In most modern organizations, “risk” is something to be removed from any project and the failure to do so is a negative on one’s career. However, removing all risk is impossible and impractical, and simply creates an atmosphere of unadventurous lethargy that leads to a downward spiral of performance.

Risk is all around us and our business. The differences between success and failure are preparation, initiative, and mitigation. These, along with a fair dose of fearlessness, will take you most places you want to go.


The old saw “the early bird gets the worm” was used to promote initiative and action, and it may have worked. It also may have produced a great deal of unnecessary trouble for the flip side of this argument is “the early worm gets eaten.” If you don’t want to be the “worm,” preparation is the key.

Proper preparation is required to address any new opportunity or correct a current problem. This preparation comes in many forms depending on the circumstances, but the basic steps are always the same:

  • Study the issue
  • Devise methods for addressing it
  • Test these methods on small scale in a safe environment
  • Correct as needed
  • Implement
  • Assess adjust

The first part of preparation is knowing the basic steps to pursue, and in what order. Now you know the steps, use initiative to proceed.


Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate General in America’s Civil War, is famous for the misquote “firstest with the mostest” (an apocryphal story, since he was highly educated) as his explanation for the successes achieved on the battlefield. His aggressive use of cavalry gave him the advantage. Speed, maneuverability, and initiative carried him to victory. We can use this philosophy in our businesses, and our lives today, more than 150 years later.

After properly preparing for the project, moving at as rapid a pace as possible offers the best chance for success. The actions initiated will create a drive toward success and will provide momentum to keep the project going when inevitable setbacks occur. Allow speed to overcome the obstacles.


Despite all of the preparation (and in most firms, over preparation), there will be points in the implementation phase where the project goes awry. In these moments, there are two behaviors that will save the day: the ability to stay calm and resilience.

The first is obvious. A calm demeanor, despite the circumstances, is required if you are to get through these moments as quickly and effectively as possible. Emotions will cloud judgement and cause improper decisions.

The second is the resilience available due to your experience and a mitigation plan. At every step of the project, the competent manager must have a series of steps she will take when something unexpected happens. These steps can be a fully documented mitigation plan, a plan developed in real-time based on known data and your experience, bringing in a consultant, or an international trip to resolve the problem face-to-face.

The key to mitigation is to have plan B or the ability and confidence to quickly create a plan B when, not if, something does go wrong. Depending on the manager and the project, these backup plans could be documented in advance, but they could just as effectively be developed in real time “on-the-fly.” I’ve seen both used effectively and typically the workload of the team and the personality of the manager determines how much mitigation is planned in advance.


Some people enjoy taking risks more than others, and that is normal. What is unhealthy is the aversion to any risk. To put it in context, we are traveling on a chunk of rock at 85,000 miles per hour around an exploding star. That is a great deal of uncontrollable risk.

The daily risks we deal with at the office or at home are much more predictable and controllable than this. Proper mindset and preparation followed by initiative and backup plans will allow success. Blindly diving into a project and hoping for the best will ensure failure. “Hope” is not a plan.

Doug Ringer, the author of “The Profit Imperative” and “The Product Rocket,” works with leaders who want to think strategically, grow dramatically, compete successfully, and develop profitable habits within their organizations. He can be reached at 502-509-9746 and Follow his work at and on Twitter @doug_ringer.