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Have you heard the phrase “go big or go home”? It’s a common refrain, especially in the business world. Often, it’s used to justify a style of risk-taking that encourages leaders to be bold, to adhere to their vision, and to gamble.

This approach is often less successful in real life than in the movies, although many business leaders favour bold plans. In some instances, you don’t need to have a solid plan. You just need to be able to pitch it and sell everyone on your vision.

In some cases, the big risk does pay off. In most cases, though, it doesn’t, and promoting this attitude can lead to a host of problems within the business. That’s not to say that leaders shouldn’t take risks. The difference is often how the risks are categorized and analyzed.

The Problem with the “Go Big or Go Home” Approach

“Go big or go home” tends to favour men. Men are socially conditioned to engage in risky behaviour, and they’re often rewarded for it. The business world is no exception.

It also favours extroverts. As noted, the ability to pitch or sell people on a risk or vision may be more important than the data behind the risk. Research shows that the language used to present an idea matters a lot. If you tell someone they have a 50 percent chance of success, for example, they’ll rate that idea more favourably than if you tell them there’s a 50 percent risk of failure.

Extroverts, optimists, and braggarts do well at manipulating the framing of an idea, so they tend to win people over more readily. By contrast, introverts, women, and others tend to be seen as more risk-averse. The ideas they tend to present are seen as “safer,” but less attractive for that reason.

In turn, workplaces that favour go big or go home approaches tend to support a culture that can quickly turn toxic as team members compete to “one-up” each other. They may endorse increasingly riskier ideas in order to look like the boldest thinker.

Calculated Risk-Taking Is More Effective

Introverts, women, and others aren’t actually more risk-averse in most cases. They tend to spend more time researching, weighing options, gathering evidence, and crunching numbers. In turn, they present well-supported cases for pursuing particular opportunities.

This looks like “risk-averse” behaviour, but it’s actually a more effective strategy. Risks are more clearly evaluated, meaning the risks are much more likely to pay off, which makes them smarter investments.

Overcoming the Bias for “Big Ideas”

The first step to correcting this problem is working to change your company culture. In many organizations, the people who put “go big or go home” plans on the table are favoured by leadership. People who present less “exciting” initiatives may be passed over. They may even be discouraged from bringing their ideas to the table.

There’s nothing wrong with bold ideas, but they should be backed up with solid facts and figures. Strategy and plans are also necessary to support any bold idea. Finding a balance between encouraging people to put forward out-of-the-box ideas and then backing those ideas up is key.

For those who favour calculated risks, there’s merit in learning how to frame ideas so that they sound more like the “go big or go home” presentations. This can help get people excited about the opportunity, generating more buy-in among leadership.

Risk-Taking Is Needed

Business leaders do need to be bold and take risks. In fact, what we think of as risk is often opportunity, and there’s always considerable risk associated with doing “the same old thing.” New ideas, new directions, and new strategies are all needed.

Getting the right data is one step in the right direction. With the right technology, you can see emergent patterns in your business and discover both what risks and opportunities exist.

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