DNA of Risk Taking

Janice Chaffin, President of the Symantec Consumer Business Unit, recently wrote an article for Forbes titled, “The DNA of Risk Taking”. A slightly edited version appears below.

Risk is a necessary ingredient in any successful business. However, in tough economic times, battening down the hatches and avoiding risk may feel more comfortable. The reality is something very different, however. It’s the state of your business, not the economy, that matters most. What’s more, times of uncertainty can often present some of the greatest opportunities, such as a weakened competitor or a potentially disruptive technology.

Here are five tips for educated risk taking from my own experience and based on observing some great leaders, none of whom would be where they are without having placed a few big bets.

1. Get over it – risk is the norm.

The reality is that the unexpected happens all the time. You will always be navigating through uncertainty of some kind, whether you are evaluating an investment, hiring a new team member, or launching a new product. As a leader, you have to be comfortable dealing with risk day to day, albeit some risks are much bigger than others.

2. Don’t let opportunity pass you by.

While it’s critical to evaluate things like time-to-market, financial exposure and ROI, you should not wait for every last piece of data to decide whether you should take a risk. Often, the window of opportunity is not open for long. You will most likely have to fill in that missing data with gut intuition and optimism to make a decision and accept a degree of risk.

3. Make your plan – then get ready to change it.

The reality of taking any kind of risk is that you will make discoveries along the way. Prepare yourself and your team to be flexible. Setting this tone up front will help when you hit a bump in the road. You can make better decisions and move more quickly when your team is not mentally sidetracked by change, but are instead expecting it.

4. Transform fear into faith.

As a leader, your job is to lead your team through uncertainty. You must make it clear to your team that obstacles and fears are inevitable and must be faced head on. Help them transform that fear into faith. For example, you may be facing something that at first appears as an obstacle but can be turned into an opportunity. Team members who cannot find faith in the effort are not going to help you succeed the same way that someone who is committed will.

5. Admit when you bet wrong.

No one likes facing this reality, but sometimes you’re just out of options and it may be time to “throw in the towel.” Then it’s time to summon the same courage you had when you first decided to take the risk and admit that you cannot achieve the objective. However, make the most out what you did achieve. Take the time to understand very clearly why things didn’t work out as planned and put this experience to good use next time.

Risk-taking is a skill developed over time, similar to mastering an adventure sport. You’re dependent both upon your mental strength and skill set, and you can improve with practice. You may not win every time just because you have more experience, but risk-taking can become more comfortable over time, and you will likely improve your track record. And when in doubt, remember the wise words of Nobel-prize winning author Andre Gide: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

To see the original article and related topics, go to this Forbes web page.