Sometimes You Need to Take the Risk
I keep a bulletin board above my desk. It’s got the usual stuff on it—the company phone directory, photos of memorable vacations, a map of our U.S. sales territories and our monthly sales numbers.
It also has one of my favorite quotes, a chestnut from Mark Twain I like to look at when I’m stuck in a rut or afraid I might do something that turns out badly: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Five years ago, my company was at a crossroads. Our expertise centered on passive distributed audio products—speaker selectors, volume controls and the like—in a world going digital. We had to decide: Should we stick with what we know and hope for the best, or embark on a course we knew little about that required a skill set we didn’t possess?
It was an agonizing time, full of stress and tension and arguments, but I was convinced we’d die a slow death if we didn’t take a leap of faith—and quite a bit of risk.
Today, we’re a completely different company. We have one of the hottest digital products in the marketplace, with more set for release. We have 15 full-time software engineers. We’re no longer “the passive distributed audio company.” We took a risk—but we weren’t reckless.
In your business, you’ll come across times when you need to take some risks as well. Here’s a three-step strategy for managing those risks.
Step 1: Gather data
Define your objectives. When faced with a choice that involves risk, view your options in the context of your bigger goals and objectives. When we faced the decision to re-invent ourselves to address the digital challenge, we knew we wanted to pursue a long-term growth strategy and remain a dominant player in the CI market. That made the risk more palatable and necessary. Had our goals been more modest, we might have chosen a more conservative approach. In your business, your ultimate goals and objectives will help clarify the risks you’re willing to accept.