010 20: The Risk Worth Taking

Balancing stones

 

“What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.” — Isaac Newton

Biographies of famous scientists tend to edit out their mistakes. Often we underestimate if not omit the degree of risk in their work.

Anything a famous scientist did that seemingly wasn’t a mistake is now conventional wisdom. And because of that, their decisions don’t seem to have been that much of a risk.

The impression we get is that their unerring judgment lead straight to truths that nobody else noticed.

Newton made three bets on problems that no one knew yet what their payoff would be. To him, the three problems seemed roughly equally promising.

How we explain the payoff and the risks he took on mechanics, alchemy and theology are his influential contribution to what we now call physics.

What Newton understood is that following the norm is not as great as creating the next thing.

In any endeavour, we ought to give ourselves permission to take risks and create junk.

Every decision we make in life has a risk factor. Some risks are greater than others.

Risks, where we are seen, are harder to implement owing to the fear of being judged. Even the smartest, most imaginative people are surprisingly conservative when deciding on risk.

Once we begin to fear we get sucked into working on common problems. Throughout our culture we’ve seen the pattern in many different fields of work: even though lots of people have worked hard, only a small fraction of the space of possibilities has been explored.

When we take risks, the purpose is our true north. Finding a purpose for our work to existing at the right time and place is what inspires.

Times change and new problems become and ideas evolve. Like any other operating system, there’s often a need for a revamp.

Let’s not opt to wait for inspiration to hit before we can move forward. Sometimes it never happens.

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