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Collaborative Risktaking: The Art of Getting Out of Your Own Way


The tension between deciding when to challenge a status quo and when to adapt to one certainly does keep life interesting.



However, we hear less about the art of managing the creative tension associated with stepping up and outside our comfort zones—navigating an unfamiliar terrain that is oftentimes strewn with roadblocks, boulders, and pot holes—with that of getting along, being liked, and fitting in. 

Isn't this what people generally fear when they think of doing something outside of their comfort zone? It’s the fear of raising the bar for themselves (and sometimes others), afraid that something could go wrong and that others will dislike them for it, they’ll be labeled as an outlier, and stamped with F for FAILURE. A kiss of death for some, but for others a real personal breakthrough.

It depends on your perspective.

No matter how many quotes you read about the positive aspects of personal mistakes and the power of failed attempts in business, emotions can still feel uncomfortable until we work through the process of extracting the learning gems from our setbacks before moving forward.  

It’s not uncommon to dredge up pesky feelings from the past when thinking about taking on, or even suggesting, changes to a status quo. I once worked with an engineering manager who had been “punished” for a mistake that cost the company money (no one died, mind you)—a shame that he carried around his neck twenty years later and one that kept him locked in a risk averse cycle.

You do want to be aware of any lingering memories that unwittingly hold you back from stretching your capabilities. Consider this an opportunity to turn the past on its head by discovering the serendipitous moments in your life.

Although I don’t believe I was destined to become the next Michelangelo, it was a critical glance from an eighth grade art teacher and a single comment referring to my clay dolphin masterpiece as an, “interesting looking frog” as a serendipitous influence that moved me in the direction of writing for the high school newspaper.  


Where Collaborative Risktaking Comes In

Depending on your bench-pressing strength for raising the bar, you can eke out personal risktaking opportunities for yourself within two types of cultural environments where companies use different prisms for viewing entrepreneurial behavior.

  • At one end of the spectrum you have companies that publish vision and mission statements on how their organizations embrace a culture of innovation that invests in and rewards entrepreneurial behavior. Some businesses even provide guidelines on what constitutes acceptable risktaking.

The water gets a bit murkier when leadership teams are expected to define the how of risktaking for their teams. What happens if a leader has difficulty with their personal risktaking style?

They may feel like an imposter and wind up blocking innovative thinkers and do-ers because they don’t understand that their role is to recognize and groom entrepreneurial types, not necessarily possess direct experience, in order to pave the way for those with a mindset for innovation who go on to take the leaps. 

  • At the other end of the spectrum is creative tension that comes when attempting to figure out acceptable risk within a very conservative or even fear-based company culture, perhaps, one where only certain groups, i.e., R&D, are given permission to take risks, make mistakes, and experience setbacks, as long as it moves the business forward. 

This is where Collaborative Risktaking can play a positive role for you and the organization.   

Collaborative Risktaking is part of a decision-making process where you distribute risk across a broad spectrum of people. You reduce your fear of stepping outside your comfort zone by getting out of your own way. You ask for help with your high-risk, high impact decisions from a range of subject matter experts, introducing divergent streams of information to your decision-making process. People weigh in with their expertise, you reduce the risk, and increase the benefits for everyone.

Within a more conservative environment where a culture of fear exists, you’d use this process for leading and introducing incremental change. In an entrepreneurial culture you’d be able to move the needle forward, faster.

Below is an infographic on how Collaborative Risktaking works in helping you to manage high impact decisions when rapidly seeking input from cross-organizational subject matter experts.

  Collaborative Risktaking - The Art of Getting Out of Your Own Way

Download a copy of the infographic.