“dice” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Amy the Nurse
In virtually every field, it’s the risk-takers who receive the greatest adulation. Not for them the slow and steady approach to success; they’d rather burn brightly, rise meteorically, and run the risk of failure rather than settle for mediocrity.
They do say that fortune favours the bold and (almost) all of the examples that follow do tend to bear out this theory, but spare a thought for all those Icaruses who have tried to fly too near to the sun and have paid the price for their rash decisions.
The world of sport
From the world of sport the racing driver Ayrton Senna is a prime example. The Brazilian driver’s bold style, unfortunately, cost him his life in the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 but before the tragic event he had won no less than three World Championships thanks to his bold and aggressive driving. As Senna himself put it “By being a racing driver you are under risk all the time . . . and if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver because we are competing, we are competing to win. And the main motivation to all of us is to compete for victory”.
The more sedate sport of golf isn’t without its risk takers either although, admittedly, the stakes are rather less high than when you’re hurtling around a racing circuit at 180 mph. For example Phil Mickelson may be known for his calm and methodical approach but he’s equally famous for taking on the more risky shot when given the choice. Sometimes this has failed dramatically, for example in the 2006 US Open when it cost him the title. But he was vindicated four years later in the 2010 US Masters when, rather than playing it safe, he took on a tricky six iron shot in an all-or nothing attempt to get near the pin. He succeeded, and went on to beat Lee Westwood by three clear shots.
Of course the business world is another field in which there is certainly no shortage of examples of those who have had so much faith in their abilities that failures simply not an option. For example, from the earliest days of the internet Elon Musk saw the potential of creating a secure payment system that sites could use for transactions without having to deal directly with banks. Thus the now ubiquitous PayPal was born. But rather than sitting back on his billions Musk was determined to sink a great deal into two fields that, at the time, seemed certain to be real money pits, space exploration and electric cars. But, despite some rocky moments in the past, both SpaceX and Tesla are now both thriving companies with the former being instrumental in Musk’s ambition to establish a colony on Mars by 2040.
“Mars” (CC BY 2.0) by Kevin M. Gill
For a more down-to-earth success story we only need to look at one of the biggest names in global parcel delivery services, FedEx. Today, its vans are a familiar sight around the world but the company very nearly didn’t happen. In its early days, the founder and owner Frederick W. Smith was facing a dilemma. Having been denied a bank loan and with just $5,000 in his business account he decided to put all his creditors on hold and headed off to Las Vegas to try his luck on the blackjack tables. He allegedly won $27,000, more than enough to keep the company afloat and the rest, as they say, is history. Although if he was in the same position today he could also have saved himself the air fare to Vegas and tried his luck at an online casino instead. With so many also offering no deposit introductory welcome bonuses he might not even have had to put up the stake money himself.
As with any field where there are huge sums involved, films and showbiz are two areas where big risks can sometimes pay off. The most profitable example ever of studio being persuaded against their better judgment came with Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. The low budget film had been making wakes at various horror movie festivals before it was picked up by Dreamworks who intended to remake the film. But the director Peli insisted that studio execs run a test screening of the original first. So many people walked out of this, finding the film too scary to watch, that the studio agreed to just make a few changes and release the original film nationwide. The result: box office returns of $193 million making it the most profitable film ever made in terms of return on investment.
Finally, no matter how big the star, there’s always risk involved whenever they put new product out on the market – and Beyoncé is a good case in point. Prior to the release of her 2013 album Beyoncé the singer was so nervous about negative feedback she might receive that she ordered no pre-publicity should be organised. Even for a star of her stature this was an undoubtedly risky move. But there was no need to worry as it was an immediate smash, so much so that the Harvard Business School even wrote up a business case study all about it.
As you can see, the world’s full of risk takers whose eyes are so firmly on the prize that they’re blinkered to the possible downsides of their actions. But whatever you think of adopting this kind of strategy for yourself, you’ll have to admit that the results are, almost always, well worth it in the end.
So next time you’re presented with routes A or B don’t automatically choose the safest route. Go for it and who knows where it could lead?