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Thousands of spectators flooded into the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York City.

It was 1853.

Elisha Graves Otis stood on an elevating platform. As it rose up high above the crowd, Otis took out a knife; it became immediately apparent to everyone that he intended to cut the cable!

The crowd of people feared the same results that they had read about or seen: a quick plunge, to a likely death, or serious injury…

But not this time. 

With the cable fully severed, Elisha Otis’s platform did not plummet.  Otis’s safety brake produced a slight drop, until the spring kicked out into the guide rails.  Otis is said to have shouted, “All safe, gentleman, all safe.”

Otis sold 42 freight elevators in the two years after his exposition debut.

After his death in 1861, Otis’s company was left to his two sons; by 1873, they had sold over two thousand elevators worldwide.

Adapted from the Otis Elevator Blog

How risk averse are you?

I find it hard to answer that question.  I hedge; it depends.  I’m not sure I would have been an early rider of Otis’s elevator.

That’s a lie, really.  I am sure; I would definitely not have been.  No way!

But when it comes to organizational change, I’m pretty much all in.

I’m afraid that inclination hasn’t particularly helped me over the back half of my career as I’ve pitched changes in structure, policy, process, and culture…  I can paint a pretty compelling picture of the benefits, and I do alright projecting the costs.

But I under appreciate the downside risks.  I, consequently, short change the risk mitigation section of the proposal.  In fact, sometimes I omit it entirely.

The tenor of the responses are wide-ranging, but the result is disturbingly the same.  They don’t relish the ride I’m pitching.  So, no go.  They’re not on board.

I think they were all looking for Otis’s brake.

And who could blame them?  I wouldn’t have went up with Otis … and I’m sure I would have wrestled him down to the platform once I saw that knife come out …

Fear is a powerful emotion.  It stops us in our tracks.  We don’t go forward.

Or up.

Elisha Graves Otis did not invent the elevator.  He invented the elevator brake.

But the brake wasn’t his only innovation.  He innovated in influencing.  He created quite the spectacle to demonstrate the brake’s effectiveness.

Nothing to fear.

The sky is now the limit.

But we needed to trust that brake first.