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Rich Barton
Rich Barton says that “risk-taking teaches us how to achieve success by working around obstacles.” (GeekWire File Photo)

Rich Barton has taken plenty of risks during his entrepreneurial career as the co-founder of such companies as Zillow, Expedia and Glassdoor. It’s apparently a trait he’s passed on to his son, Russell, as Barton explains in a new blog post highlighting the rewards that can come from swinging for the fences.

Barton writes about his desire not to discourage his son’s daredevil spirit so as not to introduce a fear where none existed. Certainly without jeopardizing his son’s safety, Barton explains that the thinking here is to instill a spirit of risk taking in the boy which could pay off later in life.

“I didn’t want to start down a path where I stifled his curiosity or his ability to execute against his big ideas,” Barton says.

And it’s a mindset that Barton equates to American innovation, whether it’s curing a disease or putting a person on the moon or creating a product to make lives easier.

Barton, who founded Expedia while working at Microsoft, is well known for sharing his theories of success, whether it’s on the importance of a healthy work environment or advising students on why they should study data or analytics in school.

His post on Thursday expands beyond just saying “take a risk” and highlights four key contributing factors for leaders and companies to stay focused on as they take “big swings.”

  • Promote a culture of “intraprenuership”: “Great companies are those that foster a culture of internal entrepreneurship,” Barton says. And while these companies encourage employees to step forward with great ideas, there need to be concepts and principles in the company mission and values that make this clear, and a framework to support.
  • Set BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals): Barton has promoted this idea previously, centered around the thought that no idea should sound too crazy — like attracting a million Zillow users per month in the first six months with no marketing spend (it worked). It’s the ideas along the way to the BHAG which can also pay off.
  • Promote big ideas: This may seem redundant to big swings and BHAGs, but the point is that an environment must exist where it’s OK if the big ideas fail.
  • Find skilled anglers: Risk the best talent on a risk-filled start-up within the company — sounds crazy, right? But Barton says for a crazy idea to work it needs to have the best talent working on it.

For further insight, read Barton’s full post on Medium.

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