As we start wrapping up another year, it’s a good time to examine areas we are looking to improve. One proven way to get better results is to take more risks and then take even more risks.
Overall, we avoid reasonable opportunities to utilize risk to our advantage—most likely because we have an unhealthy relationship to the word. Maybe we need to start thinking of “risk” as the “potential to win.”
Recently, I saw a perfect example of how this detrimental aversion to risk actually does more harm than good. Two underdog football teams lost because they refused to take risks and be unconventional. I believe the coaches were simply afraid to be second-guessed and made decisions that were almost guaranteed to lose. Similarly, sports teams consistently take fewer three-point shots, steal fewer bases, and attempt fewer two-point conversions than the odds would dictate.
This phenomenon has also been well documented in organizations. Some of the most notable examples are Kodak refusing to recognize digital, Xerox basically abandoning Windows technology, and retailers failing to recognize the impact of the Internet. Currently, the financial markets seem hesitant to recognize the slowdown in tech stocks. Why do companies act this way in spite of the many cases in which change is both organizationally and financially justified?
If you’d like to avoid this tendency of evading probable wins, here are some strategies to increase risk with limited downsides:
- Manage probability better. This can provide greater opportunities, including both value and probability of success. For example, when lotteries increase, the odds of winning remain constant, but the value of winning increases dramatically.
- Keep your perspective in check. As uncertainty and change accelerate, probabilities can also change. For example, many analytical efforts are reduced by the volatility of 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, which need to be considered together. Getting excited or depressed about one year is erroneous. In general, the four years together provide a more positive and reasonable perspective than just one year. See also: Embrace Uncertainty with Positivity.
- Don’t be afraid of losing. Many studies have shown that we are about twice as likely to avoid losses than pursue gains. For example, we will trade stocks with gains twice as fast as selling stocks with losses despite tax advantages for selling losses.
- Understand and maximize goals and needs. The simplest technique is to understand the needs and goals of your partners in a relationship. For example, are you willing to endure short-term losses to develop long-term gains? Similarly, are you willing to invest in efforts like quality, customer service, and people to improve the chances of success? See Make Goal Setting and Measurement Work for You.
- Reduce bias as much as possible. The greatest detractor from effective decision-making (which can be intentional, random, hidden, or even unknown) is bias. Probably the greatest source of bias is our own set beliefs, experience, and reliance on a “we have always done it that way” mentality. Thus, we simply ignore information or facts that are different than our own. Another factor is incomplete or wrong information. However, when we eliminate bias, we increase our probability for success.
- Be more open. Organizations need to be open to measurement and feedback. Observing, understanding, and sharing financials, operations reports, and sales reports are the first step. Take advantage of simple research studies, which social media can provide. These are worthwhile tools to use regularly. A management style such as the “walk around” and asking simply, “How are you doing? Is there anything you need?” can be priceless.
- Remember that mistakes are often the best way to learn and grow. One of my favorite phrases is, “If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough.”
Environmental and external influences can greatly affect risk as well. Inflation, oil prices, and supply shortages are causing great disruption today, but they will also create opportunities. Electric cars, the chip shortage, and logistics are areas where unknown opportunities will emerge
Risk considerations are also affected by quantitative versus qualitative considerations. On one hand, quantitative data are measurable, objective, comparable, and easier to document. However, we must ensure we are using the right measures and analyzing correctly. Qualitative data, on the other hand, can measure issues we don’t always consider and allows for intuition. But these processes can be compromised easily or measure wrong factors. In particular, bias occurs much more frequently in qualitative analysis.
When it comes to risk, we also need to consider ignorance and ways to manage it. Ignorance shows up in a number of ways, which require different approaches. Some ignorance is just the unknown—like the economy next year, the long-term pandemic impact, and potential new technologies (such as a longer lasting electric car battery). While we can’t assure certainty, we can research alternatives and their consequences. Other forms of ignorance are the refusal to accept new information or unwillingness to remain open-minded.
Viewing risk as an as an opportunity rather than a danger can produce positive results. Change is occurring faster and faster and we must resist the urge to crave the comfort of consistency and reliability. We need to shift our mindset to one that expects and embraces risk. If we can learn to implement sound, proven strategies, we’ll simultaneously set ourselves up for success while being in a position to effectively and efficiently manage risk.