I love talking about risk.  Because ultimately, the day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.  If it wasn’t a crazy idea the day before, it wouldn’t be a real breakthrough.  It would be an incremental improvement.  So the question I ask people in their companies, in their organizations is, where are you taking big risks?  Because if you’re not taking big risks then you’re destined to not changing anything or making small incremental improvements.  But if you’re playing a big game in the world, then you have to take risks.  

I look at the United States, for example, I think we’re killing ourselves on how risk adverse we’ve become.  Large government agencies have stopped taking big risks because they’re worried about Congressional investigations.  Large corporations stopped taking big risks because they’re worried about stock prices plummeting.  And really, the entrepreneurial sector ends up being a place where people are willing to risk it all.  You risk you reputation, you risk the capital you raised.  But ultimately, you’re going to be potentially changing the world.  

So, I think about risk a lot.  And I think about encouraging smart risk taking.  Now, taking risks doesn’t mean being stupid.  It really involves taking measured risks and really understanding how to mitigate those risks in one way or another.  So when we announced the Ansari X Prize, I took a huge risk in announcing it without having the $10 million in place.  and ultimately it paid off.  It might not have, we might not be having this conversation to day if we never raised the money, but I thought that, you know, ultimately this was a solid enough idea that there would be somebody who would be willing to put up the funds.  It took me five years, far longer than I expected.  But ultimately in taking that risk, it actually forced me to never give up because I had placed so much on the table in terms of my reputation, the reputation of my friends and colleagues that I couldn’t give up.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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