Take the Risk

In Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk, Ben Carson–Yale grad, head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, and one of the top neurosurgeons in the world–describes the simple framework he uses to assess risk in his work, and then describes how the same framework can be applied to all sorts of decisions in work, relationships, parenting, and serious national and international issues.  The point, Carson opines, is that a simple, balanced, thoughtful assessment of risk can help you make decisions that are best for everyone involved and true to your values and priorities.

Carson weaves in a lot of his own biography, which is pretty fascinating and instructive, although he is quick to note that decisions that were correct for him or for his family could be decided differently by people with different strengths or situations.  He’s up front about the fact that his faith impacts his decision making, but he’s refreshingly non-confrontational in the ways he describes talking with people who believe differently.

I found Carson’s framework really helpful.  In certain types of situations, I make decisions similarly (and, in my former line of work, I wrote up risk analyses in a similar way), but I know that in lots of other types of situations, I go around in circles and dither and second-guess my decisions.  So it was helpful for me to consider a very succinct series of questions that I could apply to those other decisions.

The questions are really simple:

  • What’s the best thing that could happen if I do this?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen if I do this?
  • What’s the best thing that could happen if I don’t do this?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t do this?
In some more complicated scenarios, Carson advocates answering those questions from different viewpoints (from your point of view, and from the points of view of others involved), and he talks about how to compare different options and timing as well.

Another part of the book I found helpful was the way Carson described teaching his children to evaluate risks and decisions.  Kids often get into trouble, Carson points out, not because they aren’t smart, but because they don’t think first.  If they get into the habit of answering these quick questions first, they will at the very least give themselves a second for their brains to catch up to their impulses.  I talked this over with Hannah in the context of a couple of activities we were considering for her, and found it was a good way to talk through the various sides of the issues with her.  I think it would take a lot of similar conversations to make the questions a habit (both for her and for me) but Carson’s perspective was encouraging on that point.

Take the Risk is another book I listened to on audio loan from my library.  These things are really, really long, so it has really driven home to me how much time I spend doing things like folding laundry, cooking and cleaning up, and getting ready for the day and for bed.  At least now I’m also learning something while performing unavoidable repetitive tasks!


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

2 thoughts on “Take the Risk

  1. I’ve tried listening to audio books in the past and found myself unable to focus in the middle of daily tasks (either on the book or the task). Do you use headphones, or just let the spoken word compete with the other goings-on?

    1. I’ve had that problem too. I think what helped was the type of books I was listening to were narratives, but not literature, and non-fiction but not the sort of thing I needed to take notes about. I’ve had a similar good experience listening to The Story of the World on audio with the kids in the car. Also, the activities I was doing while listening didn’t require brain power. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m often going from little thing to little thing and none of it requires brain power (washing a dish, chopping something, wiping up a counter, etc). Talking walks, folding and ironing clothes, and washing my face or doing hair and makeup also worked.

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