Risk Protection = More Caution. Really?

snowboarder on the steep v2, cropped v2There is an interesting study published in the journal Injury Prevention on behavior change among skiers and snowboarders when they wear a helmet.

What would you guess?

> Option A:  Would you think that a person who wears a helmet would think they are better protected from injury and be more risk inclined?

> Option B:  Or would you think their decision to wear a helmet suggests they are more safety conscious and less risk inclined?

If you guessed Option B, you are correct.  The study tells us that helmeted skiers and snowboarders appear to ski or snowboard more safely.snowboard helmets

So, what does this tell us about human nature and intelligent risk-taking in an organizational setting?  The logical conclusion is that the better you prepare for the risk or initiative you are pursuing, the more comfortable you will be going forward.

The lesson:  prepare well before getting started.  One thing you can do is utilize the six steps of intelligent risk-taking presented in my books The Power of Risk (Maxwell Press), Business Lessons from the Edge (McGraw-Hill) and The First-Time Manager (AMACOM).

The second lesson:  Preparing well and proceeding intelligently is not likely to make you more risk-inclined and more prone to lapse into poor decisions.

Both good outcomes.


The study was conducted by researchers at San Diego State University.  The full paper on the study is available on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website at:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2598370/pdf/173.pdf.  (The NCBI is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.)

Want Shorter Meetings? Trash the Chairs.

conference-table, cropped v2

We all know that meetings are necessary … and at times significantly longer than necessary or productive.

Andy Kessler had a brilliant piece recently in the Wall Street Journal that offers that some excellent insights and suggestions for making meetings more productive and shorter. His ideas are too good not to share. Here are some.

> Apparently some executives at Twitter and Apple allow meetings only on Mondays. The rest of the week is meetings free. (I will bet that this results in a lot of issues that surface on Tuesdays and Wednesdays being resolved without meetings.)

> The president of BuzzFeed is a little looser. He dictates that meetings are prohibited on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

> An innovative tech entrepreneur running a start up limits meetings to a single topic, does not allow any electronics (computers, projectors, PowerPoint), and limits them to ten minutes.

> Kessler reports that Amazon chief Jeff Bezos starts executive meetings with thirty minutes of silence while all read a “carefully crafted six-page report.” (I love the idea of the person who called the meeting being subjected to the discipline of presenting his or her ideas in writing.)

> Another creative executive has all meetings recorded on video with the videos available all in the organization indefinitely. (I think we would all be a bit more thoughtful and measured in our comments at a meeting if we knew all we said would be available to all indefinitely.)

> Finally, my favorite. One clever executive has had all the conference tables and chairs removed from the conference rooms. They have been replaced with bar-height tables but no chairs. (Does anyone question that meetings will be briefer when all have to stand?)

Kessler gave us some wonderful ideas. I encourage you to try some to see what results you get.

Risk Well “and Stuff”

Chevy Truck, cropped

Right after the last out of the 2014 World Series, Chevy gave a pickup to the most valuable player.  The poor guy tasked to present the keys looked like he was about to have a stroke.  He struggled to get words out, sweated profusely and started to stutter.  When he got to the part where he was supposed to tell all the world about the truck’s impressive features, he blurted out that it had “technology and stuff” then thrust the keys in the MVP’s hand – all on live national TV.

Disaster or opportunity?

Here is some of the back story.  Dan Ammann has been thand shakehe president of General Motors for about a year.  Part of his strategy is to “put the right people in place and let them make decisions.”  Oh, the risk!

Within hours a member of the empowered Chevy team was being bold.  Instead of tryi
ng run from the flub, the Chevy manager monitoring social media was tweeting with the hashtag, #TechnologyAndStuff.  This was 1:29 a.m. and Jamie Barbour was on it!

Before dawn, the U.S. marketing chief for Chevy was firing off emails to his social media, digital marketing and advertising teams so they could start to exploit the “technology and stuff” line.

By 7:30 a.m. a new voiceover was being recorded for an ad that would run that evening on an NBA game so it added “and stuff” to the script.  The team quickly bought ad time on the late night comedy shows that would air that evening anticipating that the comics would likely fry them for the flub.  They were determined to have the upper hand.GM_logo

Before they were done exploiting what could have been a disaster, they had the Chevy pickups like the one the MVP received emblazoned with #TechnologyAndStuff as they took the drivers at a NASCAR event in Texas around the track before the race.

A flub turned into a coup:  Advertising Age magazine estimates that Chevy got $5 million in free media exposure for their effort.  Risky.  Yes.  Successful.  Heck yes.

This is risking done well.  Kudos to Dan Ammann and the innovative and resourceful Chevy team.


This is where you can find a video of the now infamous World Series presentation:



Are Some People Born Risk-Takers?

tight_rope_walkerI have said many times in books, articles and speeches that there is no ideal level of risk inclination – no perfect Risk Quotient (RQ). The risk adverse can make a vital contribution by being more cautious and deliberative. The risk inclined can help others overcome uncertainties and provide a valuable bias for action.

But it is reasonable to wonder to what extent a person’s RQ is determined by genetics as opposed to by life experiences – the old nature versus nurture discussion.

You may have heard about the “risk-taking gene.” This is the research that indicates that a certain variation on the DRD4 gene correlates to a greater inclination to pursue risky activities and seek higher levels of physical stimulation.

Now there is more research that indicates that certain physiological traits influence our risk inclination. Researchers at University College London, the University of Sydney, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University and Yale University have determined that the density of the cells in one part of our brain influences our comfort level with financial risks. The thicker our right posterior parietal cortex the more we can tolerate financial risk. If it is thinner, the opposite is true.

Is this interesting? Yes. Is this important? Only somewhat.

The important point is that we all have different innate RQs. They can change significantly due to life experiences and our current situation. But research is showing that we are born with physical elements that influence our personal relationship with risk-taking.

How does this impact you? The next time you are at a loss to understand how someone sees the exact same facts and circumstances so differently than you, remember that some of the difference may be due to how you both were created. That may make it easier to deal constructively with the variance.
More on this topic is available at: http://online.wsj.com/articles/so-you-think-youre-a-risk-taker-1414207254

An Innovative Environment Helps Attract the Best People

millennial-generationWe all hear about the importance of organizations being innovative. Seems reasonable. An innovative organization should be able to find ways to do things better, develop more new products and services and be generally more effective. These outcomes can all bolster an organization’s competitive advantage.

BMillenials v2ut research shows that an innovative environment contributes to an organization’s competitive advantage in a way that may not have occurred to you. It makes the organization a more desirable place to work and helps it attract talented contributors.

Deloitte has been conducting an annual survey of the millennial generation now for a few years. (Millennials are considered to currently be in their early 30s and younger.) When queried on the importance of working in an innovative environment, they have some noteworthy responses.

A huge portion, nearly eight in ten, say that they are influenced by how innovative an organization is when deciding where they want to work. Half tell us that working for an innovative company is “essential” or “very important” to their overall job satisfaction. And just shy of one quarter say they are willing to earn 15% less in return for having a job at an innovative organization.

This is huge. We all know that attracting the best people makes a critical contribution to your competitive advantage. We now know that part of attracting them is creating the innovative environment that yields dividends in many forms.

Dads Well-Suited to Teach Kids to Risk

father, croppedIf you’re like me, you see roughhousing with the kids as a great way to help them expend some of their boundless energy with the side benefit of some parent/child bonding.  But research reveals additional benefits – roughhousing teaches risk-taking to children.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal tells us that many researchers believe the bond established by father/child play and roughhousing surfaces later in a child’s life when “the father serves as a secure base allowing the child to explore and take risks.”

The benefits go further according to the article.  They include helping the child with emotional intelligence and boundary-setting.  It goes on to state, “Many fathers walk a fine line during play between safety and risk, allowing children to get minor injuries without endangering them, says a 2011 study of 32 subjects in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.  Researchers say this can instill emotional intelligence under fire, and an ability to take prudent risks and set limits with peers.”

Interesting.  Sounds like father/child roughhousing is not to be missed.

The article is titled “Roughhousing Lessons from Dad.”  It was written by Sue Shellenbarger and is available on the website of the Wall Street Journal.

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Encourage Disobedience

Download-Button v2Here are the first two sentences in a recent article that got my attention:

“Want to be more competitive? Then empower your most technologically disobedient employees.”

The core message is that employees want to do their job and they will seek the tools to do so.  If the corporate Information Technology (IT) department does not provide them with what they need, the will find the applications they need on their own even if it means paying for them.  The proof?  According to research conducted by Frost & Sullivan referenced in the article “80% of people working for organizations with more than 1,000 employees go around the IT department and use (or even buy) software.”  The practice is referred to as “Shadow IT.”

The idea is similar to my admonition to achieve innovation by accepting failures, because you won’t get one without some of the other.  Are there risks?  Of course.  But as the article concludes, “firms concerned about the security issues of shadow IT are missing the point; the bigger risk is not embracing it in the first place.”

The article is titled “Let Staff Go Rogue on Tech.”  It was written by Christopher Mims and is available on the website of the Wall Street Journal.

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Risk-Taking is the Answer

ASU v2, cropped v2In a recent interview, Michael Crow identified risk-taking as vital. Who is Michael Crow? He has been the president of Arizona State University for twelve years. During his tenure enrollment has increased 38%, research spending has tripled and tuition has been kept in check. What’s his secret in a setting in which many universities are struggling? Crows says that educators andASU_logo_0 large academic institutions need to be more entrepreneurial and take more risks. He goes on to state that higher education is too risk-averse and needs to be more innovative.

Isn’t it refreshing to hear someone from a world that can be bound by tradition and excessively focused on the past talk about the need to move forward boldly?

The interview of Crow is titled “Design for a New College.”  It was conducted by Douglas Belkin and is available on the website of the Wall Street Journal.

Overcome Resistance – Have an Outsider Deliver Your Idea

outsider v2, croppedThe process of innovation requires selling ideas and the change they invite.  Since most people are change adverse, knowing how to sell your ideas can make the difference between success and failure.

There was in interesting report on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition that can offer us some suggestions.  The core insight as it relates to selling ideas is that they are seen as more credible when they are presented by an outsider or someone that is less familiar to the decision-makers.

Does it make sense that the exact same idea would be more valued if it is presented by someone outside your organization as opposed to you?  No.  Is it an unavoidable part of human nature.  Yes?

And in reality, this is not a new concept.  A well known Bible verse tells us that “a prophet is honored everywhere excelogopt in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”

So what does this mean to you?  Consider having some of your more threatening or radical ideas delivered by outsiders or at least people who are not as familiar to the decision-makers.  You will have to put your ego in your pocket and bite your tongue as you see your idea delivered by others.  But the goal is to make a difference and that may just be what is required.


A transcript of the NPR report titled “Why We Miss Creative Ideas That Are Right Under Our Noses” is available at:


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Embracing Risk

Risk, croppedOur relationship with risk has a profound impact on the quality and character of our lives. If we are significantly risk averse, we will miss opportuteeter-totternities. If we are significantly risk inclined, we may find ourselves regularly facing unproductive turmoil. Most of us would benefit by taking a few more risks as long as we do it in an intelligent and thoughtful way. This sort of stretching beyond our comfort zones will often have significant and positive results. Some of us would do well to either take fewer risks or take them in a more methodical way.

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