risk taking in business and life

Risk Taking

One of most common things people ask me is “When you formed your company, what was your plan B?” In other words, if BPI didn’t work out, what was your fallout plan?

As often as I get asked that over the nearly 20 years we’ve been in business, I always answer consistently: “There was no Plan B”. This usually seems to cause a stutter, a hesitation, a double take for the person asking the question.

Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel

Let me explain.

My childhood hero was a guy named Evel Knievel. He was one of the original stuntmen. Dressed in patriotic leather, he hopped on a non-modified stock motorcycle and tore off towards a ramp where he would launch himself through the air, hundreds of feet, as he sailed over cars, trucks, busses, fountains, and canyons, all to try to plop himself and the ¼ ton of flying motorcycle onto a small landing ramp.

The goal was to do so without falling off, being run over, or missing the mark entirely and creaming himself into the pavement at better than 80 miles per hour. He wasn’t always successful. When he crashed, it was spectacular. He would often break multiple bones in his body and be hospitalized for months. But when he succeeded, the crowds lit up because they knew that he, and the risks he was taking, were as real as it gets.

I saw an interview with him once, where the reporter asked if he was ever scared. “Not scared as much as disappointed in myself” Evel replied. “Sometimes I haven’t even left the take off ramp yet, but I know something’s off… either I don’t have proper speed, something in the angles is wrong, the wind picked up in the wrong direction at the last second, or there’s a little mechanical thing I realize too late that I missed. And I know I’m not going to make the jump. I’m going to crash.”

“Doesn’t that make you afraid?” the reporter asked?

“No, it just pisses me off.” Evel answered. “Because this is what I do. I take risks no one else in the world does. And I’m the best there is at what I do. So, mistakes just hold me back from jumping further and higher the next time and the next. And I want to keep bettering myself. Because when you do, when everything goes right and I bring that motorcycle down on the opposite end of a jump for a perfect touchdown, I’m more alive than anyone else can feel at that moment.”

Setting out on your own, there is a mindset you need to learn that no amount of education, training or outside knowledge can teach you. It is the ability to trust something instinctual inside yourself. If you succeed, you can’t celebrate too long, because each success simply gets you one step further along the path of self-reliance. And each mistake should be looked at simply for what they are: lessons. If you take an honest assessment of who you are, then you will learn to accept mistakes as temporary pauses, to learn something you obviously need to understand, before trying again and moving on.

And that’s the reward of being an entrepreneur. That little moment when you accomplish something with nothing more than intuition. Whether it’s a successful jump, or a crash landing, you alone have the responsibility to pick yourself up, reassess whatever challenge you’re trying to figure out, and still move forward.

Evel Knievel didn’t have a “Plan B” for bailout, and that’s partially what guided me to not consider forming one either. Because every moment you spend developing a backup plan is time taken away from what it is you should be striving for: forward motion of your goal. None of us know how much time we get to live, so my attitude has always been to try and push to continually outdo my own goals.

making the target goal
shooting for the bullseye

This is not to say you shouldn’t try to prepare and educate yourself in preparation of the challenges ahead. You absolutely need to, and I’ve personally found that one of the best ways to do so is by surrounding yourself with people who are a few steps ahead of me in the risks they’ve taken on. Talk to them. Ask them questions. And be gracious with acknowledging their time spent with you.

So, when you think about risk taking, it’s not the fear of mistakes. It’s the fear of never getting to experience them. If you keep that in mind, you just might jump to levels of achievement that you wouldn’t have even considered. For whatever goals you have, no matter what size and scale, risk is the path to true reward. Be smart about it; but put it to work for whatever your goals may be.