On Taking Risks

Years ago, man used to live in caves. He learned to use the tools, create fire, hunt in groups, cook and preserve the hunt. Each of the these skills created us an added advantage over the other species. On each step, we were able to grow a little further only because there were enough risks taken. In order to be more secure, we learned to take risks and over time prepare ourselves to take calculated risks to create “wins.”

When a child is born, (s)he is completely unaware of risks, and tries to pursue every opportunity to find something new, to see something new or do something new – it’s not uncommon for a child to try catching fire with his hands because (s)he thinks it’s attractive. Once the same child feels the heat of the stove fire, (s)he quickly understands it’s not something I should go for.

Risk taking is an attitude. Some people are risk-takers and some are risk-averse, but most have to accept it to varying extents. When people don’t for sustained periods, they end up staying in a perceived safety area, labelled “comfort zone” and as they say, comfort zone is a great place, but nothing grows there. In life, it’s necessary to leave that zone at least a few times to be sure to be able to grow.

An issue with risk taking is that “calculated risk taking” is not so easy to define – it’s a subjective area and the right amount of calculated risk is different from person to person. Also, it can change for the same person depending on the circumstances. That being the case, almost no one can exactly guide you on what amount of risk you ought to take, and one must understand that most of the guidance will also come from a filtered view these people hold.

Another issue with it is that when you do start taking up risks, by the very characteristic of risk, you stand a chance to lose out, or fail and if that happens, people even remotely related to you would start sharing their opinions on how the idea was lousy to begin with or how they knew this was not going to work (no, that won’t change or improve anything but people have this intrinsic need to justify why things happened the way those did and also reaffirm to others they were right). Also interestingly, these psychological reaffirmations on others’ failures are common across geography and cultures. As difficult as it is, try to ignore them.

In the end you always have two choices: to do something you want to, and end up with a possibility of failure; or not do that something and definitely end up with regret for the rest of your life. I assert the latter is more painful. And suggest you go ahead with what you find right, and a little uncomfortable.


That’s not easy.

When you talk to people about innovative ideas, many of them listen carefully and end up with a note of caution “that’s not easy.”

I contest that it is not a very useful response for two reasons: one, almost anything worth doing is not easy and two, if a person has made up their mind on getting something done, then they would appreciate the “how’s” of the task, rather than reminding themselves that the task at hand is “not easy.” So, the next time someone comes to you with something innovative that you like to listen to, don’t say “that’s not easy” but rather point out one “how” to help them solve at least one puzzle in the myriad they might have.

If you can’t do that but you feel it’s a good cause/idea/effort/plan/prototype/invention/innovation, at least say “that’s worth a try.” If you think it’s lame and not going to work, tell them so. Simple.