Taking Risks: Aloha Edition
True or false: Our love for Hawaii makes it harder to take the risks necessary to innovate and create new businesses.
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Best Practices for Risk in our Fishbowl
“Fail early, fail cheap, fail often” is sound advice for risk-takers. Here’s another piece of advice that’s especially useful if you want to take a risk and stay in the same place: Fail well. Here’s how:
1. Communicate with stakeholders: Even “overcommunicate,” says Tim Dick. This is a tough one for the 50th state, he tells the Fail Whale audience: “In Hawaii, in general, we are not great communicators. We don’t want to talk about failure or the possibility of failure.” But the downside of not communicating is extreme, he says. “It’s those untold truths that become the elephant in the room, which eventually explodes.”
2. Tell the whole truth: Carnet Williams admits that when you have investors, “you want to tell them good news. … (But) if you communicate the mistakes you’ve made, people are all on the same page when you need to pivot the company.” If it goes under, they are already on your side, adds Dick, who credits a culture of transparency with the continued goodwill among Superferry stakeholders: “What is amazing is that there are no hard feelings among that group – as big as that failure was – because everyone talked and everything was open.”
3. Do the right thing: When things are going well, “treat everyone like you would your grandmother,” says Williams. “Be extra-courteous, say thank you, just go out of your way.” He cites a mentee who took the time to send him a personal gift of appreciation: “I have given that guy so much of my time since then.”
When things aren’t going well, it’s even more important to do the right thing. Says Peter Kay: “The same thing that prevents you from honking at the guy in front of you is the same thing that forces you to take that additional ethical step” – one you might not take if you didn’t know your investors, or could simply move cities.
“Just as Hawaii has its own fusion of foods,” says Kay, there could be “a Hawaiian style to startups: It’s OK to take a risk, but you do have to follow a very strict code of ethics. Staying in touch, being open and honest, (those) are really good things.”
Get ’Em Young
How do you create a person who’s unfazed by setbacks on the way to success? One way is to start early.
Punahou School has incorporated design thinking into many of its classrooms and decision-making processes. When the school’s president, Jim Scott, visited a fourth-grade class to see how it was put into play, he says, “One of the kids told me, ‘Oh, I didn’t screw up. I’m just failing forward.’ What that does,” continues Scott, “is it says failure is OK. That there are multiple options for mutual gain, and if this one doesn’t work, let’s just keep going.”
Mark Hines is director of the Mid-Pacific Institute eXploratory program, a project-based high-school program that stands the traditional educational model on its head, replacing what Hines calls “just-in-case” learning (“When am I going to use this in real life?” “Someday.”) with “just-in-time” learning, in which students learn academic and real-world skills by designing and iterating projects that require those skills. One result, says Hines, is that it teaches students to fail forward: “Kids build. They create. They refine. They solve. And those all require higher-level thinking.”
He adds, “We have a high tolerance for risks, because we understand the payoff far outweighs the chance that if it doesn’t work we may have to backtrack. Developing that culture is a process and an art.”
Scott and Hines agree that all of this is about preparing the next generation for a future that may look nothing like the present. “We are preparing today’s kindergarteners for jobs that don’t exist yet,” says Scott. “It means that they have to be comfortable with ambiguity, with uncertainty, with open-ended questions.”
And that will be helpful, not just for the next Steve Jobs, but for professionals, managers and anyone else who wants to be employed when they graduate, says Hines. “Businesses by and large have recognized that if they don’t continually ask and innovate and create and challenge themselves, they’ll be out of business in very little time. You could make a reasonable argument: What kind of learning best suits someone to be successful in those things?”
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