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What the ‘Occupy’ movement is missing

Dan Bobinski

Agree or disagree with the list of demands put forth by folks “Occupying” Wall Street and other places, there’s one area where I think they’re missing the boat, and that’s the need for personal responsibility.

Personally, I find some of the group’s “demands” to be legitimate, while others I believe are totally out to lunch. I won’t debate the merit of those here, but I do want to focus on what they’re missing – the need for personal responsibility and why it should be occupying our minds.

Our society experienced phenomenal growth because we’ve operated on the principles of risk and reward. In other words, people receive rewards because they are willing to take risks. For example, we listen to music on iPods because Apple Computers took a risk and dropped the word “computers” from their name so they could branch out into other areas of personal electronics.

Their risk turned out to be successful and the company created products so popular that millions of people wanted them – which, in turn, created jobs for hundreds of thousands of people.

Big risk. Big reward. Not just for Apple, but for a lot of people.

On a much smaller scale, a woman I know (let’s call her Elaine) recently quit a 20-year career in banking to start her own business. She walked away from the safety net of a 401(k) and guaranteed paid vacation for the opportunity to do what she’s passionate about – helping other people gain financial independence.

One would think that working in a bank would afford her that opportunity, but Elaine says it’s quite the opposite. “They complicate things that don’t need to be complicated, and that ties your hands from truly helping customers get their needs met,” she said. Since starting her own company, Elaine feels free, personally fulfilled, and truly helpful to other people.

Big risk. Big reward. Not just for Elaine, but for a lot of people.

The risk/reward principles work for everyone. Any business person knows that identifying a niche market and striving to develop a product or service to fill that niche is a risk. The venture may fail and the person may end up financially depleted. Or the business may succeed and the person can become quite successful. Either way, those who understand the principles of risk vs. reward are often the same people who are willing to take responsibility for their mistakes, make adjustments and sacrifices before pressing on in a quest for success.

One of my clients is Ally Grabel, a 30-something mom in Michigan who made a name for herself earlier in life as an extreme skateboarder. When she learned that a huge need existed in her community for medical billing specialists, Ally took a risk and started a school to help low-income moms learn how to do medical billing. She didn’t have a lot of financial backing, but she pressed forward, understanding the principles of risk vs. reward.

Today, Ally employs several instructors and has equipped hundreds of people with employable skills. Her efforts could have flopped, which would have cost her a lot of time and money. Instead, her risk is paying rewards. Ally says they’re not huge financial rewards, but she’s making a living while she’s helping others do the same.

Big risk. Big rewards. Not just for Ally but for a lot of people.

Interestingly, some of our most basic creature comforts came about as a result of someone taking a risk. As an example, today we take interior lighting for granted, but did you know that Thomas Edison was the subject of intense ridicule for even trying to invent an electric light bulb? He risked his entire reputation (which was considerable) on the belief that it could be done. People wrote him off as a nut, but Edison persevered.

So, the next time you turn on a light, please remember that without one person’s risk, you would not have the benefit of light with the flick of a switch.

In reality, risk vs. rewards has been an operating principle from the dawn of time. Want mammoth meat for the winter? Got to risk your life hunting one. Want to travel down a river? You’ll risk your life getting in a boat. The truth rings through history: No risk, no reward.

I certainly don’t advocate risk for the sake of risk. All risks need to be calculated for their potential reward and decisions of “go/no go” need to be made based on those calculations. But to totally eliminate the principle of risk vs. reward from our thinking – especially in terms of our work life – is ignoring a basic human tenet that has driven mankind to success throughout the ages.

I would hope these principles occupy our minds when we consider the Occupiers’ demands for how our working lives need to be changed.

Dan Bobinski is a management trainer, best-selling author and director at the Center for Workplace Excellence. He makes his home in Boise. Reach him at (208) 375-7606 or dan@workplace-excellence.com.

About Dan Bobinski