Friday, February 03, 2006

Is Risk On The Wane?

I am starting to sense a trend. I see people ranging from Kathy Sierra to Seth Godin exhorting the online community to take risks, to be bold, to step forward, to be unafraid.

I think it is likely true that the innovators within large companies are either afraid to fail or, more likely, hindered by a bureacratic heirarchy that quashes new thinking. That just seems obvious. Precious few people in Corporate America are judged in a performance review on their ability to generate and execute on Big, Risky Ideas.

("Hmm, let's see, Mr. Schmedley: I see that your annual review is lacking a check-mark in the 'Audacity' field... Why is that? Perhaps you should be sent to a Cajones 101 training seminar? Would that help you grow a set of brass ones?")

I also think it may be true that even the best thinkers at start-up companies are so overwhelmed with work that they don't have the time or energy to be bold. They might leave it to the CEO, CTO or other official spokesperson to do the bold-stroke thinking.

My bet is that there is a lot of untapped creativity out there. It's just not being cultivated.

Certainly, while they talk it up, Congress is not actually encouraging entrepreneurialism: they just recently set harsh new barriers to claiming personal bankruptcy, which means we won't read many more success stories where the founder borrowed $30K on his AmEx to start a company. Too risky!

The other big barrier, and what in my opinion is truly on the wane, is T-I-M-E.

Time to think. Time to explore. Time to breathe.

How often have you come back from vacation, full of ideas about how to do your job better? Maybe the respite gave you the insights you needed to accomplish a big project. Maybe those few days off gave you the courage you needed to quit an unsatisfying position. Maybe you sat on the beach and scratched out a fantastic new innovation on the cocktail napkin that was served with your mai-tai!

But how often upon your return from this rejuvenating experience did you subsequently find yourself so completely beaten-down by the flood of unread emails, RSS feeds, et cetera, that you almost immediately felt all the wind puff out of the sails?

Risk itself is not on the wane. The amount of TIME we need to imagine and take on new risks - that's what is on the wane!

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