On the right track.

Risk — Putting Your Head on the Block

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

On the right track.

Business Is A Risk

We have lots of sayings about this topic, such as: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” And “Fail forward faster.” Or “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” One of my favorites is “A ship may be safe at the shore – but that is NOT what we built it for.” How about, “If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.” Then there is the Watson quotation below. And a quick Google search shows that there are hundreds more similar quotations.

“Every time we’ve moved ahead in IBM, it was because someone was willing to take a chance, put his head on the block, and try something new.”
— Thomas Watson, Jr.

Good leaders are continually weighing the necessary risk to move the company forward with the return for taking the risk. Risk does not incapacitate leaders, but neither do they take needless risks with the company resources. I believe that, more or less by definition, business is a risk. As the above image caption indicates, you can be on the right track, but if you aren’t moving at the right speed, another train will run over you. And today, that “train” represents disruptive business models, technology, and systems.

No Choice

So we have no choice but to move, grow, innovate, change, or “die.” And yet to do so certainly means taking a risk. The question, as always, is, “will there be enough reward to warrant the risk? And are we doing everything we can to mitigate that risk?”

I work with a young man who was willing to take a risk and start his own company. Not too long ago, he decided to branch out into an adjacent business, thinking there would be much synergy between his original skill and the new endeavor. He did not plan on the difficulty of the new service. It was a failure, and now, in a more closely related discipline, he is haunted by the previous (expensive) loss and hesitating to move ahead. Many of us have been in that position. Yet to not keep advancing will cause us to be vulnerable to being “run over” by the competition.

Assess Risk

How do you assess and evaluate ROI on risk? Are you training your leaders to be able to take a reasonable risk to move things forward? Who is willing to put her/his “head on the block, and try something new”? Do you, and they know where the guide rails are? How much risk can you tolerate? We have to keep in mind that indecision due to fear of risk is a decision. Doing nothing is a decision, and usually, not the right decision.

[Lightly edited on 9/2020 for our new website.]