Happy Labor Day: Ownership is Risk Taking

goldfish jumping out of the water


Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.


For some, Labor Day signifies the end to sunny summer days. For others, it constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.


As Development Dimensions International points out in their trend research: “Our most talked-about and revered citizens and organizations are known for their ability to create new solutions that are valuable to the marketplace and elevate their standings in the business world. Across all industries and disciplines, the ability to innovate is universally admired.”

How do people acquire and foster high levels of innovation in science, business, and sports?

While everyone is looking for the means to create the “next big thing”, the latest discussions focus on creating the “next big thing” on an ongoing basis. Put another way, making innovation a repeatable and sustainable process.

According to a piece by the New York Times, raw talent and intelligence are a requirement for aspiring super achievers. On the other side of the coin, Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Outliers, champion’s circumstance and hard work over raw ability. The debate of nature vs. nurture rages on with the single driving idea that Innovation rarely occurs by accident, but instead with work, and calculated risk-taking. Organizations need innovation to not only survive, but to thrive. Sustainable Innovation cannot be created with processes and systems alone. 

One of the key imperatives of Roberts Rules of Innovation is No Risk… No Innovation. To increase initiative and innovation, you have to encourage and even embrace failure. Another key imperative is Ownership. Most would agree that innovation is everyone’s responsibility, but employees can’t innovate unless their leaders empower them to do so. Innovation needs ownership – a champion within the organization. The champion must convince others to take calculated risks and at times work outside of one’s comfort zone. By combining both imperatives it does not take long to see that ownership and risk taking go hand in hand.


Ownership is risk taking.


In a recent interview by Adam Bryant of the New York Times, Francisco D’Souza, C.E.O. of the information technology company Cognizant has the following to say about risk taking and comfort zones:

“We started Cognizant in 1994, and there was a period early on when I personally knew everyone in the company. Now we have 160,000 employees, and there were several personal and rapid transitions over that time.

The lesson I learned is that when you have to evolve that quickly as a person, you need to be aware of two things. One is personal blind spots and the other is personal comfort zones. Those two things can be real gotchas.

It’s very hard to see your blind spots, by definition, and it’s very easy to fall into comfort zones, because people like patterns and a sense of familiarity. I’ve tried consciously to say, “What are the tools I can use to identify these blind spots and push through comfort zones?” And I always tell myself that if I wake up in the morning and feel comfortable, I’m probably not pushing myself hard enough.”

Companies that remain in their comfort zones for too long sometimes discover that they’ve made a significant mistake. According to the Boston Consulting Group, a culture of risk aversion is the number one barrier to innovation. To avoid swinging between excessive caution and over-exuberance, set a disciplined target for your desired investment outcomes.


Robert’s Rules of Innovation gives five simple steps for encouraging initiative and Innovation. To get you started here are some tips:

1.   Profiles in Risk: Clearly communicate the risk profile you are asking your people to adopt and state why it is important to the organization’s success.

2.   Failure Management: Never allow an unsuccessful risk to hamper a team member’s opportunities and advancement.

3.   Key Learning Process: Establish a formalized, non-accusatory process for harvesting key learning’s from unsuccessful risks.  Distribute these lessons-learned.


You can learn more about the above points, by reading Robert’s Rules of Innovation. Robert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation”: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, with Martin Kleinman, published by Wiley.