Taking Small Steps and Small Risks

Starting something new can be risky business. Make one wrong move and you might destroy everything you have worked so hard to achieve. Taking unnecessarily large steps means taking a lot of bad risks. A good risk, on the other hand, is small and easily recovered from. Many large problems can be broken down into smaller steps which have a better chance of succeeding. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone loses from time to time. Taking many small risks curbs the danger of the inevitable losses and makes it easier to learn from failure. When the steps succeed, you have one more piece of evidence validating the course you are perusing. There are good risks and bad risks. Small risks are relatively good and large risks are often not.

Need an example? Lets say you want to take up diving. You’re new to the sport and want to see if you like it. Should you charge in and take a big risk, like jumping off a bridge, or take a more manageable risk and jump off a 10-foot diving board?

Big risks are just that — big. They can pay off in spades or they can fail miserably. There are times when large risks are warranted. Sometimes a big risk has great odds of success, reducing the size of the risk. When there are no options other than a big risk then the choice is clear, a big risk is the only way forward. Taking a big risk when there are better options, however, could either be a great success or eliminate your other options. The reward must be very valuable and the odds good enough to justify a large risk. If those conditions are not met, other options may be preferable.

The road to success is paved with small risks that payed off, and failures which were small enough to learn from. Here and there, a big risk is necessary and may be the best choice. When all the available doors are locked, there’s little harm in leaving the hallway. If it succeeds, more open doors maybe discovered. Nevertheless, taking big risks should be a last resort.

How Can I Make My Risks Smaller?

  • Find low-scope ways of proving assumptions about unknowns. If an assumption can be verified, try to do it in a way which isolates the actions from the rest of the project. If the assumption doesn’t hold true, or the opportunity doesn’t pan out, little harm is done.
  • When implementing an idea, take small and measured steps. Minimize risk by minimizing the distance between starting and confirming the viability each step. If you find that something isn’t working, it’s be better to take only a few days to find out than a few weeks. Break the plan up into smaller milestones which can be verified by solid, specific evidence.

Win Some, Lose Some

This philosophy is all about covering your losses and paving the way for future successes. Taking small risks means taking calculated steps to continue towards a goal. However, one step is not nearly enough. Each risk should lead into the next. When one step succeeds and has been proven to be acceptable, immediately take the next step. When something goes wrong and a risk fails, the only thing to do is to find another step to take. You can try something different to accomplish a similar goal, try something entirely different, or see about moving on without that part of the plan.

Plans change. By taking small risks you can create a more flexible plan. Smaller steps are more amenable to this kind of change. If one piece of the plan fails, it’s easier to replace a smaller component than a larger one. Smaller risks and measured steps make success easier to achieve and the inevitable failures easier to overcome.