'Risk' Is the New Four-Letter Word in Ethics

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat. -- Theodore Roosevelt

Risk is not a bad word, a bad decision, nor a bad behavior, if it's not based on:
  • Legal decisions, in which paying for mistakes would be cheaper than preventing the problem and jeopardizing time-to-market and/or profit.
  • Actuarial tables indicating the company will likely win more than the customer benefits.
  • Literally gambling everything on a guess.
Every business begins, and continues, based on financial risks, credibility risks and ego risks for the founders, investors, managers, employees and all associated parties.

The founding of America was a huge risk of unknowns, hostilities and adventure.

Every legal immigrant to this country takes a risk of leaving known situations, families and friends.

Any time something is tried, there is an implicit risk of hardship, sacrifice and failure. Conversely there is a potential for success, wealth and reward.

As the assailing of economic risk is on the radars of investors, politicians and executives these days, let us not allow the pendulum to swing so far as to stifle innovation, exploration and experimentation. Let us be mindful that every manufacturing, technological and medical breakthrough began with one step into an unknown time and space and situation.

The U.S. space program began with a dare, or at least a significant challenge.

The Civil Rights movement began with individual and collective passion, and often fatal odds.

Fighting back human oppression, war after war, puts so many people in harms way.

History shows us nothing great was ever accomplished without men and women taking risks -- huge risks. That, however, includes both very good things as well as very bad things: The Khmer Rouge, Idi Amin and subsequent African tribal genocides, Iran's Ahmadinejad and other dictators' reigns have also been the result of passion, determination and risk.

You see at the crux of good risk comes the essential elements of a trustworthy person in pursuit of a noble venture who is unwilling to sacrifice his or her guiding standards and values.

Much of the angst and suspicion being cast on both government oversight/regulatory bodies like Barney Frank's House Financial Services Committee, Chris Dodd's Senate Committee on Banking/Housing and government sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae ( FNM) and Freddie Mac ( FRE) and alleged Wall Street shenanigans of Goldman Sachs ( GS) and others is just that:

"Are these entities being governed, lead and operated by ethically minded people, or get-rich, get-powerful quick con men?"

Another cliche asks, "So who's overseeing the overseers?"

Risk is good, if it is taken based on good values.

Risk is warranted, if it is taken based on solid fact-finding.

Risk is advised, if it is based on critical thinking.

Risk is admirable, if it is based on a passionate desire to improve a situation that will benefit something beyond solely the risk-taker.

Risk should not be gambling or feeling lucky, in the sense of games of chance and wild-odds ventures, especially when common knowledge dictates the house is the likely winner.

We must continue to encourage responsible risk-taking -- especially for the advancement of economies and science -- in the pursuit of benefiting the greater good.

Vince Crew, is founder of REACH Development Services (www.REACHdevelopment.com). He has more than 30 years of Communications and Ethics experience and holds a master of science degree in marketing and communication, with an emphasis on "Leadership and Ethical Decision Making During the Lifecycle of an Organization." Vince is a national media expert on business innovation, strategic growth and leadership. He has been interviewed by Entrepreneur magazine, Fox Business Network, CNN, CNBC and more. Crew is the author of four books, including his latest, Everyday Ethics, Everlasting Consequences.

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