So, perhaps, it’s not ironic that in the past few weeks a number of conversations have turned towards the topic of age and risktaking. Two business professionals from opposite sides of the spectrum shared their rather interesting perspective with me.
One believed herself too inexperienced to take risks—“Who’s going to trust a twenty-two-year-old risktaker?” while one felt too much life experience limited his ability to learn new ways of taking risks, “I’ll wait until I retire from the corporate rat race—then I’ll pursue the opportunities I want in my own business.”
Before sharing my story of Linnea with them, I suggested some launch tips for risktakers of any age:
Build Your Credibility
Understand the Culture of Risk
Strengthen Your Peripheral Vision
Model the Traits of Corporate Entrepreneurs
- Define your risktaking style
- 5 Traits of corporate entrepreneurs
- Use your setbacks as a ‘resilience booster’
Recognize Your Negotiating Strengths
Practice, Practice, Practice
- Taking the first step is always the most difficult. Start with a doable plan with small steps to help you build up to greater risks with more responsibility. Practice is all about progress not perfection.
Linnea was a recent college graduate at the time she hired me at Intel Corporation in the early 80s. She planned to spend the next twelve months learning about semiconductor manufacturing before heading back to New Mexico. A good decade younger than the most senior person in our training department, she taught us a wonderful (and unexpected) lesson about what it means to be a risktaker.
My natural curiosity (and eventual business focus) was juiced when Linnea was unable to explain what successful risktaking looked like at Intel. If it was important enough to list on the back of employee badges, it was important enough for me to find out what others thought.
Three months later, I had responses from janitors, receptionists, administrative assistants, engineers, managers, and execs. And you know something? Everyone had their own definition of what risktaking at Intel looked like for them. I figured it was easier to do than I thought since there was no one right way or wrong way.
So I did. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes I wasn’t quite so successful. But even my failed attempts won kudos because I had taken risks for the right reasons! I learned that if I did my pre-work (data collection, work the political angle, negotiate funding, etc.)—and could justify why it was the smart thing to do at the time—I could stretch like Gumby.
Linnea’s gift to us was her role as “risk enabler”. She taught me the importance of developing a support network and my signature phrase—the greater the risk, the wider the net—those who clear the way for others to forge ahead. She fielded the skeptics and naysayers in the organization and supported the team when we pursued the sweeter fruit out on the limb.
She was a prime example that risktaking is not a factor of age but of attitude. Ultimately, it’s confidence in our ability to trust—beginning with ourselves.
I thank Linnea for what she wasn’t able to answer that day and what she did for us over the course of a year. She’s not the sort of gal who would take credit for any of it.