The Deadly Danger of Playing It Safe

Stay in your comfort zone and you risk losing big-time.

Meeting with the sales whiz, Melissa could see that he had valuable connections in the tech industry, lots of hustle and could connect her media services firm with important new clients. Still, she decided to hold off on hiring him. Six months later, she heard that he’d gone to work for another firm, bringing them two nearly seven-figure accounts. Meantime, Melissa had to downsize her office space and lay off an employee. Instead of being positioned to charge ahead, she’s now scrambling to make payroll.

Are you playing it safe? If so, you’re not alone. In a 2013 survey by The Hartford of 1,000 U.S. small business owners, 80 percent rated themselves as conservative instead of risky, compared with 49 percent just a year ago.

Trouble is, sticking to your comfort zone brings its own risk: if you’re playing not to lose, you’ll miss out on key opportunities to grow your business. Create more certainty around the decision-making process itself, and you’ll move forward with confidence.

      See also: Why Midlife Is the Best Time To Start a Company

Make decisions from where you want to be, not from where you are. To create a seven-figure company, you have to act as if you’re leading one now, even while you’re still generating low six figures. To start thinking bigger, adopt a role model — someone whose achievements or behavior you admire. When you’re faced with a scary decision, ask yourself: “What would my role model do?”

Understand and evaluate the risks. Richard Branson, who knows that making daring moves is not about reckless optimism, told Entrepreneur magazine: “The calculated risks you and your team take should be strategic judgments, not just blind gambles: Protect the downside by figuring out the odds of success, working out what the worst possible consequences would be, then deciding whether to accept.”

Go all in. Once you’ve thoroughly evaluated your options and determined what action to take, skip the second-guessing and commit to making it the right decision. Olympic fencer Jason Rogers says: "Indecision weakens your skills. Better to do the wrong thing with 100 percent of your effort than the right thing with 50 percent." Strong conviction and execution can often compensate for flaws in your reasoning.

Develop a growth mindset. Of course, you want to do everything you can to avoid mistakes – especially the careless kind that can be avoided with foresight -- but don’t expect to be infallible. Instead, see your errors as an investment in learning.

Dan Martell, a successful entrepreneur who had two failed companies before the age of 25, explains his view of failure. When getting people to support his next venture, he told them: “Look, I know this idea didn’t work out. But you know I did everything I could at the time with the information and resources I had so here’s what I learned, here’s what I changed…and here are the things that I think are going to increase the probability of success.”

     See also: 9 Insane Side Effects of Entrepreneurship

Shift to solution mode quickly. Typically, we spend too much time focused on problems. But as Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You need to shift your focus in order to have access to potential solutions. So take the hit and ask: “Okay, now what?”

Kenny Lao and David Weber opened their first Rickshaw dumpling storefront in New York City in 2005. Buoyed by the success, they opened a second store soon after, which “almost bankrupted us," says Weber. They closed that location and decided to try a mobile food truck— one of the first at the time – and, eureka, success was almost immediate. Their trucks produced the steady cash flow that made a second go at brick-and-mortar expansion possible and the company is now looking at sales of $4-$5 million in 2013.

Renita Kalhorn is a performance strategist and founder of Step Up Your Game Now. She provides mental toughness and resilience training to small business owners, and Navy SEAL candidates.

Photo credit : Adrianna Williams/Getty Images