Word-Of-the-Week #764: Risk

March 28, 2019 by  

Riskthe intentional interaction with uncertainty. 

How do you feel about taking a risk? Does uncertainty cause stress? Or does it feel exhilarating?

This week features excerpts from the LA Times business section “How I Made It,” by Charles Fleming. “Jason Chinnock, the 47-year-old chief executive of Ducati North America, took a wildly circuitous route to one of the motorcycle industry’s most coveted corner offices, including stints as a touring rock musician, Desert Storm tank pilot and marketing director for Lamborghini. 

  • Young rebel – One of two children raised in a conservative Christian home in Las Vegas, Chinnock was an energetic kid obsessed with skateboarding and BMX bicycling. He wasn’t a great student, and he wasn’t very good at following the rules. “If you told me not to do something, that made me want to do it,” Chinnock said. Among the rules: No motorcycles. He rode his friends’ bikes, and he remembers his first crash: “After I hit a cinder-block wall, hard, I got up, dusted myself off, and said, ‘I want to do that again!’ The sense of adventure and risk were exhilarating.”
  • Fateful music – The family church featured regular musical performances. When his family hosted the drummer of a band visiting from Chicago, he saw his first career path open before him. “I thought musicians were so cool,” he said. He learned to play guitar and joined several rock bands, hoping to make music his main occupation. His bandmates had other ideas. “My last year of high school I suddenly realized that all the friends I was in bands with had applied to college,” he recalled. “I thought we were going to live the dream! But they said they were going to get a life.”
  • Shifting gears – Chinnock’s mechanical engineer father and counselor mother couldn’t afford to send him to college, and he was afraid to take out student loans. So he did what looked like the next logical thing: Join the military, serve two years and then go to college on the GI Bill. Because combat-related specialties earned more credits toward college, he expressed an interest in armored units. “I tested high, so they gave me a choice. I chose Europe and tanks.”
  • Growing up – During Desert Storm “A couple of guys said, ‘I didn’t sign up for this.’ Well, I didn’t either. But when I swore in, that’s the commitment I made. I had to follow through. That’s a moment where I think I grew up a little bit. And I realized I was not long for the military. I didn’t have the heart for it.”
  • On the road again – After the Army, he enrolled at Colorado State University. He studied music and journalism, started a record label and formed a band, pursuing the old dream of making his living as a musician. He and his band mates toured the U.S. It wasn’t glamorous, and it wasn’t profitable. “We’d have to come home and work to make money to go back on the road,” Chinnock said. Stubborn, he persevered for seven years. “I didn’t think I was going to be Paul McCartney, but I expected I could do what I loved to do and still pay the bills,” he said. “Then I realized that wasn’t going to happen.”

  • A new dream – Chinnock changed priorities. “I decided to make the thing I was passionate about, which was music, and make it a hobby, and take my hobby, which was motorcycling, and make it into a job,” he said. “So I went into my local motorcycle shop, where I bought all my parts, and said to the owner, ‘I want to get into this industry.’”He got a $6-an-hour position as parts manager spending nights at home studying parts. In three years, he’d risen to general manager. When the motorcycle dealership was sold, he reached out to the head of Ducati’s American operations, who brought him aboard in 2004.
  • Ride to the top – He served as the American regional sales representative before rising to national sales and marketing director and in 2016, became the American CEO.
  • Lessons in mistakes Chinnock encourages his people to make mistakes and learn lessons, as he did himself. “When I talk to my team, I tell them not to be afraid to make the mistake. Make it, learn from it and don’t make it again. That’s a big part of the ability to make decisions and move ahead quickly.”

The alternative, he believes, is a life of too much calculation and caution — safe but not perhaps as instructive. “I’d rather regret something I have done than regret something I haven’t done,” he said. “Every mistake I made helped me later.” 

His idea of a good day off is a full day on a bike and he tries to ride the way he tries to live, “like you don’t know what’s around the next corner.” That means staying alert, excited and prepared to give it 100%. 

“Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing right, so you have to do your best or not do it at all,” Chinnock said. “Otherwise, what do you want on your tombstone? ‘Here’s someone who did pretty good’? I don’t want that. My tombstone should read, ‘If you don’t risk anything, you risk everything.’”

This week’s focus is on taking a risk. Are you giving your best efforts and doing what’s right?

When was the last time you did something and weren’t certain of the outcome? How does it make you feel when you make a mistake?

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