What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
With rendition switcher


Question: Why do we take risks?

Laurence Gonzales: If you think about the idea of risk, it’s very simple.  In order to do anything, you have to take a risk of some kind.  So if you’re a baby, you know, you have to stand up, risk falling down in order to learn to walk. 

Every time you eat something; you’re taking a risk of being poisoned.  You get married you risk divorce, you get a job you risk getting fired, everything’s a risk.  So how do you approach that? 

Well I like to tell people to do what’s called a risk/reward loop.  You ask, what is my goal, what am I trying to achieve?  And then you ask, what am I willing to pay for that?  So for example, if you’re going, oh let’s say, white water rafting, you say, well what am I trying to achieve?  Am I going to be the world champion?  Am I just out for the weekend?  Am I willing to die for this thrill?  And the more you do that the more likely you are to come up with some reasonable system of checks and balances on those extreme risks that you might take.  

If you’re just crossing an intersection for example, how much of a hurry are you in?  Are you willing to get a broken leg or a broken head to get across that intersection?

Question: Has your research given you any insight into the risk taking on Wall Street?

Laurence Gonzales: A lot of these principles of survival that I talk about can be easily applied to business and financial affairs and Wall Street.  And one of the things I frequently point out is that most people don’t do a good job of distinguishing between luck and skill.  If they do something and it works out to their benefit they say, “See how good I am?  I’m going to do it again.”  That’s the other thing that success does for you.  

Success tells you you’re doing the right thing and it tells you to do it again.  So on Wall Street before the recent recession, traders were rewarded for doing very stupid things.  And it was pure luck, it was pure chance of the circumstances that they were rewarded and they did it again and again and again because it rewarded them again, and again.  And nobody ever stopped to say, boy this is really stupid, but I think I’ll do it again.  The reward made them think it was smart and that they were skilled instead of just being the victims of chance.  And of course, finally when the luck ran out, everybody collapsed.

More from the Big Idea for Saturday, November 03 2012

Today's Big Idea: Serendipity

It may seem like an odd thing to consider the idea of serendipity right now, considering how unlucky so many people are who lost their power or their homes, or even loved ones. However, many of us... Read More…


The Calculus of Risk-Taking

Newsletter: Share: