Are risks threats or opportunities?


There is a simple but profound question I would like you to ask yourself: do you see risks as threats to be minimised or openings to be explored? Minimise or explore?
How you answer this question is vital to your entire approach to your career and your life.
We are socialised to see risk as negative and avoid it. So if your answer is minimise, you have lots of company. That is where most of us start. I want to encourage you to consider moving towards seeing risk as an opening to be explored. Okay, you may say, but how?

A Different Perspective

Let’s start by relabeling risk. You know how new packaging can cause you to revise your perception of a product? Say the packaging of a personal care product changes from traditional and conventional to sleek and modern. It may still be the same shampoo inside, but it now seems more elegant and current.
So, let’s replace the work risk with opportunity. Is that valid? Are all risks really opportunities? No, but many are. For example, a social risk can easily become an opportunity to meet someone new – a colleague, contact, or even a friend.

An intellectual risk is an opportunity to expand your knowledge and broaden your perspective.
A career risk could provide an opportunity to advance. Replacing risk with opportunity seems valid.
So, let’s ask the question again with the new packaging. Do you see opportunities as threats to be minimised or openings to be explored? Well, that casts the question in a different light. ‘When you put it that way, seeing risks as an opening seems like the obvious choice,’ you may well say.

Great. Many risks are opportunities. Opportunities to expand and grow. Some risks are valueless and foolish. Set those aside. You know the difference. You have not progressed to this point in your career without excellent judgment and instincts. The valueless risks are not what we are discussing. We are talking about thoughtful, intelligent risks. There is no shortage of them.

Some examples include taking a temporary position in another country, seeking out some additional responsibilities or taking advantage of a training opportunity that could significantly expand your skill set.
You probably do not see these as firghtening risks. This is good. If you think they are not at all what comes to mind when you hear the word risk, this is even better. But they are risks. They have uncertain outcomes and could result in some negative consequences.

Do you see where we are going? Risks really are just opportunities to be explored. Or put another way, opportunities are risks to be explored.

Adopting this more evolved attitude toward risk will serve you well. It will take you from a defensive posture to a welcoming posture. You will see opportunity where others see peril.

This does not mean every opportunity should be taken. Or even that a valuable opportunity will always have a positive outcome. Being successful in utilising risks and opportunities to your benefit is about sound judgment and skilful execution.

That is what we will discuss next time: managing risk well to maximize the chances of a positive outcome though a process called Intelligent Risk-Taking. It is simple, logical and effective.
In the meantime, focus on developing a welcoming attitude to opportunities and the risks they present. That doesn’t mean you have to take them, just keep an open mind when they surface. The positive impact will be profound.

Books by Jim McCormick include Business Lessons from the Edge (McGraw-Hill), The Power of Risk, (Maxwell), and The First-Time Manager (Amacom). Jim has a degree in engineering and an MBA, he is a former corporate Chief Operating Officer and a World Record ... (Read More)

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