The subject of risk has been on my mind lately. I'm not sure why - maybe because I have been reflecting on some of the risks I have taken in my life (see my Thanksgiving post), or maybe because I have seen the culture here at PVLD evolve into an increasingly experimental one where people are free to take calculated risks in the sense that we are trying something and for which we don't have all of the answers (e.g. the Annex, the new Meebo-based IM service, our pending website redesign….).
Today I was going through my running "blog ideas" list, and came across a couple of links to posts on other blogs about risk that I had found thought-provoking enough to keep for future reference.
"Knowledge is the only answer to risk. That's why learning is so precious: it takes away a great deal of the risk we would all face otherwise. The greatest benefit of modern science is neither medical advances nor soaring productivity: it's the ability it gives us to live in a world that no longer contains a massive proportion of the daily risks confronted even by our recent ancestors.
Of course, sometimes no knowledge is available and you have to wing it. Or your knowledge stops at a critical point. But, even then, knowledge in principle—conceptual knowledge—can help you to make educated guesses."
I think one of the reasons we have been able to experiment as much as we have here at PVLD is that through lots of conversation we have begun to build a shared set of conceptual knowledge – about what kind of organization we want the Library District to be, the service models we believe our community will value, the trends and technologies that will affect our services, etc. – so ideas can be fairly quickly vetted in terms of whether they make sense for us and then implemented if they do….in essence, they become educated guesses.
"Today, working hard is about taking apparent risk. Not a crazy risk like betting the entire company on an untested product. No, an apparent risk: something that the competition (and your coworkers) believe is unsafe but that you realize is far more conservative than sticking with the status quo….Hard work is about risk. It begins when you deal with the things that you'd rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And, after you've done that, to do it again the next day.
The big insight: The riskier your (smart) coworker's hard work appears to be, the safer it really is. It's the people having difficult conversations, inventing remarkable products, and pushing the envelope (and, perhaps, still going home at 5 PM) who are building a recession-proof future for themselves."
That's the hard work the staff here at PVLD are doing, and it shows!