A company’s culture ultimately dictates how much risk the employees are willing to take. The most innovative companies find a way to make taking chances a part of their DNA. So how do they do it? There’s an old saying: It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. Big breakthroughs are often the results of mistakes, including Corn Flakes, the Slinky, Silly Putty, potato chips and Penicillin.
Just like Ron Burgundy, you can do everything “right” — and still make mistakes.
At some companies, being cautious and right is rewarded. I’ve never found that it works very well for me as an entrepreneur or an individual. Marxent is built on the idea that it is better to try something, fail, learn and try again than it is to sit around waiting to be right. In fact, if we were still sitting around waiting to be right, Marxent wouldn’t exist.
Elon Musk, the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, has a way with failure. Musk has had plenty of success along the way, part of this is due to his willingness to be bold and to know that this means sometimes being wrong. Back in February 2016, Musk predicted that a SpaceX rocket would fail to land as anticipated. He put a positive spin on this costly failure, emphasizing that it could actually be viewed as a success, as the rocket would have delivered its satellite payload into orbit long before it crashed into the ocean.
Is it always better to ask for forgiveness rather than for permission? Not always.
Generally speaking, at Marxent we prefer to empower employees to move ahead and take risks without having to deal with layers of bureaucracy. Nothing would ever get done if everyone waited to get a thumbs up on each and every decision. Working with emerging technologies forces us to get up every day, take risks and trust each other so that we can keep up with the velocity of the marketplace.
I get it. Not everyone is entrepreneurial at heart. We all have different tolerance for risk and different methods of seeking approval. Take Dwight Schrute. He’s cautious and no one likes him. Jim, on the other hand. He’s lovable!
What’s important is that even if you are cautious by nature and are more likely to want to do something perfectly that is pre-approved than take a huge leap of faith, that you gut check your instinct to be “successful” rather than courageous. How do you know if you’re playing it safe over practicing courage? It manifests itself in behaviors that ultimately inhibit success: procrastination, indecision, and risk avoidance. Here are some ways that you can be more courageous at work. After all, no one wants to be Dwight Schrute.
1) Start with the hard stuff
Checking things off of a list doesn’t make you a rock star. If you’ve been charged with a challenging task and find yourself fixating on small details that you can check off a list, you are probably procrastinating. It is easy enough to knock a few tasks off a list. Just because you’re busy, doesn’t mean that you’re making progress. If you find yourself preoccupied with details that probably don’t matter much in the grand scope of things, challenge yourself to refocus on the hard stuff.
2) Put in some work before asking for help
You can’t ask for feedback if you haven’t done any work. Often, I find that requests for feedback or input are a tool for procrastination instead of inspiration or refinement. You should be asking questions because you’ve done a significant amount of work and are stuck or ready for feedback, not because you haven’t started. We are all here to help each other, but it won’t win you any points if you ask others to do your job for you. Before you ask for feedback, be sure that you’re offering something substantive to react to.
3) Have confidence, even if you don’t know what you’re doing
We hired you because we’re confident in your abilities and your flexibility to contribute across disciplines. We have confidence in you, but do you have confidence in yourself? When you have confidence, your ability to make tough decisions becomes easier, freed from the weight of worrying that you will be unsuccessful for some reason.
4) Just do it! Less talk, more action
Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to simply start building things. Making prototypes, even very early on, pushes the creative process forward, and can lead to a surprising endpoint that may far exceed your initial goals. You don’t need to ask for permission to move forward on every little detail. Create something and let people react to it instead of sitting on your hands and waiting to make everything perfect. Iteration is the most powerful tool that we have available to us. Use it.
There is not a single soul, besides maybe Dwight Schrute, who wants to be underemployed and bored at work. When you joined Marxent, you asked for the challenge. You asked to help solve new problems with new technologies and to make new things.
Whether or not you are wired for risk, in order to keep up with the rapid pace of progress at Marxent it’s important to ask yourself whether or not you’re starting with the hard stuff instead of procrastinating on details, putting in a solid effort before you ask for feedback, building up your confidence muscle and producing prototypes to ensure that you are making meaningful progress on big challenges.
Beck Besecker is CEO and a co-founder of Marxent.
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