Sometimes you read something and it is immediately true for you. I have been thinking about risk, and I know how discussions about risk get complicated quickly, with talks about probabilities, downside protection, hedging, but those are only tools.
The truth is that you need to understand that risk is necessary and inevitable. That to take action is less risky than to take no action. Reading two books, Poke by Seth Godin and Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson (Funny I didn’t get the irony of reading these two books together until just now) are not about risk but both had very clear examples of how to think about risk, and they showed me that how I viewed risk is completely wrong.
Richard Branson is all risk. In his book, he told a story about a quiet day at home, and one afternoon a man came and knocked on his door. Richard answered the door, and there was a stranger there, an inventor who was working on a flying machine, a kind of personal aircraft, like an auto-gyro, and the man was there because he knew Branson loved to fly, and he thought that Branson might be interested in investing in his invention.
Richard listened, asked questions, and wanted to see it. The inventor had it in his car. Richard looked at it, and asked the man to pull the machine out. Richard wanted to try it on, and did. Branson wanted to run the motor, not fly it as it had never been flown, but to just start it up and see what it does. Branson started the machine, and the craft suddenly surged and took off and Branson went with it. He became airborne while his family watched him fly wildly above, as he had no idea how to actually fly the machine, it was all new to him, but he managed to keep it airborne and he finally landed roughly in a field. The next day the inventor took it up alone to do what Branson did, and crashed and died.
Richard Branson met a strange man at his front door, he let him in and listened to him, he put on the device he had never seen before, he flew the craft, and then landed it, all without knowing how it works. Branson not only understands that risk is making things happen, he understands that once in motion, you find a way. Seth Godin’s book Poke, which I will go over more in depth later had a brilliant metaphor for risk.
Seth believes that those who take action will define the world and that action will be the key differentiator in the future work force. Everyone has skills, everyone is good, everyone has quality, but only a few have the initiative to take action, and those are the people who will succeed. In his book, he tells a parable on risk and living cautiously. Seth tells of a boulder in a river, which is stopped where it is at, and the river in which it sits is continually charging forward, beating endlessly on the stable rock which is sturdy, it is always there. Imagine the beating the rock takes as debris and water constantly pound the rock, endlessly. The chaos of river, the constant change, is forever beating on the stoic rock, over and over again. Now imagine a stick or log floating in the same river, and the stick goes with the currents of the river, and it is constantly charging, it is constantly moving, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but it rides in the same chaotic river that the boulder sits in, yet for the stick, the water for the most part is peaceful. The water around the stick is calm and there is no battering or pounding, just peace and simple floating. That is the goal.
To take no risk is to be constantly pounded by the changing world, to take no risk, is the riskiest thing you can do.
By taking risk, by choosing, you manage your way down the river of constant change, choosing paths as you go, as the options change and you ride the ebbs and flows.
Action is calmer and more peaceful than no action.