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Taking risk is part of improvement

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Taking risk is part of improvement

Scott Miker

If you want to improve and get better, one thing you have to be willing to do is to take risks.  Risk is always there when we change something.

We take a risk that it won’t work.  We take a risk because we don’t know exactly how it will all play out and there may be side effects, missed opportunities or failures.    

But risk can’t stop us from working to improve.  We have to be willing to some risks in order to move away from where we are and what we currently have. 

But risk can make your improvement journey difficult.  Risk, by nature, means that there is a level outside of your control that you are relying on.  The Merriam-Webster definition of risk is “exposing (someone or something valued) to danger, harm or loss.”

By exposing ourselves to danger, we naturally put ourselves in a position where harm can come to us.  If we decide to get healthy and work our, we expose our bodies to all sorts of injuries.  If we decide to go back to school for an advanced degree we risk getting failing grades and wasting money. 

But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t proceed.  We just have to realize that there will be risk and do what we can to understand the systems around that risk.  Are there systems changes we can make to limit our exposure to risk? 

That is why one of the key elements of the systems and habits approach to improvement is to start slowly.  If we can start with very small pieces we aren’t betting everything on this new iteration.  If we are exposed to danger in small doses it becomes easier to manage.

So whatever your goal is, make sure you don’t ignore the inherent risk involved.  Instead work to fully understand the risks that you are taking and what you can do to minimize the risk as much as possible without sacrificing the benefits that you hope to gain through the change.

Years ago I wrote a book called, You Can’t Surf from the Shore.  It grew out of an experience I had where I had a goal (wanting to try to surf) but there was risk involved (getting bitten by a shark).  What I realized was that the risk was present but through my emotions I drastically over-exaggerated the risk. 

I took a risk that was extremely unlikely to happen and developed a fear that I let deter me from my goal.  When I finally tackled the goal, I realized that the key to surfing for me, was simply overcoming my fear.  I couldn’t completely eliminate the risk, I had to accept it and accept that what I wanted was bigger than the potential to lose something.

Risk is an inevitable part of growth and improvement.  But often times we attach emotion to the risk to make it impossible to move forward.  We have to evaluate the full system around the goal to make sure we address and minimize risk as much as possible but we can’t live in fear and never change because we worry that the worst possible outcome will happen. 

Controlling our emotions around taking a risk is an overlooked but important part of the improvement process.  In your systems thinking evaluations, make sure you don’t ignore the risk or assume it isn’t important.  It can quickly and easily sabotage your efforts for improvements if you don’t properly address the risk and what it means for your goals.