Guest Column | January 22, 2013

Book Review: Taking Smart Risks

Ken Thoreson Acumen Management

How Sharp Leaders Win When Stakes are High

By Ken Thoreson, president and founder, Acumen Management Group Ltd.

This book had me from the opening chapter. Whether you are an entrepreneur wannabe, a small business owner, a new manager in a complex organization, or a corporate executive, this book, written by Doug Sundheim, is a must-read within your firm. In challenging times as well as times of growth, this book can be used as a textbook to improve your odds of success. I would recommend that you have each of your managers read the book and then discuss it weekly during your review meetings. This book not only explores the emotional and business reactions to making important decisions, but he provides a series of tools that can help everyone make better decisions!

The first chapter titled, “The Dangers of Playing it Safe,” covers a great story of a CNN/Money executive  that left the security of success within a large enterprise to go into the turnaround and high risk oriented opportunity.  When asked why the individual took the risk he stated: “The emotional cost of NOT risking and having to live with that regret was much greater in my mind than any career or financial costs I would incur.” This emotional element of accomplishment becomes a driving factor. However, the author makes it clear emotions and logic must be balanced.  His driving question to the individuals he interviewed was: “When was the last time you felt really alive?”

Sundheim begins to make the case on the quality of making the right decision by addressing two perceptions:

  1. Paralysis
  2. Power

The Paralysis perception is the result of focusing too much on the losses from taking risks; it makes everything out of the comfort zone look dangerous. The Power perception is the result of a balanced focus on the losses from both taking risks and NOT taking risks.  Helping the reader make the shift from paralysis to power is the purpose of the book.  His first tool, beginning on page 28, provides a basis to make the smart risk: it is a 4-box Cost-Benefit Analysis. He takes you through six pages of instructions, scoring, and expected results. I also liked the fact that each chapter included “Summary Notes,’ which were a great addition to recapture the contents.

In Part Two, you discover what motivates you as well as how to motivate your team to break though the risk prevention mode to “Find Something worth Fighting For.” The author explores a variety of situations where this fighting spirit made the difference for an individual to persevere or an entire enterprise to experience the emotion of growth and success. In many of my leadership programs and in our strategic planning sessions, we focus on this need for developing a vision and communicating it effectively.

The book is laid out with six parts and seventeen chapters that are designed to help any executive address a multitude of problems that can arise in making the right decision but also while that decision is being executed he provides additional insights/tools that will assist the individual or the team throughout the process. His interviews/stories are pertinent but his use of tools/graphs make in my mind a book that not only discusses a topic, but offers a prescriptive process towards successful execution.

His 13 endorsements speak to the quality of the content: published by McGraw Hill: Taking Smart Risks by Doug Sundheim.

Ken Thoreson “operationalizes” sales management systems and processes that pull revenue out of the doldrums into the fresh zone. During the past 15 years, our consulting, advisory, and platform services have illuminated, motivated, and rejuvenated the sales efforts for partners throughout North America.

 Ken provides Keynotes, consulting services and products designed to improve business performance. His latest book is “Recruiting High Performance Sales Teams”.