Calculated risks are aimed at positioning you optimally relative to your intention and the threat posed by your opposition. To take calculated risks you need to let go of some of the comforts and security of the known and accept some of the discomfort and insecurity of the unknown. For example, a Grizzly bear when trying to catch salmon takes a calculated risk when it positions itself on slippery stones in the middle of a treacherous river. It would be a safer choice for the bear to position itself on the bank of the river, where it could remain dry and not have to negotiate the river’s hazards. But the fish are where it is hazardous. There are no fish on the banks of the river where it is safe. The message here is that you need to carefully consider where you position yourself and you will, out of necessity, expose yourself to discomfort when you set out in the direction of your intention. You need to place yourself optimally to bring into your immediate attention that which is relevant and productive. This usually requires you to go into ‘deep waters’ and to take the associated risks. Staying on the shore will not bring the “salmon” to you. The pre-conditions of success are hardly ever easy or comfortable, but they are what make the outcomes and even the process towards achieving them worthwhile.
Overcome self-imposed learnt limitations like pain barriers
When you have self-imposed, learnt limitations and I would suggest we have many, calculated risks are aimed at helping you cross the threshold of these limitations towards improvement.
I recall a self-imposed, limitation after having an operation on my shoulder. I had injured my shoulder several times playing rugby and developed a very painful shoulder joint over time. The orthopaedic surgeon informed me that it could be remedied by having arthroscopic surgery.
I had the surgery and three months later I still experienced severe pain and could not take much load on my shoulder during exercise. I contacted the surgeon and explained my predicament. I said something like: Doc, it seems you did not fix my shoulder. His reply was equally frank and went something like: No, I have fixed your shoulder – it’s healed; the problem is that you remember the pain and are holding onto the memory of it, stop being a baby and exercise through the pain barrier because there is no injury. I did as advised, the initial pain was significant, but he was right, it was only two weeks later that I was totally pain free and exercising at new levels.
Of course the message is that at times we need to assert ourselves and go through a pain threshold before we can discover a new level of performance. Our limitations are often pain memories that we hold onto. This seems to be the same conclusion that Professor Tim Noakes suggested when he claimed that the mind not the muscles is the first governor of performance.
Embrace trial and error
Tim Harford in; Adapt, implies that we must embrace criticism and failure, and be grateful for the opportunity to learn and improve as a result of our mistakes. He cautions us not to rely on one option in pursuit of our intention. He claims that success often starts with the failure of your first option. He cites many examples of success resulting from trial and error. He adds; focus on the best option only after first considering and rejecting many others. Essentially, Harford claims the first choice option may not be the best one in this world where randomness plays such a large part in determining success.
Harford in his TED talk on Trial, error and the God complex asks; how does Unilever make detergent? He explains: They have this great big tank of liquid detergent and pump it at a high pressure through a nozzle. They create a spray of detergent. Then the spray dries. It turns into powder. It falls to the floor. They scoop it up, put it in cardboard boxes. Sell it at a supermarket and make lots of money.
He then questions how one would design the nozzle in this manufacturing process. He claims; if you ascribe to the God complex, what you do is you find yourself little Gods in the form of a mathematician and a physicist — they understand numbers and the dynamics of fluid – they will calculate the optimal design of the nozzle. Unilever did this and it didn’t work because it was too complicated. Unilever actually solved this problem through trial and error, variation and selection. In other words they took a nozzle and created ten random variations on the nozzle. They tried out all ten; they kept the one that worked best. They created ten variations on that one. They tried out all ten. They kept the one that worked best. They tried ten variations on that one. Etc.
And after forty five generations, they have this incredible nozzle. It looks a bit like a chess piece and functions absolutely brilliantly. We have no idea why it works. It starts to work the moment one step back from the God complex and tries to a bunch of options; with a systematic way of determining what’s working and what’s not.”