We all cower within self-drawn boundaries. We are risk-averse and often blame this risk aversion on others. We find fault with our bosses, our organizations and our company culture.
The problem is us.
It is possible to get The Company to do what we want if we simply start doing it.
If getting approval requires lots of forms, presentations and justification, it means your organization may suffer from so much inertia that it might not actually know how to say no. This is a real opportunity for the daring. Instead of asking for approval to start something, why not take the initiative and see if the company stops you? No harm done, right? As long as your idea is ethical and Sarbanes-Oxley-compliant.
Cross the line. Often you will notice the line was in your imagination. You might learn that those who once prevented you from crossing this were actually not aware of a line at all.
The phrase is a bit hackneyed at this point, but more thinkers have to embrace the mantra of asking for forgiveness instead of begging for permission. After all, asking permission to take risks is like asking folks to catch you if you fall. What is the risk in that?
While organizations can clearly promote a culture that is conducive to innovation, it is ultimately the individual that matters-the passionate, risk-taking, caution-to-the-wind individual. Not some groupthink, an organizational grope or some socialistic, homogenized, Outward Bound team.
Look at Google. These people go out of their way to hire pure talent. One executive claims Google would rather lose an entire class of recruits than miss out on one superstar. Google staff is expected and encouraged to spend at least 10% of its time inventing. The company rewards breakthrough ideas with Founders awards in excess of $1 million. They have hordes of talent waiting in line to reside in the Googleplex.
Consider how Paramount stole DreamWorks from GE. One company had processes, rules and well-drawn lines. The other had Brad Grey, a mover who decided to cross the line and do the deal. Fortune favors the ones who are willing to grasp it. Those who must first ask for permission or stockpile power before moving only fuel their sedate lack of boldness.
Most important, in today's fast moving and ever increasingly digital world, the lines we draw around our categories are disappearing. So are the barriers that once controlled competition in our industries. Did any phone-company executive five years ago predict competition from Skype? Or Comcast? Or Yahoo? Could he or she have visualized the opportunities that exist in music, movies and more? New competitors appear all the time, as do new threats, but so do new potential partners and opportunities.
Crossing the line is a lonely job. It cannot be achieved via delegation, outsourcing or by committee. When I speak with senior clients at the CMO level or higher, I often mention that change would be easy if there were no people or organizations to get in the way. This draws a laugh and often a pensive "so true." Less comfortable is the reaction I get when I note that we are the leaders who run the organizations, and are most often the people who get in the way. Appointing a change agent, hiring some boutique agency with a hip name, securing a powered consultant to affect change, or just embracing cool and different behavior might be part of an answer. But it is your organization, and it is you who must eventually be the doer of new things.
If you are successful, why not be willing to take a risk? Are you not amazed at how many admired, world-class clients and partners are overly cautious? If they cannot grasp the opportunity to fail at some greater thing, are they not already in the process of ossification?
If your company is repressing you and you are good, risk taking can only beget one of two outcomes. You will succeed or you will be asked to leave. If you are asked to leave and you are good, you will find other work. But staying put and becoming some bureaucratic czar will eventually lead to your resenting yourself and reducing your market value.
Do yourself a favor. Cross the line. Trust me, most times no one will stop you. Challenge yourself to fail once you have succeeded. Grasp bigger opportunities. Do it now because one day you will die. And that is one box you won't get out of.