Biggest risk in business may be lost opportunities
Is Business As Usual Risky Business?
Is Business As Usual Risky Business?

You know the adage – “Don’t design for everyone or your product/service won’t appeal to anyone.” It’s a pithy truism that’s as much about taking selective risk as it is about being deeply relevant and knowledgeable.

What do those words mean in your world, when you think about the product manager job you’ve held for five years or the idea that’s been rattling around your creative, entrepreneurial brain? As an employee or small business owner, what’s holding you back from flying, chest stretched out, through the red ribbon and across the finish line?

Careful, They’ll Talk You Down From The Ledge

Even smart people sometimes ignore the yearning desire to innovate or squelch a strong instinct in deference to the well-meaning advice freely given by others. Friends, bankers, old bosses, partners, advisory committees and sister/brothers-in-law have all been known to share cautionary business tales of moderation. They coach about generating maximum return by targeting mainstream buyers, and extol the many merits of phased roll-outs to gradually soften the market. They pointedly remind you of the many reasons why you just can’t do it – how your kid needs braces, the uncertain economy, or the employees that count on you to keep them safe.

Doing something different with your business or that project you’ve been working on – something new, something other people might not be comfortable with yet – is scary. It’s risky. And it’s probably not easily tackled.easy street no risk

But the warm embrace of “business as usual” could be more of a threat, could bring more discomfort, than some companies ever bargained for. Ask Blockbuster, JC Penney, Borders and that-other-company-whose-name-I-can’t-remember…

The Trouble With Vanilla

Ever stand in the freezer section at the grocery store on a Friday night, crippled with indecision? I’ve yet to make a move on Red Velvet Royale or Smashing Sundae – though the flavor descriptions sound appealing. Instead, I play it safe with Double Chocolate – a known quantity. Basically content (hey, it *is* ice cream) with my choice but vaguely dissatisfied somehow. Is it a mistake to stick with what’s safe? Double Chocolate is fine, but what if Red Velvet Royale is truly excellent? Am I missing out?

No Safe Place

Tory Johnson’s book, Spark & Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now, cracks open the nut of uncertainty and fear of change that lies in all of us – aspiring business owners and the career-minded Joes/Jills that make the daily magic happen. Our fear of repercussions – to our finances, to our stations, to all things familiar and known – hold us back. The desire to conform, to gather even tacit approval (as with a purchase of our perfectly fine albeit unimaginative product/service) can override the signals from our inner lizard brain telling us to go and do something more.

Quite simply, we’re afraid to make mistakes. One, because others might see. Two, because we’d have to do something to right the mistake – and that might require taking on more risk. Three, because someone might say we should never try again.

Mistakes are the tuition you pay for success,” said Michael Alter, president of SurePayroll, as quoted in Johnson’s book. Alter’s company gives out a “Best New Mistake”award to an employee annually because “…fear of making a mistake is the same as fear of success. No risk, no reward.” Fear chokes vision and impedes progress, Alter says. “The longer you wait to try something new, the longer you’ll wait to learn something your competitors might already know.”

Trying Can Be Its Own Reward

Fellow SME blogger and author Mark Smiciklas (The Power Of Infographics, Que, June 2012) once left a comment on one of my pieces here. The gist of his sentiment was this: Mark couldn’t work at a company where the threat of repercussions for perceived failure outweighed the support network offered to anyone with the vision, drive, and creativity to pursue a promising thesis. I remember Mark’s comment because it gave me the courage to rise from a few of my own stumbles in business. His message – that we’re all obligated to cultivate environments that encourage curiosity and view attempts as progress in the making – should be heard and felt by more leaders and executives.

Without the risk-takers, there would be no innovation. And mediocrity is a bland, uninspiring place to linger.

About the Author

Heather Rast
Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.
  • Your points are very important but in my opinion every business man who start new business he should keep in mind that risk is the first point of the business and if any business man can’t take risk he can never be a great business man.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the article. You have very good ideas and seem very educated on the matter. It is a risky business out there, the best we can be is educated. Thanks for sharing.

    Jamie@ Public Relations Agency

  • As such it seems the Entrepreneurs take on more of this risk and gain the reward of putting it all out there. The employees are just content to sit in a cubicle for 8 hours a day not knowing how much blood, sweat and tears were poured into that company to pull it up to the level it is at. Thanks for the article Heather!

    • Hey, Taylor. Thanks for commenting. Glad you liked the piece.

      Entrepreneurs – those in tech or “building stuff” as well as those wearing the shoes of a solo or small business consultant do take on an amazing amount of risk when they pursue their vision. I think those risks are as emotional as they are financial, and sometimes the overall complexity of how to get *there* from *here* with those risks creating fear keep people paralyzed. 

      I’ll say that in my experience, there are indeed employees out there who willingly take the journey with peers and bosses who inspire them to blaze new trails. Certainly, there are “go-along” employees – we all know those folks that are content clock-punchers – but when the right leader places faith in a driven, passionate employee, well magic can happen.


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