Now, our level of risk aversion is contingent upon how we define uncertainty.
- Do we consistently perceive uncertain professional scenarios as a threat to our professional wellbeing? As a result, do we become defensive or aggressive when challenged by others or asked to venture into uncharted professional waters, when executing a project? Do we fail to even consider responding with enthusiasm, collaboration, experimentation and learning?
- Alternatively, do we consistently and completely avoid uncertain, unfamiliar professional scenarios? These situations involve learning new ideas, engaging with new people and performing in unfamiliar environments. Instead, our first (and often only) response is to tune out and turn off. As a result, we marginalize ourselves, instead of collaborating, taking risks and potentially succeeding.
- Then again, do we seek out risky, novel professional assignments which move us one millimeter outside our current comfort level? Are we comfortable being uncomfortable when uncertain professional outcomes are at stake? Do we intuitively understand that we will come out the other side so much more educated, innovative and, well, professionally distinctive?
Where does your current comfort level with risk and uncertainty fall, within this continuum? How might professional risk aversion to new and innovative opportunities become a huge, self-limiting belief?
On the other hand, how might embracing – and executing – professional challenges become an incredible professional asset?
Professional risk aversion becomes our behavioral norm when we ignore or avoid experiential growth opportunities.
Remember when we jumped into the deep end of the swimming pool to earn a lifesaving certification? Just before we jumped, were we certain, or uncertain, about whether we would succeed? Then, were we confident or just straight-up courageous in assessing how to respond to the challenge?
Yes, our hearts were thumping out of our chests as we jumped into the deep end of the swimming pool! However, as the water closed around our heads and our feet hit the 12-foot pool bottom, some of us panicked. We choose to keep our eyes closed, thrash around and immediately swim to the surface to save ourselves. Yet, for the rest of us, the cold-water adrenaline rush made our eyes pop open under the water. Then, we located the person we were responsible for saving. Per our training, we conserved energy and swam upward to use our skills and address the situation at hand.
Sometimes overcoming professional risk aversion requires more courage than confidence, initially. Because our definition of uncertainty, over time, is relative to how we acquire, build and interpret our library of professional experiences.
What we perceive as uncertain, yesterday, becomes familiar after we experience it, today. Often our acquired level of assuredness with what formerly is uncertain inspires us to confidently seek new, unfamiliar and invigorating challenges in the future.
Otherwise, when professional risk aversion becomes synonymous with fear of failure in uncertain, uncomfortable scenarios, we avoid trying anything new.
Over time, we, ourselves, rather than any uncomfortable scenario, become the greatest obstacle to professional innovation. The slippery slope that tips the scales of professional risk aversion is when we view everything new as something monumentally uncertain.
“I tried that once, but it didn’t work and I got burned. I won’t do that again, ever.”
“Historically, our teams have never operated well, together, so why should they now?”
“We never do things that way in this company, although I’m not sure why.”
“We aren’t known for those types of projects, so why try to compete and win this bid?”
“That’s always been a problem we can’t seem to wrap our brains around and solve.”
Over time, as this mindset becomes entrenched, any initiative, involving any amount of risk, is deemed unattainable. Group self-doubt generates intangible, often imagined, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles to successful execution.
When we lose our professional frame of reference, and ability to logically weigh and scale risky opportunities, we fail to innovate.
Not only that. We fail others on our teams. Ultimately, we fail ourselves. Because we lose our sense of wonder and imagination.
That is why professional risk aversion becomes a huge, self-limiting belief.
This week, take the time to observe yourself and others. Assess the types of risk which are dealt with or avoided, each day. Perhaps there is a cultural behavior reinforcing risk aversion to change. Then again, hiring practices often create a workforce dedicated to reinforcing what is comfortable and eliminating what is perceived as risky. Also, individuals bring bias and baggage into the workplace which impedes, rather than inspires, others.
Isn’t it time to break away from professionally self-limiting beliefs?
Learn how to jump into the pool of uncertainty, just like you did so many years ago. Be refreshed by the experience. Once again, the water will be just fine.
Next steps towards professional innovation:
- Read these related posts. Discover how risk aversion impacts professional innovation, workforce engagement and customer retention.
- Has what you read today started you thinking about tomorrow? Contact me and let’s discuss.
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Babette Ten Haken serves organizations as a corporate catalyst and innovative speaker, strategist, coach and storyteller. Babette’s One Millimeter Mindset™ Workshops and Speaking programs leverage collaboration to catalyze professional innovation, workforce engagement and customer retention, especially in challenging Industrial Internet of Things environments. Babette’s playbook of IIoT team collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon. She is a member of SME, ASQ, SHRM and the National Speakers Association.
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