Real Leaders

From Optimizer to Innovator: How Trust Empowers Smart Risk

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Risk. The word immediately conjures conflicting emotions and responses for most people. It can stress you out, or it can get your blood pumping. It can put you on edge knowing you are venturing into the unknown, with equal possibility of great reward or potential disaster down the road.

Many people think of themselves as risk-takers until it comes time to take the “leap of faith.” There is a reason people often say, “There is no reward without risk.” 

This is particularly true in business.

If I told you that you stand to make $6 million over the next year, but you must trust me with $3 million of your hard-earned money now, what would you say? And is there anything I can do to encourage you to take that risk? 
 
Yes, there is … and it starts by earning your trust, a valuable commodity today that has become harder and harder to find. The events of the last year offer multiple examples of the erosion of trust, which makes it harder to consider risk even if you can clearly see there is great reward. 
  
Trust, when earned, delivers value that few other intangibles can in conducting business, whether you are a banker, a car salesman, a leader or a media broker. In the corporate trade media business, trust is the fundamental element that breaks down the barriers of the perceived risks and provides the necessary conviction that we will deliver that $6 million return on a $3 million investment. 
 
It is my experience, as a veteran of the corporate trade business, to win someone’s trust the first time, I need to fully understand the type of person across the table: their decision-making process, the unique challenges they are facing, and their desired results. Active listening is more important today than ever before, especially given our technological tendency toward multitasking. As my friend Rodney Northern, Chief Transformation Officer with the Behavioral Science Lab in Austin, Texas, (who also lectures at the University of Texas) instructed me years ago that understanding the needs and wants of consumers as well as the customers is critical for behavioral change success. He also believes that it is also helpful to understand or assess the primary business mindset and motivation of the person you are engaging as you weigh their risk tolerance. Let me explain.
 
The optimizer mindset has to do with playing it safe and playing within the lines — you know and see the firmly established guardrails around doing business, and you do not cross them. You think of yourself as open-minded to new ideas and the ability to adapt to change, but you are dominated by a firmly established set of principles and culture of how business is done. This mindset is seeking value but only within range of what can be seen and avoiding any perceived risk for fear of failure.

The innovator mindset frees you from the limitations of guardrails, enabling you to seek a different approach than the “safe” one. It’s opening the lens’s aperture to envision a result never considered or embarking down an uncharted path. It is a keen understanding of the norms or rules but the realization that it is not necessary to always follow them.
 
So, how do you move the optimizer mindset to the innovator mindset? For the most part, it is difficult to operate in a manner counter to your intuitive nature or how you are hard-wired as a person. Rare is the person who is willing to be a change agent on their own accord rather than when they are forced to by necessity. This is where patience and active listening is so important to minimize the perceived risk factors to an optimizer. (Hand-in-hand, it is imperative to have the intuition and understanding to know when to “cut bait” with an optimizer and, as the saying goes, “stop selling the unsellable.”)
  
For all those people beating their heads against the wall trying to convince an intransigent optimizer to think like an innovator, it probably is not going to happen, so move on. To all your optimizers, what you perceive to be too risky may actually be something you are missing out on that many of your more innovative competitors are benefiting from. In the long-term, turning down $6 million and sticking with your $3 million is the riskiest move you can make.

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