Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Open Thread: The Hardest Risks are the Ones You Don't Have to Take

Recently, I was talking with one of my colleagues about some ideas to alter a longstanding annual fundraiser at our museum. "I believe in these changes," she said. "But it's also hard to feel comfortable taking a risk on this, because I know the traditional model works."

The changes that are easiest to make are the ones that smack you in the face. Something isn't working. Visitors hate a policy. People stop coming, or donating, or caring. When an institution is in crisis, there are huge opportunities to transform the system, take risks, and try something new. How much worse could things get?

But when things are going well--maybe not great, but perfectly fine, thank you--change gets much more stressful. Not everyone has a compelling reason to change. I'm interested in the question of how you take risks when you don't have to--how you conceive them, and how you make them worth trying. I'm not talking about new opportunities or challenges, but genuine risks that might screw things up or take you into uncharted territory.

When have you taken a risk like this? What made you do it? Do you ever feel like the "good enough"ness of your organization is hindering your ability to take risks that could vault you forward?

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