As I cracked open my kindergarten report card, I found evidence that the world was conspiring to make me just like every other five-year-old. Right there in black and white was the chilling statement: “plays well with others.” Along with the grade I was assigned, the need to get along was emblazoned in my mind.
As adults, we care a lot about what others think; we place more importance on that than our own intuition. As a business owner, that’s one of the worst things you can do. It’s vital that we care about our customers and teammates, but seeking approval prevents us from taking risks. Risk-taking allows your business to grow in a way that isn’t possible when you abide by the kindergarten commandment to “play well with others.” To create new realities, we have to behave differently than the market does — by taking chances.
Unfortunately, some hard-headed leaders don’t celebrate failure, an inevitable side result of risk-taking. It’s essential that leaders create cultures where failure is considered a step toward success: “Go big or go home.” Going big should be a calculated part of your strategy, but only a percentage of your resources should be allocated to a big gamble. You obviously want to fail quickly and cheaply, but frequency matters, too; if you’re not failing often, you’re missing opportunities. The hard truth is that people are always going to criticize you. You might as well be aggressive and see what happens. It’s more fun, and the upside is significant.
Taking risks should, in fact, enhance your relationships, not destroy them. Thinking for yourself means finding the right opportunities, and matching the right person to each project. If you enable someone else to take risks with you, that person will be at your side when the oncoming criticism is unleashed. Getting buy-in from your team ensures they’ll be pushing you forward, rather than standing on the sidelines, when you make your big play. You win or lose together, and there are no hard feelings when it’s over. (Your kindergarten teacher would be so proud.)
My company manufactures innersprings, but we took a finished mattress to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. We called it The Starry Night Sleep Technology Bed. We loaded it with a biometric monitoring application and a massive home theater system, pricing it at $50,000. Nobody in our industry had ever done anything like that, and many in my company doubted whether we could pull it off promoting a technology we were just inventing. As we turned the bed’s wrench for the last time, ABC News walked into our area and interviewed us. That big risk ended up being a huge hit, earning more than 30 million media impressions.
Showcasing a $50,000 bed was ridiculous in many people’s eyes — but the people who saw us that week didn’t agree. It just goes to show that if you listen to everyone else’s thoughts, you get dangerously close to ignoring your own instincts. Playing well with others can derail you from taking risks that help your business grow. Some people say you’re taught everything you need to know in kindergarten, but what do they know?
Mark Quinn is a segment vice president of marketing with Leggett & Platt in Joplin, Mo.