Are You Taking Enough Risk?

“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” was the mantra of the revered Canadian ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky.  It expresses the view that if you don’t take risks, you will never win.

The same sentiment recurs thoughout history.

The American Civil War started badly for the Union (the North); they were bogged down, making no progress. The exasperated Union General George McClellan complained that he had not seen enough dead cavalrymen….on his own side.

This may sound macabre, and no doubt the cavalrymen were rather unappreciative, but McClellan was expressing his risk appetite.  The North needed to take more risk or they would not win.  On the other side, the Confederates (the South) only needed to play for a draw, a stalemate – that would be enough to lead to a negotiation and a separation from the United States, which is what they were fighting for.

Risk appetite expresses the risks you need to actively take to achieve your aims and vision, together with what you can afford to tolerate (and no more) and still get to your goals.

Fortunately for the North, up popped a brash young cavalry lieutenant who was willing to take the necessary risks.  He had just been released from jail (imprisoned on graduation from West Point military academy for arranging a fight) because the North needed officers.  He realised that the Confederate infantry had never faced a cavalry charge and would, in all likelihood, scatter.  So he led dramatic charges and he pursued the enemy over great distances to prevent them from regrouping.  The conquering hero accepted the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee (even though he was not authorised to do so) and was the star of the eventual victory parade in Washington D.C.  

We may come back to George Armstrong Custer in a future post…

Data Sources:Wikipedia, A Complete Life of General George A. Custer – Frederick Whittaker

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