RISK. Our Unfair Advantage & how to keep on taking risks.

Risk is not driven off a gene, yet it seems to be coded in to our personalities and our national DNA. But it seems there is right and wrong risk, which I will get to shortly. What I want you to consider is the following: Scientists who study the human
mind—say that most risk takers become bored easily. But not all risk is the same, neither are all risk takers the same. Nor are the circumstances that propel to make the choice to take a risk. Plus there are varying degrees of risk it self.

Looking at the above pictures, it seems like most if not all these activities happen around us daily. Are we predisposed to taking risks all the time? that any where else would be the same as Extreme Sports; (driving into oncoming traffic, carrying a Deep Freezer on a bike that could with a slight change in the center of gravity lead to catastrophic results. Or having or riding with your pet Lion or Bear+Goat combo in a Car.

Now think about the global Politicians/celebrities who routinely get caught soliciting a sex worker? Is the risk worth taking when the whole world is watching you? Is it because they are bored? Is it different than the Cutting cables on an electric pole without protection(no pun intended).

At the macro level every one is both a risk taker and a risk avoider, just that our domains and reasons vary. We all struggle with decisions of risk universally, the actions or process of evaluating which risks to take and which to avoid is highly personal. It starts with, is this Risk right for me.

There a tool you can use that scientists use to see what happened to your mojo. Its the Balloon Analog Risk Task (BART), which is not a video game but a research tool used by neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists to assess a person’s proclivity for risk.


In case you were really interested, this is how it works. The Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) is a computerized measure of risk taking behavior. The BART models real-world risk behavior through the conceptual frame of balancing the potential for reward versus loss. https://www.millisecond.com/download/library/bart/ (you can get the test here)

In the task, the participant is presented with a balloon and offered the chance to earn money by pumping the balloon up by clicking a button. Each click causes the balloon to incrementally inflate and money to be added to a counter up until some threshold, at which point the balloon is over inflated and explodes.

Thus, each pump confers greater risk, but also greater potential reward. If the participant chooses to cash-out prior to the balloon exploding then they collect the money earned for that trail, but if balloon explodes earnings for that trial are lost.

Participants are not informed about the balloons breakpoints; the absence of this information allows for testing both participants’ initial responses to the task and changes in responding as they gain experience with the task contingencies. Risk taking is a related, but phenomenologically distinct process from impulsivity.

This gives us a great window into seeing how people think and what their thresholds are, our real life decisions around risk also go through a similar mental model and process. But our affinity to take risks is based on a host of things, I believe one can train ones self to increase their risk appetite if they start thinking along the lines of asking them selves which is the right risk for them?

So whats the right risk for the person driving into oncoming traffic. Could the threat of loosing their job if not at work on time result in taking this risk. Yet the same person, doesn’t consider leaving the house 20 mins earlier to make it in time to avoid doing this dare devil feat. So the risk they are willing to take is battle traffic, which by their mental model is some thing that they do any way and have trained them selves to not get worried about. So Job loss is a bigger loss than loss of life or personal safety. Which any where else in the world would be near impossible to fathom.

There-in lies the opportunity. Our unfair advantage, is our mental model for risk just like our biological immunity is shaped due to our filthly environmental realities which are much harsher than most places on the planet. We dont start our exploratory process on risk with asking our selves, “whats the worse that can happen?” I feel, because our starting position is such that the worst has already happened in most cases and any other change to the system will only be positive, so we are willing to do some outwardly crazy, extreme sport level risk items without even giving it a second thought.

Let’s look at the person without any protective gear in the midst of what seems like a poster for a Darwin award by electrocution. He knows there is no protective gear available, he knows he has a job to do, he’s on a car mounted hoist, so likely an official worker of some kind, albeit not just the power companies. How does one even capture what the right risk for this person is? In short, it seems that we do things counter intuitive to even our survival instincts. So in a nation and people that demonstrate this level of risk appetite, how do we translate this to actionable items and use it for incremental, sustainable gain vs using it to win Darwin awards? Its simple.

Many people feel the same urge: the desire to venture past the limits of safety in pursuit of a rewarding experience. The truth is that we are very bad at estimating risks. People are afraid of getting on planes, being afraid of it crashing. Even if they are shown the actual statistics of plane crash occurrences, they can never be convinced of their safety. The person next to the electric pole has an overconfidence bias, because they either cant visualize or process that electrocution is a real threat, where in they are relying on their skill alone to over compensate for that risk. Whilst ppl avoiding flights since they cant see the pilot do not want to hand over their fate to some one else. Whilst in reality if they drive, there is a larger likelihood of an accident. But the right risk for them is to be in control of the car.

We take risks because we want to gain from it one way or another, and think experience is a good measure of its actual risk. When it really is not. We need to harness our ability to identify the right risk and not allow our experience to shape our risk appetite.

Our unfair advantage…

..is that our general risk profile is fairly high, be it society, pressures, ingrained set of values, lack of fear, different perspective of life after death. What ever the case may be here are some thoughts on to harness them better and have a framework for taking bigger bolder work related risks especially for startups once you understand the underlying thought process.

Those who take risks already have a competitive advantage
Since most people and by consequence startup leaders tend to avoid or minimize risk, those of you who are brave enough to take risks have an edge. Just like a first-mover advantage, when most individuals stay away from risk , that means less competition for risk-takers. So use your ability to take risks as a competitive advantage. Push the boundaries a bit more, also calculate the what ifs and the outcomes for sure, but then push a little harder. See what happens, if you get dis proportionate sized rewards, push a bit more. If not, and the tides turn, re calibrate and have a back up plan. Don’t get into this without a plan. Go in it without fear.

You will finally not have to ask your self “what-if” or contemplate what could have been.
The quicker you are regret free the faster you scale and do other meaningful things. Mean do what you must, so when you are 90 yrs old you aren’t regretting you didn’t do it, because regret is not a one time thing, it builds over time and has a crushing effect on your soul. Do it get it over with and if it works you have converted your ability to take risks in to some thing meaningful, if you dont, then you have the rest of your life wondering what would have happened, are u ready for that trauma Get out of the, should have could have syndrome. What ifs like assumptions are the mother of all f-ups. So don’t assume, instead do.

 You learn from taking risks. So Learn faster.
Nothing ventured nothing gained. Some risks may not pay off, but an optimistic risk-taker will always look at failure as an opportunity to learn. Do it enough time, your odds of winning go up. Be a winner. Learn from it. But dont let your former risk profile let you determine your future success.

Learn to live with what you can live with , when it comes to Risk.
We all have some thing we absolutely cant risk. Make a quick list of all the risks. in your space.

1) Credibility Risk
2) Credit Risk
3) Operational Risk
4) Market Risk
5) Legal Risk
6) Technology Risk
7) Competitive Risk

What you think you cant risk, cancel out. And over index on the other and push the boundaries to gain your un fair advantage.

Over time, you will find out that these challenges — distance, difficulty, confusion — are actually the benefits of getting out of your comfort zone.

An other thing or way of thinking that helps is to not have a defeatist mind set. The biggest fear associated with any risk is failure. The possibility of losing money, being humiliated, or making the wrong choice is enough to make us say: “ok lets not do that”

What if you could always take risks, but never fail? Imagine that, all of those things you fear doing, suddenly didn’t have a downside. Imagine that, every time you wanted to go for something — a better product design, a new hire or a new business idea — you would never feel pressured by the fear of things not working out.

Seriously, think about it. Would you still make the same choices you make today? Then re calibrate. Thats what I tell my self. Once I have decided I am going to do some thing(after due process), the chances I do it right are much higher if I believe I am not going to fail. Try it some time. Having faith in your self is the first step in the risk reward journey. If you continue to question your self, you create a bubble of self doubt. The last person you need doubting your actions is you.

Sulking wont fix it.

If you fail once get up and re start. Also fix the vernacular of how you define failure, re adjustment or pivoting is not failure but a way fwd when the first plan doesnt cut it. Those who can identify this opportunity can move ahead faster and have cleaner re-starts as needed. Understand that you are going to keep failing and there’s no way around it. You’re going to keep getting hit, but the only thing that matters in life is how many failures you can take and keep taking risks. The day you stop taking risks is the day you get in to you regret cycle.

Life and Startups without risks suck.

If you keep training your mind to avoid doing little uncomfortable things, it becomes natural to avoid doing bigger uncomfortable things, no matter how rewarding they may be. So live a little, train you self to take risks move away from stupid risks like driving on the wrong side of the road and channel that energy into some thing that give you an unfair advantage. Dont loose that Pakistani streak of venturing in to the unknown, instead of venturing in on dumb things focus and execute better on bigger issues. Find the right risks and the right rewards will find you.

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