Soft Skills

Life Is a Risky Business—How To Reduce the Downside

Bill Robb, Profit Improvers Ltd.

In this issue, Bill Robb provides some clear lessons that we hope you will find useful when considering business, career, and relationship risks. It is not easy to write a short article on a subject about which one could go into great detail, but Robb has managed to provide a few tips that will certainly enable you to approach many kinds of risk in a well-thought-out fashion. Robb’s message is basically not to worry about risk—just learn to deal with it!—Natalie Pestana, TWA Interim Soft Skills Editor

When you think about it, we take many risks, big and small, every day. Each decision—each choice—involves risk. Deciding to cross the road or drive a car, for example, involves the risk of being killed. When you choose a career, you take the risk of forgoing the benefits of other careers. When you decide to marry, you take the risk of wasting years of your life and the emotional pain if it does not work out.

When you ask a question, you take the risk of others thinking you are incompetent or ignorant. If you choose not to ask a question, you risk making a mistake. If you decide to challenge a colleague at work on an unsafe act, you risk upsetting him and dealing with the consequences of a strained relationship.

In summary, you cannot avoid risk—it is built into being human. But do we really want to avoid risk? Not really! Without taking some risks, we cannot progress and we cannnot succeed. All great achievements (founding a new nation) and small ones (starting a business) come about because human beings took risks. You can take a big risk and invest in 1 million 1-penny shares (U.K. £10,000) hoping they will rise to £1, or you can invest in 10,000 £1 shares and expect a slower but safer gain.

Consequently, worrying about risk is pointless. What we can and should do is make clear to ourselves the kinds of risks we are taking and then do what we can to reduce the adverse effects if things go wrong. The principles of taking steps to diminish the downside apply to all risks, no matter what the setting. Here are six steps I have found helpful for business, career, and relationship risks.

On the brighter side—once you have done your homework and you have made a choice, once you have accepted a risk—relax and enjoy it. There is nothing you can do once the roulette wheel starts spinning or the roller coaster starts running. Worry before, and then enjoy the ride.

Bill Robb is Managing Director of Profit Improvers Ltd., an Aberdeen-based management and safety consultancy. Born in Glasgow, he grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and has been assisting companies in the oil and gas sector in improving the performance of their people, teams, and departments. Robb is a regular contributor to SPE events and enjoys interaction with participants of the Emerging Leaders Program. He can be contacted at