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June 04, 2018

Embracing Risk is the Way Forward for IT

In business and our personal life, we focus a lot of attention on comfort. We take actions that promise a high level of it, and avoid choices that indicate some discomfort might be involved. The potential for risk tends to run against our instincts.

Why Do We Avoid Risk?

In fact, risk avoidance may be built into our very DNA. At one time, our ancestors depended on their “risk avoidance systems” to ensure they could dodge predators and not become prey.

Today, these instincts tell us which side of the road to walk when it’s late at night, or whether to trust someone on a first date. In most cases, our risk avoidance alarm bells function fairly well.

They tell us when to avoid certain situations and when to take a chance. Unfortunately, some of us have over-stimulated systems. We’ve become fearful of risk entirely, rather than the possible negative outcomes of risks that happen to go bad.

In your personal life, risk aversion may not pose a lot of negative ramifications. At worst, it makes you boring.

But in the business arena, an unwillingness to embrace risk could actually place you in harm’s way. The failure to take on any risk means you’re most likely to remain in place and embrace comfort, while others in your industry or organization are modernizing, innovating, and moving forward.

You might not notice this happening right away, but eventually you’ll realize everyone’s passing you up.

Four Tips for Embracing Risk in IT

It’s one thing to be cautious. It’s another to be risk averse. In the IT field in particular, risk aversion almost inevitably will lead to obsolescence.

Given so much steady innovation happening on a grand scale, you can’t afford to sit back and rely on what you already know. There’s a downright need for taking calculated chances.

If you’re open to the notion of shouldering more risk in your IT department, here are some suggestions to get you into the right frame of mind.

1.         Understand the Basic Principles of Risk Management

In order to become a successful risk taker, you have to understand the basic principles of risk management. They are:

·       Don’t pay or bet more than what you can expect as a return, and

·       Don’t pay or bet more than you can afford to lose.

If a move appears risky, but it meets both of the above criteria, then it could be worth taking a chance. If it fails to pass one or both of these filters, then you’re better off not pursuing it.

2.         Regularly Entertain New Ideas

“Caution isn’t a bad thing, but excessive caution can result in a reluctance to even consider new architectures, refusal to assess new or non-incumbent vendors, and insist on delivering over-engineered solutions,” explains Dave Greenfield, secure networking evangelist at Cato Networks. Don’t let a cautious attitude prevent you from regularly entertaining new ideas.

When an opportunity comes your way, take the necessary time to weigh it with a clear mind. You might end up deciding it’s too risky, but that’s better than immediately writing off what could be a promising option. Just the exercise of thinking it through may teach you a few valuable things.

3.         Consider the Polar Extremes

Whether it’s within your IT department or in your personal life, one of the best ways to examine risky decision-making is to study the polar extremes. Start by imagining the very best outcome that could possibly come from taking this new course.

Then imagine the very worst potential outcome. Go into as much detail as you can.

Tackling this exercise can accomplish a couple of things. First, it gives you some parameters. If the very worst possible outcome isn’t that bad, it becomes much easier to decide the risk may be justified.

On the other hand, you may realize that the very best outcome wouldn’t be all that great. That could push you away from the risk.

Second, this exercise gives you the tools to average out the potential outcome. The most likely result is that you won’t experience either the worst-case or the best-case outcome. Instead, you’ll end up somewhere in the middle.

4.         Have People Who Question You

In the 1500s, the Roman Catholic Church created a new position within the organization: an attorney whose job was to argue against the sainthood of any candidate that was proposed for canonization.

The lawyer’s sole purpose was to find any faults and adopt a skeptical view of the individual’s character, past, and worthiness. He (of course it was always a “he” in those days) was known as the advocatus diabolic, or devil’s advocate.

“Smart leaders should take a cue from this practice and seek out contrarians for different purposes,” business leader Sam Balaji suggests. “That person or team can surface blind spots, offer alternative perspectives, challenge assumptions, counteract organizational myopia, and build resilience into the strategy.”

When you’re in a position of leadership, most people aren’t automatically going to question you. They’d rather support your inclinations than rock the boat.

If you want your employees to think critically and offer a variety of options, it’s on you to foster a culture where people are comfortable being open. This may take years, but you have to start somewhere.

Putting It All Together

This article is not urging anyone to make foolish decisions with no regard for the potential outcome. Instead, it’s telling you to be open to the idea of taking risks … when they make sense.

If you can do this, you’ll find a lot more opportunities for growth just waiting to be seized.

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