Do you play safe or take a business risk?

by Val Corbett

I recently read an article in The Guardian’s Business section which attracted my attention. It was about taking risks in business, something in which I was interested. And my interest was linked to my impatience.

I am the most impatient person you could meet. It’s not a title I crave, and I am sometimes irritated with myself about it – perhaps I have a condition similar, but opposite, to OCD. In my opinion “waiting” is the worst word in the English language and at this stage it’s clear I will never change.

Obviously, the Kindle was invented specially for me. Getting a book in seconds makes my heart beat faster with joy. So are emails. In the Stone Age, whenever I walked back from a post box I would’ve loved to have a reply waiting for me … so now when I receive an instant answer to my email well, it’s better than sex. OK, not better but it gives me a good buzz.

If someone says “wouldn’t that table look better in that corner” it has to be moved NOW. Wait for the coffee in the cafetiere to what .. flower? No, simply pour the water in, plunge and drink. (And the coffee tastes just fine.)

I’ve always linked impatience with risk-taking and reading about Gemma Pond in the paper made me realise that taking risks divides people into two groups. The ones who like to stay in the same jobs for many years and those who are impatient to move up. And do something about it.

When Gemma Pond launched her flavoured spring water brand Nuva it wasn’t the only new arrival that week. At the same time as officially introducing the sugar and sweetener free product to the UK market in June 2015, she gave birth to a baby boy. (Try not to hate her!)

Gemma had invested a whopping £50,000 into the design of the bottle so felt she had no choice but to return to running the company two weeks later. Although it was a risky decision to go ahead with the planned launch, both professionally and personally, she believes it was worth it.

“I always say as long as you have a roof over your head, and that you’re able to cope with the fact that what you put into your business life you could lose, then go for it.”

Research by the University of Cambridge revealed that risk-takers shared a personality trait that allowed them to seize opportunities under stress. And I bet they shared the impatience gene.

‘She who dares’ does indeed appear to win in business. So to what extent should an ambitious executive embrace risk in order to grow and develop their enterprise or move up the food chain?

The Guardian interviewed business psychologist Dr Mark Parkinson who says the image of risk-takers as eccentrics who are willing to gamble everything is a myth. He explains that if you imagine a scale of risk-taking – from not wanting to take any risks on the left through to actually being a gambler on the right – most people would be slightly to the left of the centre. Risk-takers on the other hand, are to the right of the middle, but there are few who are at the extreme end of gambling.

Risk-taking behaviour is just one personality trait of a successful business executive. Dr Parkinson reckons when most people try but fail in business, they go back to their normal jobs. But an entrepreneurial mind, on the other hand, might lose a money, yet keep going.

Coupled with this ability to bounce back, is optimism. “You have either got to believe you can make a difference or you are probably not the right person to be doing it. If you think about it, the rational person wouldn’t do it. So you have got to have an internal motivation that pushes you to go ahead and do it.”

Parkinson cautions, however, that there is “no magic bullet”. He says to those who perfectly match the profile of an entrepreneur: “You might be more likely to be successful and have the most fantastic idea but it will go nowhere unless the timing is right and the opportunity is there.”

If it wasn’t for people gambling everything on a hunch and taking a massive hunch, we wouldn’t have Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook or Twitter to realise that.

Bill Gate’s Microsoft wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t taken the risk of introducing a completely new concept into the IT market.

So if you see an opportunity but need to take a risk, research to make sure it isn’t too much of a gamble and then go for it. And I wouldn’t wait!

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