Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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How to increase your risk appetite

Published 17 September 2012 13:09, Updated 18 September 2012 06:06

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CULTURE:Companies need to be more accepting of one byproduct of risk – failure. The director of MBA programs at the University of Sydney School of Business, Nick Wailes, says business culture in Silicon Valley is different: “To have tried things and failed isn’t a black mark in your career.” Wailes recommends the aphorism: fail early, fail often, fail cheap.

SHELTER: Leaders play a critical role in providing “air cover” for those who take risks. “Leaders have to be prepared for some things not to work,” says Wailes. They also have to withstand pressure from risk-averse shareholders and analysts. “They need to signal that part of the strategy is to look for new breakthrough solutions to business problems – and stand up for what they believe.”

FORESIGHT: People need to take a longer view. Focusing too closely on the short-term wins and losses can be distracting. In career terms, Black says people have to plan ahead: “You have to invest in your own learning. Take responsibility and treat yourself as a one-person business.”


LEARN: Risk-takers have to be aware of what is happening around the world. “People’s ability to take risk depends on their breadth of vision and understanding of what is going on,” Wailes says. “I am often surprised that people don’t have a broad understanding of the forces shaping their industry.” If their vision is restricted, they do not understand what their options are. They just end up doing “the wrong things righter”.

PRACTICE: Leaders and managers should delegate more to give people some practice at thinking for themselves. “They may not do it perfectly but it is an opportunity to learn and develop,” Wailes says.

PREPARE:Black says people need security to be good risk-takers. “Develop your financial independence while you are earning the big bucks in your 20s and 30s,” he says. It also pays to shore up your career by networking. He suggests having one coffee meeting or lunch with someone outside the company at least once a week, as well as building online relationships through social media.

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