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Growth

Why taking smart risks can grow your business

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

For many businesses, risk is a dirty word. But the business hall of fame is a who’s who of risk-takers.

Here’s an experiment that’s fun to try.

Think of an idea. Think of something new and different. Or think of something you’ve always wanted to try: a new product, a new service, a new market. If you’re like most small business owners you have plenty of ideas you’ve sat on.

Then tell people about your idea and ask for their feedback.

What will happen? People’s inner-critic can come out, and your idea might not sound as good as it did in your head.

It happens every time.

That’s why most people don’t take risks. That’s why many business owners mimic the competition.

Of course it's natural to look for input when we need to make decisions. Even if asking for advice doesn't come naturally, the business world trains us to actively solicit opinions, bounce ideas off other people, and run our ideas up proverbial flagpoles.

But if your idea is genuinely new, then other people can struggle to see why it will work.

Keep in mind that it’s not just you. Imagine if 20 years ago you said, "Hey, I'm thinking of putting water in plastic bottles and selling it. What do you think?" I would have looked pointedly at the tap, looked at you, looked back at the tap... and then said something along the lines of “Who in the heck would ever pay for water in a bottle?”

As it turns out, hundreds of million of people are happy to pay for water in a bottle.

A man jumps into the ocean

An impressive pedigree

Almost every extremely successful business owner took huge risks. Oracle’s Larry Ellison promised customers non-existent features and then had his developers create them. Tim Westergren of Pandora convinced over 50 employees to defer salaries, some for one or two years, when the company ran out of money. When the company was finally rescued by an outside investment Westergren had maxed-out eleven credit cards. Elon Musk founded an electric car company, the biggest solar energy supplier in the U.S., and then founded a space exploration company – at times risking the total collapse of each venture.

The list goes on and on – successful entrepreneurs often take small and big risks in order to grow their companies. Risk stops their results from being like everyone else’s.

Hindsight’s 20/20

The best business people know innovative products only look like a sure thing in hindsight. Twitter only makes sense in hindsight. Spanx only make sense in hindsight. Bottled water only makes sense in hindsight.

Innovative services, innovative pricing schemes, innovative marketing… all only seem like sure bets in hindsight.

Every groundbreaking idea or product only makes sense in hindsight; that's why it’s groundbreaking. The emergence of any new industry only seems inevitable after it has emerged.

And that means someone believed when everyone else did not.

If you believe when others don't – and if at least some of your belief is based on objective analysis and not just instinct – then go for it. Start a new business. Enter a new market. Take a chance on a new product.

No matter what other people say. No matter what the "smart" people say.

If you truly believe – and are willing to back that belief with hard work, determination, and persistence – then a risk you take may pay off in ways you never imagined. And if it doesn’t, pick yourself back up and try again… because you only lose if you give up. 

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