Mark Zuckerberg is many things. An entrepreneur. A philanthropist. A visionary. He’s also undeniably quotable.
A remark he made in 2011–when he hadn’t yet cracked the 30-years-old mark–particularly stands out as inspirational fodder for anyone determined to succeed. While speaking extemporaneously at Stanford University, he was brutally honest about what it takes to make it if you’re not satisfied with following the well-paved road.
“The biggest risk is not taking any risk,” he asserted. “In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Zuckerberg’s belief in the power of risk-taking is echoed by other people who have bypassed the safe route. If you need motivation to take your own pioneering footsteps, just follow the advice of these other intrepid leaders.
1. Abandon stale strategies.
What happens when a piece of bread goes stale? While it might be turned into breadcrumbs or a sweet pudding, it can never return to its original state. The same goes for stale business strategies.
Take classic sales techniques like cold calling. Salespeople have been doing it for generations, yet it’s the most expensive form of lead generation there is, and it generates massive amounts of frustration for top-performing sales professionals.
Matthew Sunshine, managing partner of the Center for Sales Strategy, advises companies to ditch old-school techniques that no longer work. “‘Let’s try new things’ should be a part of every sales playbook,” Sunshine says. “Some of those new things will be unproven and will require that you take a chance or risk. But it’s those risks that have the potential to pay off big.” The key, he notes, is to be smart about your risks and arrive at a risk-to-reward balance you feel comfortable with.
2. Never dismiss the value of novelty.
“It’s never been tried before!” What if everyone took those words to heart? Our society wouldn’t run on electricity, wouldn’t use computers, and wouldn’t look anything like it does.
After decades in the insurance industry, David Disiere, CEO and founder of QEO Insurance Group, saw an opportunity to do things differently. QEO separates itself from its competitors by collecting historical, company, and vehicle information to ensure more accurate forecasting and gather additional insight regarding its customers. The firm also underwrites businesses that other companies traditionally would not, capitalizing on a lucrative niche in the commercial transportation world.
“To be an innovator and a leader, you’re always looking for that next opportunity,” he said. “Never be afraid of trying something different. Countless innovators dream up amazing solutions for big problems every day, and nobody should hesitate to branch out into uncharted territory.”
3. Treat risks as essential steps.
Rather than seeing risks as something to avoid, consider them important steps along the road to success. “You don’t know exactly how you are going to get to the results that you want to see,” says Kay Koplovitz, the first woman CEO in the history of network television. “There is going to be experimentation along the way. And you have to be comfortable that you can think your way through and actually execute your way through to the desired outcome.”
By treating risks as experiments, you can worry less about how exactly you’re going to get to your destination, knowing that even roadblocks can become valuable lessons.
4. Jump into risk–but don’t jump blindly.
Sure, taking a risk may seem like a wild leap into glory, but that’s not the whole truth. According to Leonard Green, author of “The Entrepreneur’s Playbook,” the reality is more complicated.
“Risk-takers bet it all on one roll of the dice,” Green says. “If they fail, they fail spectacularly–and in such a way that they don’t live to fight another day. They literally go out in a blaze of attempted glory. This is not what the best entrepreneurs do.”
Green goes on to elaborate that, while risk is an inevitable step to success, the savviest entrepreneurs take the necessary precautions to minimize that risk before taking the leap. Everything from studying your product and industry to taking out liability insurance can create the all-important safety net beneath your high-wire act. The more of this work you do before you set out on your venture, the better off you’ll be.
While no one can guarantee a winning business venture, you’re sure to lose if you don’t play the game at all. Take a seat at the table and let the cards come to you. If you’re like Zuckerberg, you’ll figure out how to make the most of what you’re given–and maybe change the rules in the process.