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Ethics When Deciding to Take Risks

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on May 27, 2021, 5:47 pm fr0m What's In It For Me
Quote from Matthew Whitewood on May 26, 2021, 8:34 p

Most of the times there is little risk as you said.
I don't think a hospital is legal-trigger-happy during this covid period.
Or whether it's painting a donor who gives negative feedback as "aggressive".
They probably want as many donations as possible.
What image would it portray of a hospital spending time to go against a donor?


I think that in many ways, this is an ethical question.

The question to me is:

Are you willing to take a personal risk, to deliver what's potentially valuable?

Of course, this is not to say that you should necessarily take that risk.
Or even that it's a good thing -in many situations, it's probably a waste of your time with little added value to the receiver-.

But that's the question.

As an example where the answer was "yes" for me, was in this thread.

Giving feedback had a time cost, a potential relationship cost, and maybe even a business cost.
The risks was that a guy who loved the website and called me "mentor" was going to take my feedback personally, with the result of turning a former fan into a potential hater, with a loss of a future customer, and a potential future referrer of more readers/customers.

In that instance, I decided it was worth the risk.

Many other times, the answer may be "no".

My rule of thumb though is "if I care about this person/institution, and if there are reasonable chances they'll gain from it, I'm inclined to go for it". Still doesn't mean I necessarily will, as I might just too be busy at that time.

On the other hand, I think one should also not let fear govern them.
The way I see it, if you want to achieve almost anything at scale while speaking your mind, some escalations and mud slinging along the way are part of the journey.


I am quoting the whole post from Lucio because I think it flows well and provides good context.
I think if one thinks deeper on this ethical issue of whether to take social risks, it has quite deep implications about how you look at life and your decision-making.

How to View Risk-Taking? Personal Ethics Help

As Lucio has mentioned, taking risks comes down to

  • What you value
  • Your standards of what you accept in yourself and your external environment
  • The degree of risk

Having strong values and clear standards for yourself will make decision-making simple for situations entailing low risk.
It provides focus on your direction and eliminates distractions.

Sometimes taking the risk and things not working out is a valuable source of information too.
Because now you know to move on from that idea, person, incident, etc.

Lucio mentioned before that giving tough feedback can be used as a screening tool.
In the case of giving hospital feedback, it can be similarly used to evaluate whether this hospital is an organisation that you want to continue giving your time and attention to.
We can argue that both cases are a win-win.

The hospital takes the feedback favourably.
Awesome, now you can work with them better.
The senior managers at the hospital are angry and feel threatened.
Then now you know. Not high on your priority list anymore.

Higher-Risk Decisions - Find Out Enough to Decide

For decisions entailing higher risk but more potential upside, then it's best to think about the decision more objectively to arrive at a conclusion.
But not too long.
Jeff Bezos, ex-CEO of Amazon, mentioned that being 70% sure of the best decision is optimal.
A good combination of having enough information and being fast in decision-making.

Reversible Vs Irreversible Decisions

Another thing to note is that you can course-correct after making the decision.
Many decisions are reversible as Jeff Bezos mentions.
For irreversible decisions, then it pays to spend more time thinking about the best path to take.

Hindsight Bias

Furthermore, from the book Fool by Randomness, we must be careful whether to attribute our successes or failures to our past decisions. Hindsight bias is often strong.

On an emotional level, this means that if you believe you made the right decision and failed, there are no regrets.
Because you made the right decision and you just got unlucky.
In my personal opinion, having a strong compass is an important ethical standard for a leader.


In entrepreneurship, you are sort of taking a huge risk on an educated guess on a service/product that you think will bring benefit to a segment of society.
There's a huge element of social risk: whether people find what you offer valuable and whether people find joining your team valuable for themselves if you are scaling up.
The mindset is to take the plunges and adapt based on feedback, observation & judgement.
Complete failure to take off is also possible but that's part and parcel of the journey too.

The time is never wasted if you made your best efforts and are going for something that aligns with your values and standards.
But do find out fast and adapt fast to save time & money. (and other people's resources too)

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Similarly, the people who climb the corporate ladder are people who take educated risks as well.
The people who play it safe rarely climb to senior management positions.
They also have a strong compass about what they want in their career.

As Lucio mentions, we can argue the Machiavellian route can be effective.
But that comes with risks too because your career can fall apart when people find out that you have no ethics and standards.
So it's best to have real value-adding results on your side while playing the game.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

All great points, Matthew.

One more point that one might add to your already great overview might be:

  • What makes you feel good

That's also a good insurance policy if something goes wrong.
You acted along your moral and ethical standards, and sought to add value... If people still take it the wrong way, well... You know you're in the right so you can also tell yourself "it's alright, I've done my part (and maybe they weren't ready to take it the way I hoped)"

Matthew Whitewood and Stef have reacted to this post.
Matthew WhitewoodStef
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?