The comfort zone of the risk seeker and risk avoider

My father used to say: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.“ It was at odds with what my mother continues to say to this day: “Do you really want to take that risk? Be careful!” We all hear those two voices in our heads when we have to make decisions. They also occur  in organizations: there are typical risk seekers and there are risk avoiders. Entire departments and even entire organizational cultures lean more towards one side or the other. The nature of the work predicts the type of people that populate a department or organization. For example, a financial department or organization will take in far more people that avoid risks or want to control them than a theater group or a sports team. In the latter professions you’re required to stretch outside of your comfort zone. 

When circumstances change or the need for renewal arises, those two sides in us, and in organizations, often compete with each other. To some, the comfort zone is sticking to what was and what worked. To others, the comfort zone is to step into the unknown and discover new things. When things stagnate and life energy goes down, we need to step outside of our comfort zone because we usually don’t need more of the same. We need something that’s opposite to what we’re used to. We need guts to allow that to happen, because stepping outside of what we feel comfortable with triggers the typical fear responses: 

  • We procrastinate (flight)
  • We resist the changes (fight) or
  • We completely ignore the change (freeze).

Daring to take risk and to avoid risk!

The worst thing we can do is to try to evolve by doing more, or less, of the same. And that’s just what our fear impulses tell us to do: stay in your comfort zone! The risk avoiders will seek for ways to raise their level of control. The risk seekers will want to take even more risks and do new experiments. Unfortunately, we initially don’t recognize our own reactions as fear responses. Both risk avoiders and risk seekers will support their response with evidence, quotes, articles and scientific research. And boths sides will carefully avoid any facts and arguments that weaken their view. You will probably recognize these patterns in domestic or business conflicts and, on a larger scale, on the political stage. 

This polarization may feel right and energetic for a while. Who doesn’t like an adrenaline boost every once in a while. So why not pick a fight? But it will get boring soon.

Look at risk avoiding and taking as two extreme positions of the pendulum of a clock. Depending on the development phase and the context, results sometimes require to stay put and don’t do anything you haven’t done before. Sometimes they require you to rise above yourself and plunge into the unknown. If the pendulum is at its extreme point (either excessive control or excessive risk taking), it will take guts to reverse the movement. For the risk seeker it takes guts to avoid risk (“Boring, stagnation, I already know.”). For the risk avoider, it takes guts to take risks (“Unknown, no certainty for success, no proof that it will work.”).

Take a look at your work, your life and relationships. See if you recognize the early warning signs of necessary change in some part of those areas. Where do you avoid risk, while something is brewing beneath the surface. Do you avoid to something that you are afraid to say? Or does it require you to do something that you are not sure of? And where do you constantly take risks while the results require you to calm down? Have the guts to feel anxious, insecure, weak, sick or nauseous, because that is the price for getting out of your comfort zone and grow towards the next level!

George Parker
+31 6 5110 8415