I was with a bunch of colleagues recently. We were asked to think about the future and new possibilities. Always fascinating and illuminating to hear what others think, how they think, and what gets discussed. It was a tough conversation because the dominant theme became the safe, the certain and the least dangerous. It is so understandable why there is a such a strong gravitational pull in these directions. Hard to take risks in an environment that punishes failure. Difficult to go out of the box when resources and time are scarce. I get it. I really do.
When should we take chances? Assume more risk? Do what we really want to do?
Some people say the best time to venture out on the limb, tip toe onto the thinner ice, swing for the fences, and go for it—is when they feel safe. Huh?!! Yeah sure it is a lot easier to take a chance when there is little danger. Make a big bet when the outcome is certain. C'mon, the people who say they are entrepreneurial, they are self-starters and like start-up environments, and they say they love risks. It has become one of the required and now meaningless self professed attributes like computer proficiency, collaborative, results-oriented, and possessing strong communication skills. The only proof of taking chances are evidence of the chances taken. Where you risked losing something. Otherwise you like the safety and certainty of what you have. That's human nature. Most people deceive themselves. Hanging on is their priority. Playing not to lose is very different than playing to win. Being afraid of making mistakes is not the mindset of an entrepreneur or a risk taker.
Talked to a long time colleague who has multiple job offers in this environment. They all will pay him well. He is leaning toward the one option that requires him to work for a start-up, 3000 miles away because it meets his goals to further develop his future marketability. He has always planned to "retire" in 9 years when he turns 50. Why should he abandon his plans if his family is up for it?
This is the difference between leadership and management. Adapting vs surviving. Seeing the possibilities vs the obstacles and dangers. The classic glass half full or half empty syndrome.
More than ever I hear the conforming chants of realism. The admonitions of potential jeopardy. The need for certainty and predictability. Let's be realistic. Let's focus on what is achievable. Let's not waste time on brainstorming. I try not to scream and run out of these rooms. 🙂
When most people stop innovating, stop brain storming, and stop envisioning their futures, huge opportunities emerge. When there is a traffic jam, some wait and wait–a few break out of the pack and find a way home.
Strange thing about human nature, we tend to seek the status quo and resist change when we have free choice or if we are coerced. If times are good, then we think times will continue to be good and even get better, so we stay the course. And when times are bad and things around us are failing, we tend to hunker down and pull the covers over our heads and hope the clouds pass. Complacency is homeostasis for many. The power of resistance to change can never be underestimated.
Am I saying that you can never be satisfied and where you are? Am I arguing for a nomadic existence where dissatisfaction is a way of life? Kinda. Of course we have to find the joy in everyday and everything, but I have adopted a view that if you are not obsessive about improving and advancing, you will end your life drowning in dissatisfaction. The evolution of nature, of the marketplaces, of even outer space is inexorable and unstoppable. So what is the argument to stop our own personal progress, development and evolution? How can we justify resisting change?
Unlike nature, the marketplace and space–your time is finite.
Realism erodes and corrupts vision and ambition. It sucks all of the future out of the work and opportunities.
I have worked with visionaries who have dared to pursue the steep part of the curve when the easy way out was always available. Big ideas, new ideas are easier to pursue when risk is manageable–when the economy is stronger–when confidence is higher. Those that succeed never think that way.
Here's the rub. There is this nasty consequence to this type of thinking. Opportunity cost. What we lose when we don't think bigger. And who loses. Not just what the risk averse person or organization might gain. Most notable is how the improved benefit to the customer/beneficiary is ignored. This makes me crazy. In the name of self preservation we set aside the reason we exist–our mission. We were established to make people's lives better. Realism tells us we have to accept the status quo and good enough becomes our new goal!
Waiting for any nightmare to end requires us to wake up.
We have to help each other combat the epidemic of realism and resistance. We have to inspire ourselves to pursue our visions for change and fulfillment.
Thanks for reading. John