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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Risk taking and rewards in life, business and marketing

Among my experiences today, I rode the Roslyn Metro Escalator -- At 205 feet, 8 inches, the escalator to street level is the third longest continuous span escalator in the world, an engineering marvel.

Today, as we conducted interviews for writer/editors for Washington Construction News, I thought about the ironies and opportunities that define our lives and choices.

In Washington, we are resurrecting a business that had fallen apart -- yet in its original birth and its resurrection reveal intriguing lessons about risk, failure, choice, and revival.

(What is a Canadian doing in the U.S. capital city, publishing a local newspaper? And how, three years after closing the publication as our business almost failed, could I come back and re-start it in the midst of a major recession?)

I'm here because of accident, experience, and choices made in far away places at far away times.

What drove me to fly to Africa and live out the end of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe war as a journalist, only to return home just as a major recession in 1980 threatened to destroy the newspaper industry (and, like the current crisis, resulted in the failure of dozens of publications across North America.)

And why, back in 1987, did I decide to exploit a loophole in U.S. immigration regulations, collecting several thousand dollars in revenue as I embarked on my first visit to Washington -- to deliver applications for the first U.S. non-preference visa lottery. (Our initiative proved to be successful in more ways than one: Several of the approximately 300 people who paid us between $25 and $100 for their chance at a Green Card, indeed received one -- I did!)

These observations may seem like brags, and they are, in a way, but my list of dumb mistakes and blunders is equally impressive. Many of my lessons have been learned through the school of hard knocks.

Nevertheless, in Africa I learned an important lesson: Risk is a relative thing -- and perceived risk is often greater than real risk. After all, who really has more job security? The person who owns a business, keeps a close eye on it, and cuts where necessary, or the person with a job who can be cut anytime (or clings to a morale and mind-sapping job just because of "security"-- giving up soul and heart in exchange for a "steady pay cheque".)

If you are afraid now for your future, if you are yearning for security and hope, remember that the biggest risk may be taking none at all. This does not mean I'm advocating throwing good money after bad and investing real cash in an untried business. You need to find a way to start without any money (or very little, if you wish.)

Then, if you have the courage to follow your dreams, you will find opportunities in places and circumstances you least expect.

I'm happy to be thinking these thoughts as I sit in the airline lounge at Reagan National Airport waiting for my flight home.

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