Risk-Taking: Learning from the Pros

Risk-taking is a slippery skill; in most cases, it is difficult to predict whether a risk will be beneficial or detrimental. This, after all, is the point of risk-taking. But how can we be smart risk-takers — especially as leaders — if risk is so difficult to control or calculate? Like any other skill, successful risk-taking takes time, practice and an open mind. Here are five influential figures who took risks and, in the process, changed the world.

Dhirubhai Ambani

“You do not require invitation to make profits,” said Dhirubhai Ambani, a business tycoon who left his comfortable life in Yemen to move back to India and establish Reliance Industries. This billion-dollar company has transformed India’s business scene and made a global impact through industries spanning textiles to telecommunication.

Ambani’s inspiring story shows us that smart risk-taking requires initiative and courage, especially in the face of uncertainty.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney famously said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” However, the imagination magician was not successful from the start. In fact, his first studio went bankrupt. Shortly after, he signed a bad contract with Universal and lost the rights to his first promising cartoon character. His next creation was Mickey Mouse, who at first was unpopular. Perhaps his biggest risk, however, was borrowing funds from his own life insurance to build Disneyland.

While these risks may have seemed like mistakes at the time, they became the source of Disney’s global success and timeless impact.

Bruce Lee

This iconic martial artist, actor and director is known for saying, “There are no limits. There are only plateaus.” Lee had a diverse range of expertise, covering nearly everything from film to poetry. His success was, in large part, due to his philosophy that learning requires us to think independently and challenge the status quo.

Bruce Lee’s success shows us that risk-taking is an essential part of learning and growth.

J.K. Rowling

“Where’s the fun without a bit of risk?” J.K. Rowling also succeeded by forging her own path. She became one of the most influential authors in the world after publishing the “Harry Potter” series, which has encouraged enthusiasm for reading and increased literacy worldwide. However, the original manuscript was rejected 12 times before Bloomsbury decided to take the chance.

Rowling’s work did not fit the genre standards of children’s literature at the time, but by taking that risk, she published one of the most successful series in history.

Rosa Parks

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” Rosa Parks risked her life to fight for the rights of Black Americans. On December 1, 1955, aboard a Montgomery city bus, Parks staunchly refused to give up her seat to a white man. This action, which got her arrested, silently but powerfully protested the existing segregation laws. Most importantly, it helped spawn a movement that would ultimately abolish these laws and take strides toward racial equality.

Rosa Parks shows us that risk-taking must be backed by conviction and purpose.

Leaders of today can learn much from these influential people. Their inspiring stories show us that risk-taking requires courage, creativity, conviction and sometimes failure. There is no formula for successful risk-taking, but we can learn from our experiences and the experiences of others to become more wise risk-takers.

What is one risk-taking tip you will practice today?

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