Living in an age of innovation and uncertainty
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?