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Safe Risk

Cultivating “Safe Risk” Taking in Management Approach…

One of the starting points when to talk about risk has the basic idea that just like all living organisms since the first life forms on Earth, we all live in a world that is full of risk and almost completely unpredictable. Biological organisms don’t try too hard to eliminate risk, rather they learn to live with risk, even thrive under the shadow of ever present risk. What not talked too much about is actual risk taking, which people—especially in business—are realizing is essential to moving an organization beyond mere survival. In some particular cases of business success stories, it was conveyed that risk taking was one of the keys to long string of successes and growth in a notoriously unpredictable and risky industry. The main question is here indeed whether risk taking fits into a biologically-based adaptable framework for problem solving or not?

The popular discussions about risk and what is risky have obscured the concept of risk and how we may use it to our advantage. In particular, we tend to lump risk as a singular idea, usually a problem, and risk taking as a singular action, usually equated with rash decision making—the proverbial leap off a cliff that sometimes pays off. In reality, risk is a huge spectrum of forces, as diverse as life itself and powered by all the forces and rules and outcomes of biology, chemistry, and physics. Within this spectrum of risk you might find death or a meal, social ostracism or someone with whom to pass on your genes. Likewise, risk taking can take the form rash decision making, but it can also emerge as shrewdly calculated moves that fly in the face of conventional wisdom and yield enormous payoffs.

It is actually the calculated type of risk taking that managers should cultivate. But, what is it made of? In short, being a successful risk taker means having a sense of the environment that is deep, holistic, and flexible. What kind of handicapper can call up this trifecta? One who works hard at cultivating information? This kind of sense develops from intense observation of the patterns and signals of change in the world around you, and results in an earned degree of confidence when stepping off into the necessarily unknown future.

In other words, the most successful risk takers are not rash at all. The remarkable string of business successes in incorporating new technologies and capturing new markets could include this phrase as spilled up, “we didn’t leap before we looked.” Rather, the companies were just acutely aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and untapped potential in their environment. While industry observers, looking them from the outside, and saw as a maverick companies that got lucky more often than they failed, company insiders were justifiably confident in their risks. In the same way, the ultra-precise predictions of managers weren’t risky at all, they were simply the result of their extremely informed sense of changes in the political world that they spent so long observing. The extremely adept observational sense demonstrated by the best risk takers, a sense that allows one to appear to predict events to come, is developed through long hours of practicing the art of observing complex systems.

Organisms in nature have developed this ability to confidently sally forth into each unpredictable and risk filled day through the relentless process of natural selection. If they didn’t develop all sorts of sensors and nerves and immune systems and replication methods that allowed them to observe and respond to change quickly, they were selected off the face of the Earth. From an evolutionary standpoint, humans have had for thousands of generations’ cultural ways of passing on information and selecting out poor performance that allowed us to bypass some of this nasty and brutish natural selection. Likewise, from a modern organizational standpoint, productive risk taking can be allowed and encouraged by a culture that doesn’t fear risk, doesn’t waste time and resources trying to eliminate risk, and cultivates a vision that is either wide enough, or long-term enough, to see the value of risk.

Not surprisingly, the managers and astute observers of the most successful companies—like Googles, and Apples, that are mistakenly thought of as wild mavericks that got lucky—always talk about the culture of their respective companies. They are, in fact, all examples of organizations that cultivate a hardworking, intensely observational approach to risk. Although the phrase was spilled out “look before you leap” to describe an approach to risk taking up to date, a more appropriate statement nowadays might be, “observe like mad before you leap.”

So far button up, the long motto could be shaped as “recognise your potential, forget to fear, observe long enough, assess while observing, cultivate safe risk vision and go ready to leap.” And, this concept or evolution can conveniently be applied to any of management approaches in business environment, so especially to Project Management.

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