Risk and reward

Take risks

When it comes to the HIV crisis in South Africa, you wouldn’t think that there’s much to be done aside from educating people about safe sex practices. However, Aricent teamed up with other organizations, and after doing their own analysis, they found that the larger problem was the social stigma that went with simply getting tested for the disease.

They also realized that about 85 percent of the population had wireless phones, so they worked with these other organizations to create a system where a citizen could send a text message to receive information on getting a testing kit. Citizens could then have the kit sent to them, do the test, send it back in and be notified by text again when the results came back. The program launched a year ago, and within the first three months, the number of people being tested for AIDS quadrupled.

“It’s not a money-making proposition, but you know there’s a problem available, people are trying to solve it, and if you have an approach to discuss, sometimes people will say, ‘OK, let’s try it out,’ and it becomes a case about how technology … can really solve a problem,” Nandy says.

This testing system is just one example of how you have to try out ideas when you see problems. Sometimes ideas will be successful, as it was for this case, but sometimes they’ll fail. Either way, you have to be willing to implement new ideas if you want your business to grow.

“There are some times you fail, but that’s the other important thing,” Nandy says. “For a growth industry, you have to be not scared to fail. You have to embrace uncertainty, and you have to be someone who is aggressive in seeking new experiences, and you realize that even if you fail, you have to believe that you have broadened your repertoire, you have enhanced your knowledge base, enhanced your experience base. That’s the approach you have to take.”

The problem is that so many people are opposed to risk, especially in a down economy, as the leader, you have to show them that it’s OK.

“Reward people who have taken good risks and do not penalize people who have taken a risk,” he says. “It takes some building because people are generally risk-averse.”

But Nandy also cautions that you need to balance risk taking.

“It should not be experiment and risk run amok,” he says. “So it’s a nice balance between making people comfortable with taking risks and, at the same time, have a finance team that isn’t really a team of accountants but a team of strategic finance, who understand that it’s a percentage game.”

For example, they should u
nderstand that you may fund 10 projects, and maybe you succeed in three or four, but the success of those three or four will more than pay for the other six or seven that failed. Doing this gives people room to try new things, but it also helps move your company forward because you’re not relying on one home run but instead a series of singles and doubles.

“I think I would be adverse to take one bet of a particular side of $10 million,” Nandy says. “I would rather take 10 bets of $1 million each. Each company needs to choose where its comfort zone lies.”