Determining the Appropriate Level of Risk Taking Is Very Risky

Risk Taking is an essential element of a professional career.  Life is too short to maintain the status quo, be it your personal decision-making or as an Association Executive, taking a risk is the only means to future success.  Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft in his his new autobiography Idea Man details his first project with then high schooler Bill Gates that failed because they lost $3,494,  “I have made my share of business mistakes, but Traf-O-Data remains my favorite mistake because it confirmed to me that every failure contains the seeds of your next success.”

The secret to risk taking and the possible failures that can occur is that we probably learn more from those failures than from our successes.  Though it is highly unlikely, but can you imagine always succeeding?  Without occasional detours life would be so boring and let’s be honest, we certainly would have fewer teachable moments.

It is the rare person who can admit to himself that he has never taken a risk, be it taking a job that has plenty of potential but has the chance of errupting in your face or walking home on a dark street at night with no one else around.  Life is full of risk taking and the succesful individuals are those who can gauge the ultimate result by the level of risk taken.

We all know friends and business contacts who have made decisions in their careers that upon serious analysis was of questionable value but resulted in a positive consequence.  Calculated risks are essential for success and that philosophy can be extended beyond just your career but to the organization that you lead or are associated with.  Associations are famous for their conservative mindset, it takes a very special person to ruffle the feathers on occasion.  No one is advocating total anarchy but in a staid organization it is sometimes wise to stir the pot a few times and take a risk.

In a recent strategic planning conversation, a fellow association executive stated that his organization budgets a certain amount each year for risk taking.  Every department gets to use the “blue sky” account to investigate how to provide more value to the membership and to be more responsive to their needs.  Of course not every association or business are in such a financial situation to make this ideal come to pass but even in a recession, organizations should always include “out of the box” planning a part of their forecasting.

The reverse can also be said of an organization by addition through reduction.  Too many organizations have too many sacred cows and these current changing times call for the elimination of that project that was the favorite of three Chairmen ago.  Improvement doesn’t always come from addition, elimination can also be a positive game plan for organizations stuck in the mud of yesteryear’s needs and wants.

In an interview in Newsweek, Katie Couric tells interviewer Howard Kurtz about her career changes and her new book The Best Advice I Ever Got, “Here I am at 54, and every step of the way you kind of have to evaluate things and do a gut check on your satisfaction level or recalculate it,” Couric says.  “Change is hard.  There’s always an element of fear.  One thing my experience doing the Evening News taught me is that it’s great to talk about getting out of your comfort zone, but you have to remember that’s going to be uncomfortable at times.”

Life is unfortunately never chock full of comfortable decisions.  Every decision results in positive and negative ramifications.  In today’s economy, decisions are being made on future plans and projects with the bottom-line in mind.  If we don’t repair that bridge today, it means that somewhere in the future we will probably have to replace it because it no longer provides a safe passage across that river.  By the way, not deciding is a decision.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.  – Mark Twain.

Be it in your career or within the organization you lead, stability comes from evolution – nothing can ever stay the same.  Those people who call for what was yesterday never contemplate the negatives of yesterday.  You can’t stop the world and get off, change is inevitable and your personal and professional changes can be managed through reasonable and calculated risk taking.

For those of us who grew up at the knee of Peter Drucker he certainly has the final say in this matter, “People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.  People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.”


Dan Borschke is a Certified Association Executive who has been a CEO for 3 distinct trade associations in his career.  He currently is between positions and has written more than 50,000 words or 70 blogs on the topic of job search and career transition.  He can be contacted at:


One thought on “Determining the Appropriate Level of Risk Taking Is Very Risky

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