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Taking Risks as a Trainer

Risk taking is becoming a core skill for the 21st Century. If we are a ‘risk society’ that focuses on the future and dealing with uncertainty and insecurity, then the Public Safety Sector that faces this daily should provide some great examples of risk takers!

We are in an industry where we can see historically how research, trial and error and innovation has led to changes in the way we do things. We all love finding out about innovative equipment, technology and ways to train and learn in the emergency services with endless conference sessions dedicated to sharing the ideas of others.

It is often said that if you keep doing what you have always done… you will get what you have always gotten. Our society has developed an understanding that risk is integral to innovation and that advances are dependent on experimentation. It is acknowledged that taking risks can be demanding on resources and effort, but the rewards can be great when it leads to success.

So when it comes to actually making the leap, why are so many of us trainers reluctant to take more risks and try new things?  (Hint: probably similar to why our learners are also nervous about trying new things!!)

Why don’t we?

Research would suggest that maybe one or more of the following is influencing our decision to try:

  1. As humans we don’t want to fail, and we want to avoid criticism.
    A feature built into our brains! Elbert Hubbard said, “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Yet this is obviously not the way to discover innovative or improved ways to train and work. This is the way to be stale, boring and complacent. If we are encouraging the right culture in our training and organisation, then we should not be afraid of trying something.
  2. We like to think we are “masters” of what we already do… and maybe we haven’t yet embraced a growth mindset.
    When we try something new, high probability is we will not be perfect and things will go wrong. This is a bit of a hit to our self-image. Maybe we need to remember what Kim Collins said – “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.” In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. Rather than thinking about revealing a weakness, you embrace a chance to grow.
  3. We lack confidence in ourselves – we don’t think we have the skills or knowledge to do something new or innovative.
    Yet as Carl Jung said, “Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.” Talking with anyone who has ever made a discovery or developed an innovative technique or piece of equipment will tell you about how they used partial ideas, guesses, trial and error to eventually develop their knowledge and skills to create something that worked. You just have to get started and try… multiple times.

How could we?

Here are some suggestions that may encourage you to try and take a little bit more risk:

  • Make a conscious effort to change your attitude
    Override your natural instinct to stay quiet or just do what you have always done. Try delivering a different topic or course. Look for opportunities where you can try an activity a little bit differently, or put into action that idea you have been brewing in the back of your mind. If it doesn’t work out, reflect and try again.
  • Observe and reflect – when you are not the trainer
    Anybody who pays attention can see things that can be improved. A little tweak to a process or a change to the way we explain things could improve things for everyone. Watching other people train or do tasks on the job or at an assessment is a great opportunity to gather data and consider changes to your training.
  • Ask others
    Just because you are the trainer does not mean new ideas need to come from you. Maybe one of your learners or another person in your organisation has an idea or a possible innovation. You can help support it and test it. As a start to taking more risks, try including questions in your training such as ‘How else can we do this?’ or ‘Today we are going to do this but what will happen if we change this one thing?’

Remember that this type of risk-taking is a chosen and often learned behavior. (It is not something to be managed and minimalized or avoided.)  We can find the balance between working outside our comfort zones and still retain good judgment about what is safe and best for our learners.


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