Risk aversion can hurt you

By | February 3, 2006

Creating Passionate Users

Risk aversion can take a good idea and make it useless. And risk aversion is rampant in corporations. That’s one of the points in Kathy’s post. It’s a long post, and it’s late, so I’m not going to go much into it, but here’s a quote:

. . . many of the “leaf nodes” (what Microsoft and Sun and others refer to as “individual contributors”) tend to be innovative and brave, but many of the “branches” (i.e. layers of management) can’t stomach the risks. In their (admirable) desire to be strong and stable, the “branches” put safety above all else.

What kind of safety? Sometimes managers are putting the best interests of the company first. That’s great–they’re often more experienced and have a better grasp of the bigger context. But (and it’s a really big but) sometimes they’re just worried about their own damn job. In other words, the leaf node/individual contributors often think about the effect of their work on users, while the mid-level managers often think about the effect of their work on their job. And whose fault is that? All those layers of bosses. Even one risk-averse boss in the chain-of-command can do major damage to innovation, spirt, motivation, etc.

The major point in her post, though, is what can be done to combat risk aversion killing your spirit. Her list:

  • Regularly review the assumptions behind all your decisions.
  • Practice letting go
  • Push the boundaries strategically, one-by-one
  • Use blogs to build support within the company
  • If all else fails and the culture of risk-aversion is stealing your soul, consider going into “short-timer” mode.
  • Keep reminding yourself that life is short!

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