Taking Risks: The Most Important Thing You Can Do

Though I watch little broadcast television, I was well aware of Steve Wozniak’s recent appearance on Dancing With the Stars on ABC, but the whole reality TV show genre is one I find revolting as “nasty” (or the possibility thereof) is the way the judges ensure they rile up the crowd and get people to tune in and turn their attention to their little program. 

Early this morning, I came across this post from Laughing Squid that had the video of Woz’s appearance embedded within it. Watching it, I was well aware that a 59 year old geek whose gained a few pounds over the years (and man, can I ever relate!) is not particularly svelte nor adept at cutting a rug.

Though two of the judges were fairly complimentary — and supportive of the risk Woz took to be out there — one of the judges (Bruno Tonioli, whose contribution to the world is being a “top choreographer”…whoopee) made a crack about his dance that it was, “…like a teletubbie going mad.

What an asshole. The kicker, however, is that it doesn’t matter because…

…of course, it’s exactly that sort of nasty remark that gets people to watch American Idol and Dancing With the Stars, and precisely why this sort of “trailer porn” is something I don’t pay attention to these days.

Sadly and understandably, Woz key’ed into that nasty remark in his post-dance posting at Woz.org. He was clearly stung by that remark which I completely understand on a bunch of levels I won’t go into here…but suffice to say that there were tens of thousands of people pulling for him, numerous positive remarks, a recognition by the audience and viewers that he took a huge risk, but the Bruno dig is what stands out.

When deep, cutting criticism occurs it makes everyone gunshy about taking risks (and the recent Skittles controversy is undoubtedly making organizations, watching the evolving social communications space, careful about taking social media risks). It’s also one of the reasons I do not allow any criticism when I lead ideation sessions for companies and people in the sessions are involved in focused brainstorming. One cutting remark can kill an idea faster than anything, and there’s ample time in the planning process to deal with downside and the critics.

It’s also why I don’t spend a lot of time criticizing or judging. It’s not productive. It doesn’t move the world forward. It doesn’t build…it only tears down and I’d much rather invest my psychic and physical energy toward the positive.

I can only say, Woz, that your taking this risk and doing it meant more to me (and countless others) than you will ever know. While not equal to you changing the world with Apple, the purity of your risk taking by being on this program, the clear joy you projected, and the leadership you showed millions of others through your willingness to expose yourself in this way and project fun, is an inspiration.

Taking risks is the most important thing you can do (especially now in this time of economic downturn). Yes, they have to be calculated risks — and one could argue that Woz’s calculations on his chances of being a crowd favorite overcoming his geek-centric dancing was perhaps off — but if you and I don’t do anything, try and explore, the world doesn’t move forward and your ideas will be just that…an idea. (I should note that most venture capitalists I know really believe that ideas are a dime-a-dozen and those who can execute on ideas are rare and why the invest in ideas + teams).

Let me end with something from Teddy Roosevelt I have on my office wall that says everything about why Woz matters and Bruno’s bullshit remark, intended to be outrageous, mean and nasty, doesn’t matter:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.


  1. GraemeThickins on March 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Right on, Steve. Let’s hear it for positivity.

    And here’s another shout-out for Woz — for joining Fusion-io as chief scientist. It’s great to see him still reaching out to do more. It shows the man has a lot more yet to give.

    (And thanks also for reminding me why I don’t watch much TV.)


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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.