Seth Kahan
Author, consultant

Seth Kahan

Change expert and author who has advised executives in 50-plus organizations, including Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps and NASA. He can be reached at


Four ways into risk

Q: NBC's bold decision to move Jay Leno into prime time has been a ratings disaster. How often does a roll of the dice hurt instead of help? Are gamblers more likely to succeed than those who are cautious by nature?

For everything there is a season. If you want to be successful, evaluate your circumstances before deciding how risky to be. While it's true that fortune favors the bold, knowing when to be bold and when not to can save your life (or your ratings).

I was listening to a radio story yesterday, and the topic was "longshots." The narrator said something like, "These are the kind of actions that in retrospect seem either very stupid or very smart."

Ah, but it's only in retrospect.That is why a risk is called a risk ... because we don't know.

This very situation has given rise to the discipline of risk management, so we can be more informed before betting our future on a gamble. Here are four criteria to use next time you are considering a risky move. First, ask yourself what is to be gained: Is it large or small? Then ask yourself how bad the results could be: huge or negligible?

1. If the gain is small and the impact is negligible, let your inclination be your guide.Not much reward, but not much to pay if it fails. Have some fun, do what you want.

2. If the gain is small and the impact could be a disaster, stay away! This is the time to be cautious.

3. If the gain is large and the consequences don't amount to much, this may be the time to go for it. If things don't pan out, there's not much to worry about.

4. Now, for the one choice that separates the adventurous from the timid at heart. What if the payoff is significant, but the consequences could be extraordinary? Here is where you have to decide what kind of player you are and choose a path you can live with. Roll the dice and let fate be your accomplice, if you choose. Or sit back and let this one slide by in favor of a future with less at stake. It's in your hands.

By Seth Kahan  |  January 14, 2010; 12:06 AM ET  | Category:  taking chances Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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