Punchinello’s Chronicles

October 23, 2008

Risky or Bold?

Filed under: Word of the Day — Punchinello @ 10:00 pm
Tags: , , ,

What’s the difference between taking a risk and being bold? Why care? Do these kinds of subtle distinctions between two similar words really matter?

Actually, it does matter. Let’s say you lose your job and you’re thinking about starting a business. You come up with an idea, and what’s the first thing you do: you talk it over with your family and friends. More often than not, they’ll tell you that it’s a risky venture. You’re risking your home, marriage, well-being, health insurance, or whatever.

And yet, you somehow don’t feel that you’re being wild and crazy, risking it all. What do you feel? Do you feel you’re being dangerous? Why does it seem like a reasonable hope to get into your own business, not a terribly risky, scary insanity?

To understand risk and boldness, we have to have two different marks along a scale. The scale itself is pretty simple. It goes from “live” to “die.” That’s it. The measuring stick is going to be live or die.

When we risk something, the possible worst-case is that we actually die. But when we’re bold, the worst-case is that we lose and we’re right back where we started.

The two market points on the live-or-die scale are based on worst-case outcomes. A risk means that losing puts you worse off than when you started. Boldness moves you forward, but if you lose you return to where you were. As such, we can do things that are both risky and bold.

Risk usually means working through current circumstances. Boldness applies to changing circumstances, dealing with something that doesn’t yet exist. Risk is a reaction, where boldness is attempting something new.

People say that if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to be a risk-taker. They say that taking risks defines the entrepreneur. On the other hand, daredevils, military people, and criminals all take risks. Are they entrepreneurs? No, there’s more to being an entrepreneur than simply taking risks.

Anyone who starts a new business is changing their existing circumstances. They’re creating something that doesn’t yet exist. The risk is in what assets (money, capital, things) they’ll invest. If the business fails, they lose what they previously had. But the boldness is in doing something they’ve never attempted before. If it succeeds, they’ll end up with more than they started with.

Risk means assessing failure. Boldness means assessing success. A failed risk makes you worse off than you were. A failed boldness leaves you the same as you were before.

Risk means doing something to stop sliding downward toward loss and death. Boldness means changing a static position in order to improve already acceptable conditions. Risk tends to be backward looking, where boldness tends to be forward looking.

The next time your family, spouse, friends, or associates tell you that you’re taking a helluva a risk, ask them what’s the difference between taking a risk and being bold. The odds are very high they won’t know. And yet, doesn’t it help in making a decision to know that difference?

Taking off into space in search of a new planet is both risky and bold. If you fail, you likely will die. If you succeed you’ll find a whole world of new resources. When Bill Gates started Microsoft, was that a risk? Only if he invested every penny he had. In that case, failure would mean losing all his money.

Mr. Gates did both, risking his personal assets and also trying something that hadn’t ever been done before. It’s easy for any of us to understand that adventures involve winning and losing, success and failure. What we don’t usually think about is that the word “risk” applies to the losing and failure side.

The word “bold” applies to the winning and success side of an assessment. We live in a world where everyone likes to point out how easy it is to fail, to lose, to end up in pain and misery, and to be a victim. That’s why everyone likes the word “risk.” But let’s remember that winning and success are just as important options.

Obviously, the best way to start a new venture is to risk nothing, but be bold. Unfortunately, we mostly tend to avoid bold actions until we’re at risk. Most people prefer the status quo, security, and routine. They prefer the known over the unknown. We have the potential to be bold, but most of us tend to avoid that kind of adventure, excitement, and stress.

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