Why do people take RISK

Have you ever wondered why people take risk? Think of the Pamplona “Running of the Bulls” event that happens every summer during the San Fermin festival in Spain. This event simply comprises of releasing tens of angry bulls down the historic streets of Pamplona to run after daredevil people and visitors from all over the World.

Watching it on TV is rather a ride of mixed emotions. Fun, fear, and astonishment at what people can do, and how young men are scarily running in front of the angry herd, risking being knocked down or stepped on by a 400 kilos Bull. Then again, when this happens, i.e. bulls knocking out people and stepping on them, one can see how much this event is actually life threatening where people can easily get killed. It is interesting to think why do all those people come from every corner of the Earth to risk getting killed in Spain and sent back home in a coffin; what is their motive, especially that there is no high value reward for the winner? Still, the big question is: why do people take risk in the first place?

Reflecting on the Spanish event, I was able to identify five reasons:

  1. People take risk because they have a cause. They believe in something so strongly that they are willing to take high risk, up to and inclusive of exposing themselves to life threatening danger.
  2. People take risk because there is a lot at stake. When something so valuable is in danger people tend to turn into heroes, they fight like lions and are willing to kill or even get killed to save what is valuable to them. Think of a parent whose kids are in danger, or an employee who is in a bad need for a job; think of a student who needs to pass this exam to make it to the next academic year.
  3. People take risk to feel alive. Adrenaline addicts say that the rush they get after a stunt is like nothing else in this World. It gives them a boost of energy mixed with an ecstatic feeling of joy.
  4. People take risk because they want to impress. This is too common in kids trying to impress their parents, men trying to impress women, and employees trying to impress their managers.
  5. People take risk because they have nothing to lose. We all know of such stories; many of those people were depressed, cornered, or stuck in a ‘no way out’ situation, so they jumped.

Boiling all this down into a theme and projecting it onto the world of People Management, I dared to ask myself: what makes people in our Businesses take risk? What motivates them to give it all? Why would an employee take the risk to suggest a new idea or devise a new way for doing a certain task? Can we drive innovation in our Businesses if our human capital does not dare to challenge the status quo? How can we stimulate our people to take risk without running the risk of being prosecuted?

All those questions are to be answered by CEOs, Senior Executives, and HR Managers who yearn for reinventing their business through innovation. The answers to those questions are in fact the trigger for transforming the way we think about and do business. Asking people to take risk requires that Senior Business Executives take risk in the first place.

Asking people to give it all, take risk and be committed to what we believe in, requires securing essential enablers for stimulating the sense of risk-taking in those people. We need to:

  1. Give them a cause; make them believe in what they are doing and look forward towards realizing it.
  2. Make it clear to them that there is a lot at stake; they need to know that the future, the wellness, the dreams are all at stake when we don’t take risk in specific cases.
  3. Make them feel alive; give them a boost, a rush that creates enthusiasm blended with a feel of joy.
  4. Give them the opportunity to impress us; they need to feel that we can be impressed by their good work, and that it is not impossible for them to draw our attention to their ideas and suggestions.
  5. Let them know that – in specific situations – they have nothing to lose; that they will not be held hostages to their proposals nor will they be judged for an idea that did not work. If they feel threatened, there goes innovation!

Bottom line, Change is an incident that demands taking risk; creating this positive momentum in our Organizations obliges us to simultaneously create the hosting environment that drives Change. Just like the Bull Run in Spain, people might have different reasons of why they take this risk, but at the end of the day, the whole idea is that it is the only way to get People continuously performing.


Charles S. Saliba
Positive Thinker
Organizational, Leadership & HR Expert