Risk and Reward

February 21, 2017

Common wisdom proposes that one must weigh risk versus reward and asserts that these two forces work in direct opposition. On one side, you can risk little but are likely to gain little, if anything, in return. On the other side, risking a lot gives you a shot at winning big, but comes with a high probability of failure. The obvious problem is that this way of thinking assumes there are no low risk ways to earn large rewards. No paths to success that don’t entail betting the farm. Yes, it is a rational, logical argument. But it is also overly simplistic.

There are ways to risk little and still reap great rewards. One of my favorite business examples was the way in which Sir Richard Branson structured the deal that got him the very first plane to start Virgin Atlantic. He negotiated a deal with Boeing that allowed him to purchase the first plane but retained the ability to return the plane and pay nothing if his fledgling airline didn’t survive it’s first year. He was able to test a very large and audacious concept with very little personal risk while maintaining all the reward potential. This is called asymmetric risk. It’s a core concept used by the very best hedge fund managers, venture capital investors, and entrepreneurs. It’s also a concept that you should be using in your personal life.

Think about it. How many places in your current circumstances could you try something new with little or no risk? Could you start a small side-hustle business while remaining employed in your current job? The only thing you’d be risking is missing the latest shows on Netflix. What about “forcing” yourself to get benighted at your favorite local roadside crag? You’d be practicing a small amount of suffering with a low level of objective risk in order to build confidence that you can handle similar situations in more high stakes environments.

We’ve been trained to think that we can only have security and safety or uncertainty and danger. But this is a false dichotomy. There aren’t just two choices. Instead it’s a long spectrum between security and danger. You job is to continue to push yourself to the edges of your current comfort zone, slowly but consistently enlarging the range of situations and experiences that are within your comfort zone. This is the core of what adventure means to me. It’s about getting yourself into progressively larger amounts of “trouble” and building the skills to expertly navigate your way out of the situation.

So keep going. Keep pushing. Keep looking for ways to take small steps that feel risky as often as you can. But always keep in mind that there are creative ways to limit that risk without impacting the learning or the rewards that you will reap.

Lives of Adventure © 2017