Risk Is All

A hammock out back is comfortable. La-Z-Boys are comfortable. Entrepreneurship? Not so comfortable.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the April 2001 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Nobody knows more about risk and how to live with it than entrepreneurs. There's nothing like paying everybody else before you pay yourself to make you understand the meaning of exposure to bad consequences or mischance.

Today, the nature of risk has changed. When I was a kid, risk was pretty much something to be avoided. In the golden age of "the man in the gray flannel suit," people wanted to work in big corporate settings; they wanted to look alike, dress alike and think alike. There weren't a whole lot of entrepreneurs around.

After the social revolution of the '60s and '70s, the anti-establishment agenda was the rage. Suddenly it was no longer about avoiding risk; it was about managing risk. Portfolio theory swept our investing guidance. People wanted to look, act and think differently, and the true 20th century entrepreneurial zeal was set in stone. Maybe it was a pendulum- from 19th century entrepreneurship to corporate "suit" and back to a revised version of entrepreneurship.

Now it's changed again, but it's not on the same pendulum. Today, risk has to be thought about in the context of both uncertainty and paradox. If "managed risk" was the mantra we used in the information society, then it will be about paradox in the post-information world. The paradox of risk is that you can't afford not to take it. I couldn't afford not to computerize my business, I couldn't afford not to be Internet-savvy, and I couldn't afford not to dump my biggest customer if he or she crossed my belief boundaries.

What risks can you not afford to take in your business? How will you ensure you actually increase the amount of risk you take? Consider working with your biggest competitor on a joint project. Study new technologies like nano science and quantum computing, and become one of the first to apply them to business. Figure out how to expand your market, not just your market share. And, as life and business continue to speed up, remember that the windows of opportunity for taking risks will open and close faster than ever before.

Watts Wacker-lecturer, bestselling author, political commentator, social critic and CEO of FirstMatter-is one of the world's most respected futurists.

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