wasn’t a known solution before, doesn’t mean the problem isn’t solvable.
Look at Steve Jobs. He was known for tackling challenges head on and taking large gambles that paid off in big ways. He pushed the boundaries, took risks and encouraged his team to do the same. He faced many obstacles and failures along the way, but each setback resulted in bigger and better results. His risk-taking nature, tenacity and intensity led to ground-breaking innovation.
2. Look Beyond Your Bench.
Always having the same perspectives can inhibit you from thinking ‘outside the box’. It is important we all expand our thinking and surroundings by looking beyond our go-to team or usual network. Move beyond who and what is comfortable and partner with someone new to ensure you continue to experiment, take calculated risks, and innovate.
3. Take the Road Less Traveled.
Innovation can often be found on the road less traveled but it’s easy to take the safe road and follow the same process as the only thing you risk is monotony. The most detrimental line in any business is “This is how we have always done it.” Challenge that! Just because something has been done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the most efficient or the only way. Take for instance, Olympian high jumper Dick Fosbury who changed high jump history by going head-first instead of feet-first. His out-of-the-box thinking resulted in a change of process that won him a gold medal. Not a bad outcome…
The bottom line is that you have to be willing to take risks, be open to challenges and explore the unknown. Don’t let the fear of failing stop you from trying. Understand your downside and imagine the worst thing that can happen if you take the leap. And then ask, are you ok with that? If the worst that happens is you lose, so what? At the very least, you will have a fresh perspective to take with you throughout the rest of your career. Sometimes that fresh perspective is all it takes to spark innovation.