Some Risks Are Worth Taking
By Erica and Karen
Deciding whether a risk is manageable, and if so whether to take it and how to manage it, has always been central to our judgments. The way we approached risk at work, however, was different from how we approached it in our personal lives. And, were we starting over today, it would undoubtedly be different still.
At work, we considered risk from a broad perspective--financial, reputational, strategic, operational, brand. We understood that taking risks, big and small, is essential to business success. We carefully evaluated whether a risk was manageable, and whether there was the will to devote the necessary resources to managing it effectively. We thought long and hard about the implications of risk management policies—recognizing, for example, that the negative implications of a zero tolerance policy on a culture of consultation may far outweigh the benefits of using policy to communicate your values. And that a business should require only those behaviors it is willing to enforce.
In our personal lives, things were different. Though Erica comes from a long line of entrepreneurs who owned their own businesses and lived with risk every day, and Karen comes from parents who were at ease moving their family around to one far flung place after another, their genes played out differently in us. Neither of us has the entrepreneurial gene. We didn’t start our own businesses or law firms. We didn’t pursue job offers outside our comfort zone. Those weren’t risks we wanted or were willing to take.
Our personal risk taking was limited to doing what we believed we did well. We wanted always to be able to support ourselves and our families, so that we would not be dependent on someone else for our lives and our lifestyles. As women, that was a critical underpinning of our working lives. Our personal risk analysis was heavily weighted in favor of financial security. Getting regular paychecks from stable institutions was important.
Many things are different today. It is not the norm for people to work for the same employer for forty years. Zigging and zagging, laterally and vertically, is common, and the risk analysis, what move to make and when to make it, is far more complicated now than it was for us. Financial security, too, is more elusive and requires more creativity. For us, ensuring our financial independence meant that we worked for the same institutions for decades. For the next generation, it will likely mean something very different.