My friend, Doug Sundheim’s new book, Taking Smart Risks, is an early winner for 2013 Must Reads. Before I get to how great the book is, the story of how Doug and I met starts with taking a smart risk! Doug had read a post of mine about my wonderful client, Menasha Packaging and asked if I would be willing to introduce him to them for a book he was writing. Of course, I did a bit of due diligence into this Doug guy and said yes. I’m so glad I did!
Part of the problem with risk today is how it’s defined and ingrained in our society. Take the definition, “exposing oneself to the possibility of loss or injury.” The definition talks about what can happen as a direct result of risk – the ‘output’ of risk but definitely not the outcome, which is what Doug eloquently supplies – “exposing oneself to the possibility of loss or injury in the hopes of achieving a gain or reward.” For many people, though, “the emotional cost of not risking and having to live with that regret [is] much greater …than any career or financials … costs.”
By reframing the definition of risk, Doug shows the power of smart risk taking. We rarely look at the risk of NOT doing, of NOT innovating, of NOT trying. In essence, it a different perspective of opportunity costs – the opportunity cost of NOT doing something. I see this everyday in my work – organizations that see innovation as a risk instead of seeing not innovating as a bigger risk. Doug makes the costs of playing it safe very clear: we don’t grow, win, create and we lose confidence and bluntly, don’t feel alive and meaningful. If we can get this to change, imagine the positive power that can be unleashed.
Which gets to another key point in Doug’s book – the paralysis of security. We create an illusion of security around us today, one that is heavily dependent upon our other illusion of control. The issue isn’t going from security to insecurity. We’re already not secure in terms of ‘stuff’ whether we recognize it or not. We’re already not in control of our circumstances whether we recognize it or not. However, we can be secure in who we are and what we stand for and in how we control our own reactions to life. A key to smart risk taking is, as Doug says, the ability to “increase our tolerance for uncertain circumstances.” If we are secure in who we are, what we stand for and how we will react, we can welcome uncertainty for the opportunity it really is. That is why I truly believe that entrepreneurs, for instance, are not more risk-o-philic but fundamentally define risk like Doug does.
The book’s practical wisdom, advice, and tools for how to take smart risks are critical. This is uncharted territory for many and Doug’s practical guidance will make it easier for us to learn how to and actually take smart risks. This is particularly important for some of the hardest areas of smart risk taking – our own ego and our ability to communicate. Through stories about humble leaders and constant communicators, like Mike Waite, Doug demonstrates how critical the ‘soft’ skills are in successfully taking smart risks…and in the payoffs. These are truly fundamental to taking risk.
It’s been almost exactly 1 year since Doug and I met for breakfast in NYC and talked about his book and how I could help. That was the start of our friendship! I introduced him to the incredible leaders at Menasha Packaging and Thogus, my 21st Century manufacturing client. The result of Doug’s taking the risk to “ask”? He got some very real and powerful stories of leaders we can emulate and learn from, I got two of my fabulous clients in his book, and we all now have a field-guide for the New Year and beyond to help us take smart risks. I look forward to seeing the great things that will happen because of it!