After 30 years, I am still a student of the Natural Products Industry. One with many questions that remain unanswered. Questions such as, what drives some people to take on the inherent risks of entrepreneurship?
Most of us see needs unmet or problems unsolved in the market. Some of us even come up with ideas to fill those needs or solve those problems. But, the gulf between idea and action is enormous. The majority stop at an idea. So why then, do some take action while others just think?
For the longest time, I thought it had to do with risk tolerance. I was sure that entrepreneurs, in general, had a much higher tolerance than those who remained on the sideline with their excellent ideas.
I believe now that I was wrong. I’ve met many entrepreneurs whom I would not describe as risk takers. In fact, I’ve worked with quite a few who are abundantly, if not overly, cautious. These weren’t gamblers, adventure seekers, or adrenaline junkies. They were no different from anyone else. They too worried about providing for themselves and their families. So, why do this crazy thing? Why not take the well-worn path?
The answer? They simply see risk differently. While those who stop at an idea believe taking action and moving off the well-worn path is risky, those who actually take it see inaction as a far greater one. They feel compelled to do something, to fill the gap in the market or solve the problem. Not doing so would be a considerable risk. They are confident that someone else will swoop in and do it, leaving them wondering “what if?”
To them, that is unacceptable. They find inaction far more frightening than action. The consequence of the former is regret while the latter is merely failure. A failure you can recover from while regret stays with your forever.
One of the odd things for me is that it took me a while to bestow upon myself the title of entrepreneur. Yet, by all definitions, that is precisely what I am and have been. I struggled with that moniker because part of my self-identity is being risk-averse, cautious, even prudent. How could I be an entrepreneur if I don’t like risk? The same answer applies to me personally. The risk of staying the course, or inaction, was far greater than that of action.
The more I thought about this, the more sense it made. Entrepreneurs aren’t daredevils. They are worriers and thinkers. They calculate the risks and trade-offs and weigh all the options before moving forward. Where they depart from those who stop at the idea, is the conclusion they draw from their evaluation. Doing nothing, staying the course is scarier and riskier than taking action. That small difference in view, that thought process that inaction is more dangerous than action is the very definition of entrepreneurship. It is not that they are any more risk-tolerant or are inherently risk-takers, they merely see the risk on the other side of the ledger. It is inaction that they find frightening. So, where do you see the danger - in action or inaction?