Living in an age of innovation and uncertainty

Published by Lori Pickert on December 14, 2011 at 02:36 PM

Risk takers seem to have an almost uncontrollable urge to go beyond established limits. They are uneasy about comfort; they live on the edge of their competence. They seem compelled to place themselves in situations in which they do not know what the outcome will be. They accept confusion, uncertainty, and the higher risks of failure as part of the normal process, and they learn to view setbacks as interesting, challenging, and growth producing. However, responsible risk takers do not behave impulsively. Their risks are educated. They draw on past knowledge, are thoughtful about consequences, and have a well-trained sense of what is appropriate. They know that all risks are not worth taking.

Risk takers can be considered in two categories: those who see the risk as a venture and those who see it as adventure. The venture part of risk taking might be described in terms of what a venture capitalist does. When a person is approached to take the risk of investing in a new business, she will look at the markets, see how well organized the ideas are, and study the economic projections. If she finally decides to take the risk, it is a well-considered one.

The adventure part of risk taking might be described by the experiences from Project Adventure. In this situation, there is a spontaneity, a willingness to take a chance in the moment. Once again, a person will take the chance only if experiences suggest that the action will not be life threatening or if he believes that group support will protect him from harm (e.g., checking out the dimensions of weight, distance, and strength of a bungee cord before agreeing to the exhilaration of a drop). Ultimately, people learn from such high-risk experiences that they are far more able to take actions than they previously believed. Risk taking becomes educated only through repeated experiences. It often is a cross between intuition, drawing on past knowledge, striving for precision and accuracy, and a sense of meeting new challenges.

Bobby Jindal, then executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, stated, “The only way to succeed is to be brave enough to risk failure” (Briggs, 1999, p. 2A). When people hold back from taking risks, they miss opportunities. Some students seem reluctant to take risks. They hold back from games, new learning, and new friendships because their fear of failure is far greater than their desire for venture or adventure. They are reinforced by the mental voice that says, “If you don’t try it, you won’t be wrong,” or “If you try it and you are wrong, you will look stupid.” The other voice that might say, “If you don’t try it, you will never know,” is trapped by fear and mistrust. These students are more interested in knowing whether their answer is correct or not than in being challenged by the process of finding the answer. They are unable to sustain a process of problem solving and finding the answer over time, and therefore they avoid ambiguous situations. They have a need for certainty rather than an inclination for doubt.

We hope that students will learn how to take intellectual as well as physical risks. Students who are capable of being different, going against the grain of common thinking, and thinking of new ideas (testing them with peers and teachers) are more likely to be successful in an age of innovation and uncertainty. — Arthur L. Costa, Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success

It’s almost resolution time. Are you going to be taking any risks this year? What about your kids?

How do you keep fear of failure from holding you back?



Comment by Dawn Suzette on December 14, 2011 at 03:07 PM

Yes. There are some risky things being considered right now. Assessing at the moment. We will see what the new year holds.
I try to remind my kiddos of their success in the past when they start to show fear. I also let them know that fear will keep them alive but should not hold them back from learning/doing something new.

Lori have you read a book called Generation Debt by Anya Kamenetz? Currently reading and finding it an informative read. Much of what I already know from experience but seeing thru a new perspective.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 14, 2011 at 03:12 PM

i haven't — i'll look for it at the library!

we have a risk-tolerant family profile. we often tell stories about starting our first business & etc. - sometimes funny stories about our biggest mistakes. :)

just recently, one of the boys purposefully pushed aside several interests and projects in order to devote himself fully to one big idea for this upcoming year. i think his willingness to put all his eggs in one basket is a wonderful thing. he wants to take advantage of the freedom he has right now to do this. i think he'll reap big personal rewards from the experience, no matter what happens.

Comment by sarah :: greenclogs on December 14, 2011 at 04:47 PM

I think 2012 is going to be a big lesson in risk taking in our family. A new business venture, big projects, hopefully an adventurous vacation over the summer. I have to get out of planning mode and into doing mode right after the holidays are over. I'm nervous, but hopefully ready to go.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 14, 2011 at 09:16 PM

that all sounds exciting! i want to hear about everything.

planning to doing .. that's crucial.

Comment by Steph on December 16, 2011 at 06:58 PM

This is a thought provoking post. My 2 oldest kids have temperaments that tend to keep them securely in their comfort zone. They aren't risk takers by nature, and they want to stick with things they KNOW they can do. There's nothing wrong with their essential nature, but it can make growth and learning difficult. I have to nudge them out of their comfort zone without pushing TOO hard. I'd love to talk to other parents with similar concerns.

Comment by Jen @ anothergr... on December 17, 2011 at 01:43 AM

I was not a risk taker as a child. I always regret the chances I missed because I was afraid of failure. Now I go out on a limb often, and let my children know that I am working through my fear so that I don't miss out on life. That has been especially true in hiking/backpacking/climbing outdoors in ways that involve some, usually slight, danger that I have been able to overcome. My first risk for 2012: my first full marathon. Just signed up today! Scary, but do-able.
In reply to Steph, I would say: keep talking about overcoming fear. All that talk helps kids know that they will never completely grow out of fear, so they have to learn to manage it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 18, 2011 at 05:53 PM

steph, if you search for perfectionism, we've had some conversations about this before. i was a perfectionist; one of my sons struggles with it a bit as well. it can hold you back from doing things that you don't immediately excel at, but i think - from experience - it's something that can be overcome.

jen, same here. i think adult expectations exacerbate this problem. kids figure out that they get praise for things they excel at, then they want to stick with that. there's no benefit to stretching out and trying difficult things. we really need to learn at an early age that there *is* a benefit to challenging ourselves - and that we don't need praise to motivate us.

congratulations on your marathon! good luck!

Comment by Cristina on December 19, 2011 at 05:06 PM

I already took a risk this year. I self published. Isn't that enough? :-)
I love the quotes in this one.

Peace and Laughter!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 20, 2011 at 05:34 PM

okay, you're off the hook. :^)

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