The Risks of Un-Risky Business

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MAIM 2014: Throughout the next month we, the class of 2014, will be exploring themes that shape our collective vision of innovation, serving as inspiration for our upcoming final Degree Show. These key themes include: experimentation, chaos, risk, uncertainty, creativity and, of course, innovation.

To begin an article about innovation by saying that the world is changing faster than ever is a major cliché. However, that doesn’t make the statement any less true. Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff stresses in his book “Present Shock” that the fast-paced change we are experiencing permeates our behaviours, our ways of understanding and making sense of the world, the way we absorb and generate culture, our political and economical systems, and even the way we construct our arguments. To survive, and eventually get ahead of this ubiquitous change, learning to take risks seems to be a good strategy.


Kickstarter, an alternative way to fund creative projects has only existed six years and has already surpassed $1 billion in pledges with an overall success rate of 43,56%. Burning Man, an old time pagan festival is now the favourite destination for executives looking for inspiration; Google Doodle was conceived there. Social networks are changing how we do everything; from organ donation to finding love. Uprisings around the world are being powered by apps like Twitter and Zello. Virgin Galactic is taking bookings for space travel. Facebook is replacing Google as the main search engine while Google is building robots. All those entrepreneurs, funders, app builders, love seekers, revolution makers and high level executives have taken a conscious risk of daring to do something different, and as a result, have gotten ahead and changed the game.


Taking risks in business looks less like parachute jumping and more like long hours of hard work, and even though all of those successful companies probably function in very different ways – with different goals, practices, and structures – they have one fundamental thing in common: a strong culture of innovation. They encourage innovation on a daily basis by devoting resources to it and inspiring creative thinking, by enabling risk taking and more importantly, as Edward Goldman in Fast Company points out, by acknowledging that in order to drive innovative thinking, failure has to be an option; taking risks is a way of learning and moving forward.


Recent research has shown that baby-boomers, those ‘old-schoolers’ that new generations tend to think of as not innovative or flexible, actually have a higher tolerance to risk than millenials. Naturally, their adeptness to risk-taking can be attributed to the fact that they have had more chances to try (and to fail) in their careers and therefore have more experience to draw from.


Risk, failure, experience and knowledge are inextricably intertwined with innovation and success. So, if you really want to achieve something different it is time for you to start adding a little risk to your brand, your company, your organizational culture, your budget and your life. Einstein’s definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. So don’t be crazy, take more risks!