The Tyranny of Safety: Fortune favors the bold and reckless as the foundation of innovation

With all the election coverage that really was needed recently, I didn’t have time to work through some of the concepts that I care about a great deal, which are being flushed out in my new book, The Gunfighter’s Guide to Business, so for the next couple of these I promised myself to make some time. When I write about things here, usually its due to my understanding of a needed change agency impasse. If a concept isn’t introduced that is key to a greater thought, then any potential audience might miss it. So you need to start early on these things, especially if the concept is truly revolutionary and contrary to contemporary thought. One of those things is the false nature that safety is what everyone is looking for, and that compliance to that culture is the only way to function. Quite the opposite, even in business where safety is always being leveraged against, fortune favors the bold and unsafe in ways that are keys to any successful culture. And those who are timid usually attempt to create rules of safety to preserve themselves for that inevitability. Safety is not a state we should all yearn for, its rather the shield that the timid use to hide their own aversion to the rules of the universe.

I’m speaking from experience; I have never done anything in my life that might be considered “safe.” Rather, I have lived an extremely reckless life and always when I start to get too comfortable, I always end up doing something on the deep end of crazy to keep myself honest. And that was not to sabotage psychologically some level of success, but rather an understanding of how the true pulse of the universe really works. I have been talking about words that are normally associated with me such as “respectable.” Well, another is Teflon, many have wondered over the years why I have not ended up in jail to rot away in solitary confinement instead of being something of a respectable character, no matter what sort of path of destruction has ended up running in my wake. The reason that such controversy and reckless abandon has not stuck to me is not due to some magical Teflon help, but rather in the nature of life itself, where fortune favors the bold, and the observers in life who do preserve safety over treasure tend to always cheer on those willing to do what they are not.

It was easy for me to make this observation because I never wanted to be a normal human being, rather I endeavored to be a stunt man or daredevil. That was in fact my very first inkling for a career that went back beyond kindergarten. As a kid I would jump out of any tree, ride a bike through any obstacle and my heroes that I most looked up to were not people associated with my very nice and structured family, they were daredevils like Eval Knieval and escape artists like Harry Houdini. As a child I noticed very early, even when going to the circus that people who did things like stick their head into a lion’s mouth or walked on a tight rope without nets or harnesses below them were the ones that people clapped for. Part of them wanted to see a human being spit in the face of danger. Its not that they rooted for the big crash, or the death by a crazed animal, its that they wanted to see someone overcome the natural fears we all have so that innovation of some kind could come from the result.

This is another reason that a concept like communism and socialism are so reprehensible. They may be attractive to the type of people who fill an audience. People watching dangerous things do want the safety of observation. Yet when a society penalizes a tight rope walker with helmets and support ropes, the magic of the challenge is diminished tremendously. That’s why communist and socialist countries don’t tend to produce the kind of people who jump motorcycles over fountains in Las Vegas or to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. A society that is full of an audience but no show to watch becomes stagnant and boring, and eventually fails as a culture. However, when people are free to think and push the limits of their culture, we find that it flourishes in ways that cause great growth, and this is certainly the case in businesses of all kinds.

People are much more forgiving of a tight rope walker who almost falls and has to catch themselves from hitting the ground with an imperfect show because the attempt itself is what they really want to see. They will forgive Sea World for the occasional Orca attack that kills the whale trainers because the point of the show was to demonstrate mastery over the primal instincts of a wild animal. Without the show, the antics of a whale eating, mating and just swimming around are pretty boring. The audiences of life want to see somebody risking something, because they are too timid to do such things in life. But they do love to see other people doing it.

Whether in the court room, the board room, or even at the stock exchange, fortune favors the bold and playfully reckless. Owners of businesses who can’t afford to lose everything they have worked so hard for truly appreciate those like Harry Houdini who will throw chains upon themselves and be submerged underwater with the lid locked shut and only two minutes to hold their breath to attempt to escape before a massive bomb goes off on stage while the audience watches in horror. In all the books there are on business, and specifically program management they instruct their readers to mitigate risk and to run from it into the audience where everyone else is sitting. But talk to any finance person over lunch as they talk about how they want you to mitigate risk and protect the money they are lending you, they’ll also be the first ones to sit in the first row of a show where a daredevil will challenge death itself to lighten up the content of their boring day. They say they want a safe world, but they are the first to indicate they know daredevils are what make them money. Playing it safe in the back row doesn’t get any endeavor there, somewhere along the line of any investment a daredevil is needed to sign on the dotted line and take the plunge to perform under pressure or else.

Most of the rules of society are built for the timid, so not to hurt their feelings that they are not one of those daredevil types in an attempt to make the world appear more equal. The more we have explored socialism in our own culture, the more willing we have been to put safety helmets on our children as they ride their bicycles and listen to every warning label an insurance company gives us so that they won’t have to pay a costly payout when some kid breaks their arm falling off the roof of their house. But making children overly safe, we have also killed in them the daring percentage who will make it into adulthood fearless of the real performances the human race wants to see, and we end up with a bunch of people sitting in the audience waiting for a good show, but no Harry Houdini strapped in chains upside down in a vault of water. We want to see someone overcome such things and in all things that we consider successful and respectable, we have some nature of a daredevil there to show us that something can be done. This trait is useful in asking a member of the opposite sex out for a date, which for many people is very difficult, or in landing a big business deal against all odds where a lot of time, money, and people’s jobs are at great risk. People want to know that you are so confident in your craft that you will walk the tight rope without fearing falling because you are so good. They want to know that you aren’t afraid, because they are and they like knowing that you don’t wear a helmet because you don’t fear crashing. Those who cleave to safety are those sitting in the audience waiting to see that somebody can overcome death and worse to achieve something. And once they see it for themselves, they can then possibly not be ruled by fear, but can rather live more freely than otherwise would have been possible and to get more out of life than was previously thought.

Rich Hoffman