Ok, so before we begin, two things: firstly, I read a lot. Since my time at business school -1996, when I HAD to read copious amounts of business books, the habit has continued and I’ve read about a gazillion.
Secondly, for the past 10 years I’ve been playing French Tarot (nothing to do with the telling of fortunes – it’s a strategic French card game).
Ok – so ‘what’s this got to do with risk’? I hear you ask – well, read on…
Many business books focus on strategies, tactics, methodologies, implementation, best practice – and ultimately people. The people who have thought bigger than big picture, the leaders, the game changers, the restless never satisfied-ers, the entrepreneurial – the innovators.
A common thread with most success stories – be they in business or otherwise, is the ability not just to go with the flow – but when push comes to shove to truly tune in and take a leap of faith. To push boundaries. To step out of the comfort zone. To move into the unknown, often hugely uncomfortable, vulnerable – risky territory.
So, ask yourself the question – ‘Am I a risk taker?’
In all honesty, the majority of us for the majority of the time are not risk takers. And let’s face it, living life on the edge all of the time would potentially become pretty exhausting. Plus, we’re not conditioned this way. If you think about your social conditioning – from your parents and society instilling rules and regulations to keep you safe whilst growing up, to an education system that teaches us to largely conform – our opportunity to practise risk taking is pretty limited.
And of course, if everything is going ok, you’re comfortable, relatively happy – then why rock the boat? You may have some great ideas, dreams, and what if’s – but taking that leap into the untested, unchartered waters just isn’t worth rocking that boat for – right?
So this poses another question, ‘what is it that drives some people to take risks seemingly all the time and others to shy away’?
Whilst I can’t give a definitive answer to this – what I’ve gleaned from the gazillion books I’ve read is that those that do take risks, seem to take risks a lot. They practise taking risks. And the more they practise taking risks, the better they get at it.
Fundamentally what they hook into is the fact that if they do take the risk and it doesn’t work out – they’ll try something else. So whilst they very much see it as a risk – they’re not overly concerned about getting stuck in the unchartered waters and being eaten by the sharks – as they’ll figure something else out. It’s beyond simply thinking positively – and more about concerted courage and faith in oneself.
This got me thinking. Is risk like a muscle? Perhaps it’s a case of the more we flex it – the stronger it gets?
I decided to test my thinking small scale. I play French tarot in a group of 5. Over the past 10 years we’ve played a lot of games (usually 6 games in a sitting) and we play every 5 weeks. I’ve won a number of times – but it’s been a pretty even number of wins across the players – and I’ve held the winning cup once (about 4 years ago).
However, last year my game changed. I started taking risks. Nothing too nuts or stupid so as to ruin the game – but instead of sitting back and playing it safe – I pushed it. I’d push a bid up. I’d make bigger contracts. I’d play a big game with less than a great hand. And what happened? I started to win every round. The chips rolled in. The game found a new level of excitement – the founder of our group (inherited knowledge from her French grandmother) – even stated ‘my grandmother would have a heart attack sitting in a round with you’.
Now, whilst this is a card game and it isn’t about massively disrupting my life and stepping into the unknown. It has been interesting in assisting me in practicing taking risks.
We’re not taught to take risks – there are no lessons (as far as I can see on my children’s curriculum) in calculated risk taking.
So far – my view is that YES – risk is like a muscle and the more you flex it – the more comfortable and better you get at taking risks. In my card game – I’m now no longer taking risks – I’m just playing the game.
So what’s your view?
Practice makes perfect…?
Would love to hear from you.
NB: I endeavoured to find some scholarly evidence / support of my hypothesis – and there does look to be a supporting study ‘Risk taking : a study in cognition and personality by Nathan Kogan and Michael Wallach’ – but it was done in 1964! So if anyone knows of anything more current – pls do share.
Practice / practise – googled it and with the UK/US spellings – still confused!
Michelle Carvill, best selling business author, speaker, founder and Director at Carvill – the social media agency focused on creating authentic engagement. For information about how the team at Carvill can help you – simply get in touch or visit our website.