I am risk averse, always have been, likely always will be. It’s what kept me in the corporate world for over a quarter of a century even though I was bored, unfulfilled, and underutilized. Don’t get me wrong, in a lot of ways my aversion to risk has served me very well. It allowed a stable work life from which to raise my family. It exposed me to some great teachers and provided some awesome experiences. Yet, I kept looking longingly towards those who leaned into to risk, those gutsy entrepreneurs who followed their passions regardless of the potential pitfalls. I wanted to be like them.
Oddly, today I consider myself an entrepreneur, albeit a more tempered version of those whom I held in such high esteem. My aversion to risk remains as palpable as always. However, I have come to recognize that the corporate world is not the insular home of security, it’s almost the antithesis. True risk mitigation lies in the ability to fish for your own food, bet on yourself, and control your own destiny. All of which, I now do.
This evolutionary change in my own view caused me to reexamine the relationship that the aforementioned gutsy entrepreneurs have with risk. Are they the big risk takers I always thought them to be?
I work with these people every day. It’s what I do for a living and has been for some time now. I come alongside them to help them achieve their ambitions for their products, brands, and companies.
These aren’t people who in their free time base jump, race motorcycles at alarming rates of speed, or let it all ride on the roulette table. Quite the opposite in fact. For the most part, these are folks who are pragmatic, practical, and prescriptive in their actions. So, how does it reconcile that these same people are willing to go all in on their idea, chase their passion, or follow their belief?
I’ve come to realize that, for the entrepreneurs with whom I work, risk does not sit on a continuum between risk-aversion and risk-loving. Rather, it sits on a continuum between aversion and perversion.
By perversion, I am not referring to some deviant behavior. No, what I mean is that these entrepreneurs don’t believe that what they are doing is inherently risky. They have a perverted sense of risk. Perverted by their passion, by their confidence in the unmet need that they are filling, or the innovation they are bringing to the market. To them, it’s not risky, it’s good business and opportunistic.
What I hear time and time again is that failure, as most would define it, in their view, is merely a wall that they hit. It may knock them down but, they will stand back up, dust themselves off and find the next path to follow. It’s amazing.
I mentioned earlier that I see this as a risk continuum between aversion and perversion. The extreme, on either end, creates susceptibility. On the one end is inaction and the other, foolish action. Most of those I work with and around, aren’t extreme. Rather, they just slant a little closer to perversion than I do, than most do.
I now better understand their relationship to risk. It’s not wild abandon, chutzpah, or even blind ambition. It’s surety, confidence, a belief that the achievement of their goals is an inevitability. Where do you fall on the continuum?