Home Regular Contributors John Liston Do We Take Risks or Try to Eliminate Them?

Do We Take Risks or Try to Eliminate Them?

John Liston.

I was attending a meeting with my colleague, Ralph, when somebody said to him, “I hear you gamble,” to which Ralph responded, “No, I don’t gamble. I play poker.” With a look of confusion, the inquirer asked, “Aren’t they the same?” Ralph went on to explain the time and energy he has invested in understanding the odds and opportunities associated with playing poker. He knows the risks and chooses which hands to play. Ralph has both lost at the first table and gone on to win an event on the Canadian Poker tour.

Entrepreneurs, by design, are willing to take a risk in exchange for an opportunity. It is inherent in their makeup; they calculate the risk and do everything they can to mitigate it. If their calculations are correct and conditions play out as expected, there is an opportunity to have a gain commensurate with that risk. They also bear the loss of miscalculation and changed conditions. This risk/reward pairing is a fundamental characteristic of a free market economy, and we see it played out every day in an example called the stock market.

Entrepreneurs, these salt-of-the-earth people who had no choice but to make it work, are the people who built Alberta through the 1800s, through our joining Confederation in 1905, and continue to drive our province today. In Alberta the pioneering spirit is in our blood!

As long as we want to progress, as a province, as a country, and as members of the world economy, we need the risk-taking entrepreneurs and the environment that encourages them to take the risk in hopes of a potential reward. A recent celebration of the Apollo mission points to this.

“We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…..”

Excerpt from a speech John F. Kennedy gave before Congress on May 25, 1961 

In his speech, Kennedy characterized space as a new frontier, invoking the pioneer spirit that dominated North American folklore. He infused the speech with a sense of urgency and destiny, and emphasized the freedom enjoyed by Americans to choose their destiny rather than have it chosen for them. 

As Albertans, we need to be mindful that the advancements of our future, whether it be renewable energy, artificial intelligence, oil and gas, or blockchain, will be best nurtured in an environment that removes the roadblocks for the risk-taking entrepreneur, and allows them to take us into the future. We will never remove risk completely; government, and its role in society, is to encourage those who take the risks and put in place regulations that still allow progress, while helping mitigate risk while we create a future for us all.

Our kids deserve an entrepreneurial Alberta that has been the underpinning of what so many of us have experienced over the last 115 years!