Merge's Blog

Does risk-taking scare you?

I was recently having a discussion with a client about risk-taking, and I was reminded of an old Indian folklore story my mom told me many years ago.  It was about a farmer who was asked whether he planted wheat for the season.

He replied in the negative.  “I was afraid we wouldn’t get enough rain,” he said.

He was then asked whether he planted corn.  “No, I was afraid that insects would eat my crop,” he responded.

“Well, what did you plant then?” And the farmer replied, “Nothing, I played it safe.”

In order to be successful, you need to take risks.  Not blind dramatic gambles, but calculated thoughtful responsible risks.

Responsible risk-taking is relative

Deep sea diving is risky, no matter whether it is done by a trained scuba diver or a complete novice.  But for the trained diver, it is responsible risk-taking; for the novice, probably the diametric opposite.  Calculated and thoughtful risk-taking is based on knowledge, training, study, competence and acquired confidence – all factors that give you the courage to act, even while facing fear.  Like the farmer, the person who attempts nothing makes no mistakes.  But not doing something is a bigger mistake than trying and failing.

So seek to develop your knowledge, intensify your training, deepen your study of the subject, build your competence and raise your confidence.  And then act, but make sure that the risks you are taking are calculated, thoughtful, and responsible.

Do you find yourself sometimes feeling like the farmer and so have difficulty taking risks?  Or are you at the other end of the risk-taking spectrum?  I’d love to hear about your experiences, both positive and negative, when you’ve tried to push the envelope or buck the status quo.  Please share your perspectives by commenting below. 

If you’re interested in learning more about making risky decisions, this post from a couple of years ago is a good place to start: Making risky decisions: a simplified approach


  • Your comment about risk-taking is consistent with one of the most important attributes of being leader, having courage. A great definition for courage is not a lack of fear. Courage is moving forward while fear churns within your body. Courage is taking risks. It’s overcoming fear. As you note, when skilled and knowledgable, those risks secondary become manageable. Examples may be spending money to create demand for a product. Apple did that when they entered the mobile phone business. There were many other mobile phones on the market but they felt that they could offer a better device. It took the willingness to risk failure to build something successful. As we know today, the iPhone has been big success in a highly competitive market. Steve Jobs took a risk and it has been rewarded.

    • You are right Jim. It is important to remember that it is normal for courage to be accompanied by fear. It’s what you do with it, and how you handle the situation that matters. Love your Apple iPhone example too!


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