Risk aversion is the enemy of ideas

There are so many words for avoiding failure – prudent, risk-averse, cautious. In business, especially small ones, there is always a little voice in your head that doubts your plans.

When consulting with a client on a new marketing strategy, I inevitably come up against risk aversion. Now, don’t get me wrong, risk aversion can be a great tool to help you protect your company, but it should usually happen at the end of a process, not at the start.

When trying to generate ideas with my clients, I try to counter this feeling of prudence by asking them the following question:

“If you knew you could not fail, what would be your plan?”

This question provides a fundamental shift from negative to positive and we are now thinking about the actual problem and not the notion that any plans might not work.

Idea generation must not be hindered by feelings of doubt, or a lack of self-confidence. In a recent interview for my podcast Thriving: The Small Business Podcast, Muddy Knees Media’s Iain Macintosh summarised the outcome of thinking outside risk perfectly.

“It worked – but that didn’t make it any more sensible.”

On one hand, this sounds like Iain is saying he thought starting his own business was too risky – it wasn’t “sensible”. But it worked, so it must have been sensible, right? This Catch-22 is the main dilemma facing small business owners and knowing which decision is right, and which decision is wrong, can be tough.

My advice is always to generate your ideas without worrying about the risks. Then, once you have these ideas, trust yourself to do the right research, deliver the right plan, and make the right decision – even if that decision is to walk away from the idea after all that work.


Lewis English has written a book. It’s called The Five Step Marketing Plan and you can order it here. He also hosts a twice monthly podcast called Thriving: The Small Business Podcast, which you can listen to for free here.

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