Let's Stop Killing Ourselves and Take Some Risks

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. 

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.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

In U.S. first, drug company faces criminal charges for distributing opioids

It marks a major shift in the government's battle against the opioid crisis.

George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The nation's sixth-largest drug distributor is facing criminal charges related to failing to report suspicious drug orders, among other things.
  • It marks the first time a drug company has faced criminal charges for distributing opioids.
  • Since 1997, nearly 222,000 Americans have died from prescription opioids, partly thanks to unethical doctors who abuse the system.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less

Calling out Cersei Lannister: Elizabeth Warren reviews Game of Thrones

The real Game of Thrones might be who best leverages the hit HBO show to shape political narratives.

Photo credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren argues that Game of Thrones is primarily about women in her review of the wildly popular HBO show.
  • Warren also touches on other parallels between the show and our modern world, such as inequality, political favoritism of the elite, and the dire impact of different leadership styles on the lives of the people.
  • Her review serves as another example of using Game of Thrones as a political analogy and a tool for framing political narratives.
Keep reading Show less