How about an award for taking risk?

Frequently I teach workshops to prepare people to open businesses. One exercise that I give is to have participants take a piece of paper, write their name in the very centre of it, and then fill the paper with every mistake they ever made.

What they’re really doing is assessing their risk quotient.

I believe there are many characteristics common to the successful entrepreneur but the two main ones are curiosity and the ability to take a risk. It starts in the cradle, really. It starts at four months when a baby tries to roll itself over. An eager parent sometimes reaches out to complete the task, taking away that sense of fulfillment and wonder that awaits the baby who achieves it for him or herself. “What will happen if I push my leg up and force everything over?” It’s a risk.

Throughout their lives I think parents often want to protect their kids from getting hurt. But, in doing that, do we take away their courage to try something that has no guarantees attached to it? Yes, we do. We also limit their investigation, their curiosity about things. In short, we put up a wall and call it good behaviour.

It’s so important for kids and teens and young adults to learn how to try the unproven and recover from the results. That’s where creativity is at its peak… making something work when the risk didn’t turn out the way you hoped. And that’s where so much of the world’s invention gets its start. From risk gone ‘bad’.

When my kids were little (age 3 and up) I had a shelf in a closet full of books… books I got at garage sales or library sell-offs, or sometimes when we could afford it, new books. Each time they received a book I wrote a note in the book about why they were receiving it.

Every single time they took a risk, whether they ‘won’ or not, I gave them a book. The note would go something like this: “Dear XXX. Today your daddy was trying to bring his big mobile television studio to your school so your class could walk through and see all the monitors and cameras. Everyone was very excited. But he called from the road to say he was held up and wouldn’t get there before school ended. You didn’t want to go back to school after lunch and face your classmates. You were afraid they would laugh at you or be mean to you. It took a lot of courage for you to go back to school. You found real courage in the depth of your soul. Congratulations! Here’s a book to celebrate.” Love, Mom.

Our kids have lots of these books, tucked away on shelves, and probably forgotten for now. But having the ability to take a risk, emotionally, physically, psychologically, to step out and make a difference, is a character trait that is so important in today’s world. It is especially important in the land of entrepreneurism. People trying to start businesses must be curious. And they must have the ability to try something and find that it didn’t work. And then they try something else.

I think it’s one of the most valuable gifts we can give our children. And our spouses. And ourselves.

So, step up to the plate and take a chance. The lessons learned from this carry us forrward through a lifetime!