take the risk: learning to identify, choose, and live with acceptable risk, by ben carson, m.d.
ben carson, in case you haven’t heard of him (i’d only vaguely heard of him), is a world renowned neurosurgeon. i mean, world-renowned, like, he’s one of the top pediatric neurosurgeons in the world. and, he’s probably the number one neuro-dude when it comes to separating conjoined twins, joined at the skull. oh, and he grew up in a poor, single mom, household, on the tough streets of detroit (yo, that’s where i grew up, too, except for the poor part, and the single mom part, and the tough streets part — pretty much just the detroit part).
so it’s fair to say the guy knows a thing or two about considering risk.
this book is a story-rich explanation of how to consider risk, and how to make risky decisions. it’s especially worth the read for anyone struggling to make a tough decision, and i’ve already recommended it to a couple people.
there are a few places where i felt the book wandered a bit — i didn’t think it was helpful to hear the long-ish excursions into the author’s politics (deep into the book, and neither helpful nor necessary) as examples of risk.
BUT, the book has two significant strengths:
1. it is full of wonderful stories. seriously. rarely have i read a book with a single propositional or methodological point that has so many engaging stories. we see carson’s risk-consideration formula played out in dozens and dozens of examples — from his own life, and in the world around us. examples from his childhood, and lots of examples from the risk-filled world of pediatric neurosurgery. carson’s a good storyteller (honed, i’m guessing, over years of speaking to teenagers — nothing hones storytelling skill like speaking to audiences who aren’t impressed by your resume), and effectively weilds this throughout the entire book.
2. carson unveils a simple, yet very helpful, process for considering and deciding on risk. he calls it the bwa, or best-worst-analysis. many of us, i’m sure, when attempting to make a difficult decision, have made lists of pros and cons. carson’s bwa approach is similar, but takes things a bit further. simply put, the bwa is:
– what’s the best that can happen if i do this?
– what’s the worst that can happen if i do this?
– what’s the best that can happen if i don’t do this?
– what’s the worst that can happen if i don’t do this?
of course, he gives chapters full of nuance to this. but i have actually found myself using this little memorable (the fact that it is simple and memorable is part of its strength) approach since i’ve been reading the book, a bit at a time, over the past month or so.
carson also ties all of this in with his christian faith. he doesn’t overdo this point (i assume carson has gone into this in more detail in some of his earlier books), which is good. but it is very interesting to hear some of his story (again, great examples of considering risk, in stories like the one where he considers whether or not to be a part of a panel on science and faith at a prestigious gathering of minds), especially given his scientific cred.
anyhow, take the risk is a helpful book. it’s not a “you must rush out and read this now” book. but it’s helpful, and an enjoyable read thanks to the stories. it’s one i’ll continue to recommend to people who are struggling to make a decision. just this week, after having lunch with a friend who is trying to make a difficult career choice, i recommended he get a spiritual director and read this book.