Taking risks is no doubt scary, there is no definite outcome, and there is no guarantee for success. But risk-takers are the people who make history. People who take calculated risks are often the ones who reap extraordinary benefits. Taking risks and failure go hand in hand and you shouldn’t be afraid to do either if you want to set your goals high.
When it comes to entrepreneurial ventures, Dr. Shufeldt is the first to admit he has made mistakes, and some ideas have never come to fruition. But trying, and taking that leap of faith is what creates innovation and breakthroughs in technology. If uncertainty and doubts were reason enough to not try, we would miss out on some of the best inventions. Whether you are diehard like Norman Vincent Peale who said, “It’s always too early to quit” or you take a more conservative approach, building a potential shelf life into your prototype or idea, either scenario is better than not trying. Failure of one product can often mean the birth of another product by process of elimination. As nineteenth century British writer William E. Hickson: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Now, based on the assumption that you are going to try something great, and potentially see to its fruition, we’ve put together some potential scenarios when you may want to begin to change course and build and exit strategy.
Occasionally, you may find yourself astride a dead horse, but fortunately, with the knowledge you gain from that experience, if you plan correctly you can jump out of the saddle before too much damage, financial or otherwise, has been done. Throughout my entrepreneurial endeavors I have encountered three common entrepreneurial warning signs to look out for that hint that the horse you are riding may in fact be dead.
1) Someone has already ventured on your endeavor and had no avail- if you missed a due diligence opportunity, and failed to study a predecessor, or a competitor has entered the market behind the trail you’ve blazed, don’t stop your homework now. It’s never too late to find out what their mistakes were or are, and attempt to apply them to your situation. Is the timing just off? Is the market wrong? Sometimes others can help you answer these questions. As Dr. Shufeldt says, “Being a visionary can be both a blessing and a curse. Decide whether you are an early innovator, early adopter, or superior operator.”
2) You’ve invested exceptional amounts of time and funds on the endeavor and have no plan or hope for a return. You may think an idea is great but simply know that your time, energy and resources are better spent elsewhere. “If you invest in a start-up company the risks are very high; most of them fail miserably, however if it works, the upside may be worth the risk. If not, when it all blows up and you look and feel like a fool, be secure enough to laugh at yourself,” Dr. John Shufeldt in Ingredients of Outliers. (Chapter 7, “Tolerating Risk: Being a Doer, not a Dreamer”)
3) You’ve made a list and the cons of the endeavor tremendously outweigh the pros. “The roller-coaster, often rough and tumble, high-stakes world of the start-up entrepreneur may not be an ideal career choice for the faint of heart or the risk-averse,” said successful serial entrepreneur, Warren Struhl, of Starting Them UP. But if you’ve tried all that, and simply decided whether financially, or qualitatively, your life is taking a nose dive, you may need to do the best thing for yourself and go with your gut. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, but please do make sure you still have a pulse.
All of that to say, personally, I can’t really think of anything worth achieving that doesn’t involve risk. It may not be life threatening, and you may not lose a lot of money, but there is risk involved. Changing jobs, moving, venturing out of your comfort zone are all risky endeavors. Make sure to think things through and evaluate them before you act and be strategic about your choices.
For more on risk taking and entrepreneurship, and some funny “dead horses” that Dr. Shufeldt had to dismount, check out chapters 2 and 7 from Ingredients of Outliers: A Recipe for Personal Achievement.