Tips on how to test your risky idea to succeed

Responsible risk taking is necessary for effective leadership and learning. There are ways to improve the probability of your risk succeeding. One rule of thumb says risk sooner, rather than later, risk big and do so for a noble effort. By risking sooner in your career, you have a greater payoff over a longer period of time, and if you should fail, you have more time to recover. In risking big, you will undoubtedly need allies – which in and of itself is an effective risk taking strategy. The very process of getting support helps to surface doubts, things you may not have thought of, and ideas for selling your plan. Bigger risks are usually more visible and offer more recognition when they succeed. On the other hand, if you fail with a big risk, if it is for the good of the organization, you will rarely be blamed or criticized. And should the criticism come, you are in good company with the others who supported your risk.

Other ideas to improve your risk success are to question your assumptions, play Devil’s Advocate, and get a critical view from others. It is often difficult to see the flaws in our own ideas and others may be more objective. By risking incrementally, you can break your risk into pieces, which allows you to gather more data as you go along and learn at each step. Or you can gradually increase the scale of the risk. For example, do a pilot before a local roll-out before a national roll-out, learning as you go along.

In any case, you must walk a tightrope between gathering enough data to be sure you have thought through the risk thoroughly versus waiting until all the data is known and probably losing the opportunity to the early entrants. In today’s resourceful marketplace, there may only be worms for the earliest bird. You may be taking a far greater risk by waiting than by acting.