Risk your job daily

I admit it: I don’t actually mean the title of this article literally. Risks are great but only when built on a foundation of knowing what the heck you are doing. Yet big bets when the moment is right are not only the only way to beat the house, they’re also critical to human happiness and advancement. And the moment is right far more often than we think.

Take a recent example of a Netflix customer service employee. “Captain” Mike took a risk: instead of offering normal customer service, he went the zany route and answered a customer support chat using a Star Trek roleplay. Which sounds weird but he pulls it off well and clearly the customer was pleased. Point for Mike: take a job where you are free to take the kind of bets you like to take and have a reasonable expectation they might pay off.

But let’s draw the flip side: maybe it didn’t work He could have drawn the sourpuss who just wanted it fixed without the cuteness. Customer could have complained and then it is up to Mike’s boss, who might have decided that customer service reps are a dime a dozen and kicked him to the curb. Which comes to the second point of Mike: work for people who will back the risks you take.

Even with a good boss, though, you can still get fired for a risk that goes badly. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a risk and some jobs are like that – there are times when you really only get one big bet and if the cards don’t go your way, you bust and have to walk away. Which brings us to the third point of Mike: there is a difference between betting your job and betting your career. Let’s say this went the wrong way: customer complains, Mike gets fired from Netflix. He bets his job, he loses.

He wouldn’t, however, have been out of a career. Because there are companies that do appreciate that kind of customer service (like, apparently, Netflix) and while he certainly would have lost wages and had to deal with a transition, Mike still would have ended up on his feet in his chosen field. There is a huge difference between betting your table stakes for today and betting your entire life savings.

And that’s grand master Mike (can you tell I haven’t been sleeping much) point number four: rewards. Because none of that bad stuff actually happened. He was a geek and the customer loved it and so did the internet and now Mike made Netflix shine like grain alcohol. Bonus. Promotion. Boom!

Except that’s not really the boom. The real boom is that in risking your job in pursuit of doing meaningful things, you not only widen the possibility that the bet itself will payoff in customer happiness/salary/title but you also get work worth doing. Meaning is the single most valuable currency in the workplace, and far and away does more to increase individual happiness than wages.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote something that can be imperfectly summarized as “the world is a good place and worth fighting for.” Sometimes, the Mikes get fired; the world isn’t perfect. But it is good and it is worth fighting for. Because if you’re not providing the best service you know how to, if you’re not risking when the moment is there, then you’re suggesting that the world isn’t worth betting big on. And who wants to live in a world like that?