The Biggest Risk You’ll Ever Take

The Biggest Risk You’ll Ever Take

Hint: It’s not what you think it is.

Are you a gambler? The answer might surprise you.

Risk is part of being an entrepreneur. You are accustomed to taking risks, otherwise you wouldn’t be contemplating or running your own business, right? Well, perhaps, but it has to do with how you define risk and where you see its origins.

My mentor Peter Drucker was fond of telling me that entrepreneurs were not risk takers, that in the mind of the entrepreneur his or her great idea was always the greatest idea ever, that they never felt betting on themselves was risky, but rather than it was the only certain bet they could place. I had great respect for Drucker, but I’d like to modify his stance on risk with my own experiences and those I’ve observed in other entrepreneurs.

You see, in my mind risk is about deciding how safe you are going to play any game based on how deep your belief is in yourself. Let me explain.

Personally I hate the notion of gambling. If you plop me into any casino I have virtually zero temptation to play games of chance. I’ve always wondered how I can be so daring in my professional life, starting companies that carried huge potential for financial and emotional risk, and yet refuse to gamble or even buy a lottery ticket.

The answer finally came to me on a flight to Vegas. I was seated next to an extraordinarily boisterous young man who claimed to be a successful real-estate tycoon. He regaled me with stories of his gambling wins and losses as though he was telling the story of going off to fight in some distant battlefield. In short, he was a total hot head–the kind of person I naturally despise. I asked him if the knowledge that the casino had a clear and certain numerical probability of winning didn’t cause him to realize that he simply could not win over the long-term. His response was that he was far too sure in himself to let that bother him–that luck would naturally favor him because that’s just the way he rolled.

“We plow through the crap in our way because we dedicate ourselves to a goal. Everything else is just an opportunity to grow, learn, and overcome.”

It was a fools argument but it caused me to think about my own risk taking. I had started businesses with no knowledge of the risks that lay ahead. I hadn’t started them because of certainty or unwavering faith in the universe or the fact that I was the chosen one, but rather the faith I had in myself. You can call it arrogance, if you like, but there was much more to it than that. It was a deep abiding faith in my ability to overcome any odds through resourcefulness and resiliency. Whatever the obstacle, I knew I’d find a way through it or around it. It wasn’t baseless. It was calculated certainty in my abilities and my unwavering commitment to my ideals and my dreams.

That belief in my own self-worth was the basis for untold innovations and success that came from simple dedication to a goal. Most of life lines up with that. We plow through the crap in our way because we dedicate ourselves to a goal. Everything else is just an opportunity to grow, learn, and overcome.

In the end the biggest risk and and greatest gamble is to not bet on yourself.”

So, where’s the risk? Well, if you were reading closely you already saw it. The risk is in playing it safe, in the uncertainty in yourself that leads you to take a secure, well-worn path trod by the vast majority of others rather than a path of uncertainty on which you will define the future. To be even more direct, risk comes from simply standing still in a place of comfort and convenience and taking no risk at all.

Life isn’t about doing things that have no risks, it’s about taking them on with the belief that you will find a way to innovate despite them. That’s the only path to success, innovation, growth, and satisfaction.

In the end the biggest risk and and greatest gamble is to not bet on yourself.

Tom Koulopoulos is the author of ten books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc 500 company, which focuses on innovation and the future of business. He is also an adjunct professor at the Boston University Graduate School of Management, an Executive in Residence at Bentley University, the past Executive Director of the Babson College Center for Business Innovation, and a frequent keynote speaker. The late Peter Drucker once said of his writing, that it challenges not only the way you run your business but the way you run yourself. Tom’s latest book is The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping The Future of Business.

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