Do something stupid once in awhile – part 1

Everyone knows someone, or someone who knows someone, or is related to someone who had the chance to quit their somewhat secure jobs and follow Sam Walton or Bill Gates.  Inevitably, the story continues that the acquaintance or relative chose the sane, smart, and secure path of not leaving their jobs and venturing out with these guys, and have ever since regretted the decision.

The same thing is said about what stocks they came “this close” to buying, thought better of, and opted out. If only, if only, they say, they had been willing to take the plunge, they could be sitting in a tropical locale watching the sun set instead of being stuck in cubicle city somewhere.

Opportunities, real opportunities anyway, the kind capable of replacing the laptop and cubicle for an umbrella drink and beach house, are few and far between.  It takes some ability to recognize and analyze the opportunity and weigh its risks against the rewards. And more often than not, really, the risks associated with real opportunities are easy to identify and are staggering.  Sanity and the desire to sleep well at night tell us to stay put. If the identifiable risks are great then the unidentifiable risks have to be that much worse.

So fear takes over, and not wanting to acknowledge that fear is the primary reason for not acting, we pontificate about this and that analysis, about negative trends in the company, industry, economy in general, and if these factors don’t quash the flame of entrepreneurialism, there is the fear of not making the mortgage payments, of paying for the kid’s braces and college, of needing to replace a car next year.

These concerns are real.  A staff person came into my office many years ago to talk about maybe buying a house. He was concerned that he might get fired within a year or three and reticent about buying a house amidst the uncertainty. This was a real risk – we both worked at one of the so-called “Big Four” Accounting firms and turnover for CPA’s in those firms was, well, staggering.  With more terminations than resignations.  I do not know if it is still like this or not.

We take the risks with houses and cars and flat-screen televisions and kids – the biggest financial gamble of all time – and live with the risks, maybe because everyone else has the same issues.  But quit that nice, well-paying job and jump into that tiny ship in a large ocean? That is insane.  Stupid.

Yeah.  It is. When Gates left Harvard to begin his career in computers, probably everyone called him crazy.  When Walton left Ben Franklin to open his own discount store, he risked everything and few were willing to join him in his venture. They took incredible, perhaps even dumb risks.  They paid off.

We hear about all the risk takers who made it work and we marvel at their foresight, their entrepreneurial spirit, their willingness to believe in themselves and to take the plunge.  We marvel at Col. Sanders, who started Kentucky Fried Chicken on his Social Security check, after failing time and time again in business. Forgotten in the mists of time and media splash are the thousands of others who took the risks and were unable to make it work.

Making it in business is not so dissimilar from making it in any other endeavor. Few make it big in business, the arts, sports, politics, and those who do make it are not normal.  All are risk takers. All go where “angels fear to tread”.  All either ignore the risks and move forward blindly or acknowledge the risks and go ahead anyway because the potential rewards, no matter how unlikely are worth it.

In the end, to make it in business, like much of life, requires doing something stupid once in awhile.

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