The Risk Paradox by Alan Ying and Doug Schneider

I jumped at the chance to read this book! I’m intrigued by what makes people tick. And at the same time I’m also fascinated by what attributes make for a life that’s truly memorable in society.

And when it comes to becoming a truly successful entrepreneur, (which is just one means of becoming memorable) risk taking seems to be an overarching factor. Hence the title’s appeal to me.

I’m also a fan of learning from others, and gaining insights through books. And whenever I read anything, I always look for the moral of the story.

The book starts off very nicely, with the story of how the two authors got together to conduct their research into risk behaviour. And it was a compelling topic for the two of them because they each began with highly contrasting attitudes towards taking risks in life, career, and business.

The book’s namesake, the risk paradox, refers to the statement of opinion of the 2 authors that, and I quote, “Taking a risk is the least risky thing that you can do to live a fulfilling life.”

And it rings true doesn’t it? It’s commonly accepted that on our death beds, we regret not the things we have done so much as the things we didn’t do.

And in addition to the appeal of a getting your head around such a paradox, I also found the idea very empowering. If I were to take more risks, I’m sure to live a richer, more fulfilling life.

But on the flip side, most of us also value caution. And sometimes remaining in the status quo can be rather nice. But how much more exciting is it when you get to the very edge of your comfort zone?! Am I right?

So, in this book the authors report back on interviews they’ve conducted with successful serial risk takers. And their intent was to spot patterns. And ideally, patterns that impart useful information to the reader.

Of course, risk taking is both a psychological and a societal topic with all kinds of nuances that make it impossible to study empirically. But the authors did find that certain patterns emerged.

They coin a term “Risk Livewith” which is to mean “A way of thinking that guides decision making about risk on a conscious or subconscious level”.

The authors say these Livewiths are based on the lived experiences of others who have gone before you, and that applying them in clarifying your thoughts can make quite the difference in the moments of truth when decisions are made.

The authors interviewed 102 risk takers, made up of 51 males and 51 females, aged between 30 and 70 years. They identified 6 categories of risk takers which are as follows:

Idealists – who want to make a difference in the world

Adventurers – seeking their next adventure

Liberators – seeking freedom from corporate life

Survivors – survivors of a crisis who want to change their lives

Seekers – those seeking more meaningful engagement with the world

Givers – those who want to serve others

Each type of risk taker has their own chapter, where there are tales of great risk taking, with all kinds of gains and losses, followed by more gains. Tales of those who have come from nothing to achieve great success.

I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter on survivors and the dramatic ups and downs these people had gone through, and their transformative experiences that brought them to the brink before their risk taking saw them through.

Here are some of the key insights regarding these risk takers:

  • They see opportunity when there’s failure, and their adversity reveals character
  • They compartmentalise professional risk
  • They don’t fear failure, and if they start with nothing they have nothing to lose
  • Knowing your weaknesses can be a strength

As for gender differences, male risk takers seemed to believe their risk taking was down to their innate nature, but female risk takers seemed to believe it was more like a 50/50 split between nature and nurture.

The key take-aways for me are as follows:

  • Every decision carries an element of risk
  • Decisions are impacted by many lines of thinking: what you have to gain, what you have to lose, and what you lose by not trying in the first place.
  • A mission to contribute to something outside oneself can override other factors
  • When someone gets the ”why”, they can sustain just about any “how”
  • At one point, the authors argue that we become more shy of risk as we age, but this contradicts my personal experience, and as I have matured and grown in confidence, I have expanded my comfort zone.
  • However, I do concede that younger people generally tend to make more impulsive decisions while more experienced people will make more considered decisions.

The chapters vary in length and scope, and the risk taker stories are compelling, and dramatic. It’s easy reading, and it’s not filled with jargon. And if you were concerned about jargon, there’s a glossary of terms provided in the appendix.

I didn’t really mind that the authors referred to themselves in the 3rd person in the introduction. It didn’t make them sound egotistical, I think it was just a more practical and concise way to tell their story together rather than repeat the story twice from 2 POVs.

Now, a lot of non-fiction books that try to present an argument of some sort have a huge section devoted to references. And although I value references and the backing up of statements and ideas, I was glad that the real meat of the book took up a whopping 96% of the tome.

I didn’t really get the relevance of the image on the cover. I thought the colours were striking but I would have thought poker cards would make a more relevant image.

All in all, it’s certainly a book you can learn a lot from, and on reading it the reader will feel empowered to make some changes in their lives.


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Book blogger, excitement conveyor, and information forager.

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