|#52 - Once Burnt, Twice Shy
Life experiences teach us that every action has a consequence. A good thing no doubt, except when it inadvertently feeds the fear of negative consequences, and leads to inaction. “I’ll never do that again!”
In groups, the effect is compounded. Each individual’s experience of loss is told and retold until it becomes urban legend. “The last time someone spoke up, they were put on a shelf or fired”. “The last time we attempted to reengineer, we bit off more than we could chew and had to start all over again”. “The last time we brought the group together for team building, we were derailed from the get go”. It all circles back to a bad past experience.
Over time, the individual, or entire group, becomes more and more risk adverse, keeping good ideas behind closed doors, not sharing them altogether. Why bother? Despondency sets in. Morale and productivity plummets.
My mother once told me “Dominique, risk is a condition of existence”: No risk = no life. Of course, not everyone is willing or able to take a risk. Ironically, we take risks every day by crossing the street, and on some occasions, against the red light when the police aren’t watching. Risk is also a very relative concept, what may be a risk for me, may not be a risk for you, and vice-versa.
And yet, the total absence of risk leads to the total absence of creativity and the loss of purpose. Risk seems to carry with it a seductive adrenaline, a mix of restlessness, energy and hope, signalling a definitive progress, the emergence of something new.
So here’s food for thought:
My conclusion is that organizations should factor in the cost of the inaction, avoidance or immobility, as an integral part of any risk assessment. On a personal level, maybe we should replace the old adage with a new one: “Once burnt, twice strong”, and move on confidently with our life.
- Next time your own inner voice warns you about the risk of moving in the direction of your creativity, put on the other side of the scale, the risk of doing nothing; of not speaking out, of not starting up, not moving forward. Which side do you choose?
- Is the status quo desirable or even tenable at this point in your life?
- When you’ve been badly burnt in a similar situation, ask yourself: Given the person you are today, will the outcome necessarily be the same?
- Also, you’re a distinct person from someone else who’s ventured in that direction, why would the outcome necessarily be the same for you
- Finally, what could you put in place, knowing what you know from your previous experience that would help you succeed at it this time. What should you research or learn to manage the risk with eyes open?