Some people find it energizing to take risks, but for others, the very thought of uncertainty can provoke serious panic. Our relationships with risk can play important roles in our careers. If, for example, a risk-averse executive ends up working in an industry that requires risk, that can be a recipe for career and personal disaster. That’s why it makes sense for us to understand our own ability to handle uncertainty and then seek out roles that match with our own comfort levels.
That being said, if we stay within our comfort zones all the time and totally avoid risk, we may be limiting our careers. Why? Because the higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more uncertain your career environment will become and the more you’ll be required to take calculated risks and make difficult business decisions. Moreover, if you want a career as a freelancer or an entrepreneur, you’ll need to be very comfortable taking calculated risks — often with your own money!
In truth, it’s becoming harder for anyone to wholly avoid risk. We live in an increasingly VUCA (volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous) world, and the average person, let alone business professional, is required to take more risks than ever.
In today’s climate, the ability to take smart, calculated risks is a must-have skill for any ambitious worker. With that in mind, I offer some tips on how you can take such risks to advance your career:
1. Accept That Risk Is Normal and Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Throughout our childhoods, adolescences, and early adulthoods, most of us are protected from uncertainty. Our parents, teachers, and even managers make a lot of important decisions for us up until we’re in our early 20s. The result is that we are lulled into thinking the world is a much more certain place than it really is.
If, however, you really want to excel in the world, you need to become comfortable with calculated risks and skilled at making complex decisions. We need to step out of our comfort zones and be prepared to embrace risk and thrive in the face of uncertainty. If you can’t do this, you may find yourself stuck at the entry level — or just above it — for most, if not all, of your career.
2. Learn How to Make Complex Decisions
In the business world, you’ll often face complex challenges where there are no obvious right or wrong answers and no one around to tell you what to do. Many people find such uncertainty crippling, but others find it manageable and even energizing.
Those who handle uncertainty well are those who have developed the skills they need to make complex decisions. If you want to survive and thrive in a VUCA world, you’ll need to cultivate an almost instinctive decision-making process that you can call on in times of need.
An excellent way to make complex decisions is to use a decision matrix. To do this, you simply take a spreadsheet and place all the potential options on one axis. Then, you place all the factors that relate to each option on the other axis. You then score each factor individually, and eventually each option will have a total viability score, revealing the best option for you to take.
A decision matrix is only one of many strategies you can use to find your way through uncertain scenarios. There are plenty of other systems as well, such as the T-Chart, and the Pareto Analysis. Choose the one that best suits your particular situation.
3. Learn From Your Mistakes
You should always be looking to improve your decision-making process, and one of the best ways to do this is to reflect on both your successes and your failures. Try to understand what made your successful decisions successful, and then replicate those successes as best you can in the future.
At the same time, be sure to reflect on any shortcomings that led to bad decisions. Perhaps you were too hasty, or you didn’t do enough research, or you failed to consult experts. Whatever the case, take note of your mistakes, and then be sure to avoid those mistakes in the future.
A mentor can also help you learn from your mistakes. They can help you see things you wouldn’t have noticed on your own, and their third-party perspective can help you iron out the kinks in your decision-making process.
No matter how risk-averse you may be, our VUCA world has made it so that none of us can totally avoid uncertainty or danger in our personal lives or our careers. Given this state of affairs, it’s in everyone’s best interest to learn to become a better risk-taker. And once you have become an expert on taking calculated risks and navigate complex challenges, you may be surprised to see just how much your career advances.