Fresh Pick of the Day, September 29, 2016: “The Right Way to Take Risks — in Business and Life”

From Knowledge@Wharton – “What I tried to do in my book is describe these tenets of risk-taking that apply across business and investing in life. There are four tenets: right-sizing the risk; right-timing; relying on knowledge and experience; and remaining skeptical of promises and projections. Those apply to investing tremendously. I think all the time about the right size of the positions that we take in companies; whether it’s the right time, because timing of when you buy or sell is critically important. How much we know about the investment, and then being skeptical about what we hear from Wall Street or what we might hear from the companies. But if you think about how we apply those in our life, take just some simple examples.

Right-sizing: If you’re going to buy a house, you want to make sure that you’ve got a house that’s the right size, not too big, not too small. Otherwise, it will be a mistake. It’s getting a mortgage that’s of a size you can handle; the size of your investment in that property is really important. So that’s something that everybody deals with involving size, whether you’re buying a house or you’re renting a place. There are four tenets: right-sizing the risk; right-timing; relying on knowledge and experience; and remaining skeptical of promises and projections.

Right-timing: You definitely don’t want to open an ice cream shop in November, if you have a choice. If you’re living in the Northeast, or you’re living in Philadelphia, you would rather open it in April or May. Timing affects many decisions, no matter what they are. When you’re getting married, when you’re getting engaged, when you’re having children, timing is just a factor. Sometimes it’s more important or less, but it’s definitely a risk factor.

Relying on knowledge and experience: You don’t want to, for example, take on an intern at your show if that person has only worked in an art gallery, and they say, ‘Oh, but I’m really, really interested in broadcasting and radio’ but they’ve shown no interest before. Is that something you should know about or not? I would say yes, because it’s a risk that you hire somebody who isn’t capable and doesn’t show any aptitude. So you’re relying on knowledge and experience.

Remaining skeptical: If you’ve got a buddy and you’re out to dinner with him, and he says, ‘I’ve got a great new idea for a restaurant and bar that I would like to open downtown, and I would like you to invest this many thousands of dollars.’ If you don’t ask a few questions about that, it would be pretty illogical. You better not be too credulous and say, ‘Hey, Jason’s a great guy, I really think that he’ll be a great bar owner.’ That would be silly — and it would be a lot of risk. That’s exposure to danger and uncertainty; that’s what risk is. You do need to be exposed to uncertainty to make any money or to make the right decision, but if you don’t think through why it might go wrong, you would be pretty gullible.”

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