Don’t try this at home – try it at work: The benefits of risk.

Well, it was another interesting week last week filled with rip-roaring humdingery entertainment in the most unlikely places, which got me thinking about the subject of risk.

Late last week I found myself taking an early evening subway train across the city.  But no sooner than I’d got on the train, than a man then began shouting obscenities at someone else. I’m not sure what led up to this, but the aggressor doing the shouting was 6ft 2 in his mid-twenties, and the other fellow who was the recipient of this (so disgusting and not worth repeating here) diatribe was in his late sixties / early seventies. As if that weren’t bad enough the aggressor started spitting at his victim who wasn’t saying anything.

As we pulled into the next station I was ready to push the alarm strip, when I decided to take a risk.  Since I was standing, had both arms free and the aggressor was standing right by the door, I decided to give him a well-timed, extra firm shove just as the doors began to close.

It worked. Beautifully.

He was unceremoniously ejected from the train and before he’d regained his limited composure, the train was already pulling out of the station.

OK. Don’t try that yourself! And there are those who’ll likely say, I’m a twit, should have reported it, what if, what if, what if…. and yes, it could have gone horribly wrong. But the circumstances were right for me at that time and I decided to take a calculated risk that left the problem at the last station.   

All of which got me thinking about our business and how risk averse we’ve become in marketing. How often have you said or heard ‘we need to break through the clutter’ or ‘we need to stand-out’ but later finding ourselves shying away from that bold idea because it’s too risky?  And that’s a shame because whatever sort of risk you may have considered in the past, there are could be some hidden benefits you’ll miss out on if you don’t take risks in future:

What if…?

Not every risk is going to offer the rewards you’d hoped for, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know. And what if your risk taking ideas, strategy, concepts, calls, requests, meetings or speeches propel you or your business forward in ways you’d never imagined?  If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Pushes boundaries

One of the best examples of creative pushing boundaries was Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign that started a powerful and compelling conversation about women and the culture and perception of female beauty, and their physical bodies. Dove took a risky approach which was arguably ahead of its time and started a dialogue that’s still relevant today.

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Builds confidence

While ‘building your courage muscle’ isn’t something that’ll necessarily appear in your annual review, it’s a critical component in your personal growth. Your ability to take calculated risks is something that will help you grow both personally and professionally – even when risks don’t pay off the way you expected. 

Learn new things

If you’re still in doubt, remember Thomas Edison’s words, ‘I’ve not failed – I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work…’ So if you take a risk and it doesn’t work, you’ll have gained knowledge and insight for next time.  And if it does work, you’ll be able build on that know-how for the next time a calculated risk opportunity presents itself.

Safe isn’t safe

With CMO tenure hovering around 43 months and today’s marketing ecosystem evolving faster than ever, playing it ‘safe’ isn’t a safe strategy – for anyone or any organization.  In fact, I’d argue that not taking risks is perhaps one of the riskiest strategies of all.

Instead of thinking about risk as something negative or something to be afraid of, perhaps we should be looking at risk as an opportunity to grow, to stand-out, to learn and push out familiar boundaries that may be holding us or our companies back.  So while the appetite for risk is a very individual choice, consider taking risks that:

  • Are reasonably calculated – not irresponsible or reckless
  • Executed within the boundaries of your brand and its core values
  • Thought through sufficiently so as not to damage your personal reputation
  • Always have greater upside potential than downside

So stop overthinking and worrying about what might go wrong – start wondering what you might do if things work out better than you expected. What are you prepared to do to kick it up a notch and take a calculated risk or two? 


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc  offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

Photo: sama093
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