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Risk: Living on the Edge

Risk: Living on the Edge

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Risk: Living on the Edge

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451 pages
20 hours
Lansat:
Aug 13, 2019
ISBN:
9780795352263
Format:
Carte

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The adventurer, financier and philanthropist offers an insider’s look at risk management in this personal guide to risk-taking in life and business.

As the founder of Caribbean Capital & Consultancy and a former general partner of Bear Sterns, Michael E. Tennenbaum knows a thing or two about taking risks and winning big. In this unique and insightful volume, he shares his views on risk through stories of high-stakes deals and creative financial innovations, as well as anecdotes about riding in a nuclear submarine and literally swimming with sharks.

Tennenbaum also shares strategies for using risk to seize opportunities, manage mistakes, and give back to one’s community. His personal tales take readers inside Bear Sterns, the Smithsonian Institution, Harvard Business School, and the Joffrey Ballet, among other firms and cultural institutions. Through it all, Tennenbaum demonstrates how to reach greater heights of performance, achievement, and contentment through embracing risk.
Lansat:
Aug 13, 2019
ISBN:
9780795352263
Format:
Carte

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Risk - Michael E. Tennenbaum

Acknowledgments

FOREWORD I

We’re in a car heading to Flushing Meadows, New York, to watch the US tennis Open, and Michael is excited. He’s orchestrating an expedition to the extreme depths of the Puerto Rico Trench and there’s a gleam in his eye as he catalogs the researchers, vessels, institutions, and challenges. In this book, Michael probes in depth where that gleam comes from and seeks to illuminate what drives him and others to push the limits of achievement in business and exploration.

Explorers are a unique lot—driven by an urgent, restless need to keep finding new adventures and vistas. Michael and I share this passion as members of the Explorers Club, an iconic institution founded by polar pioneers in 1904, whose roster has included exploration luminaries of all stripes. Past honorary chair Senator John Glenn once described our institution’s mission as curiosity in action, and today over thirty-five hundred members venture to outer space, the poles, deserts, jungles, mountains, and—Michael’s special love—the oceans.

Explorers are also risk takers, so there’s sadly a long list of lives lost on that one journey too many: Amundsen, first to the South Pole, died in a plane crash rescuing an Arctic dirigible expedition; Explorers Club president Carl Akeley, having dispatched an attacking leopard with his bare hands and survived an elephant charge, died of a fever in the Congo while creating the famous mountain gorilla diorama for the American Museum of Natural History; Shackleton succumbed to a heart attack on a final return to frigid Antarctica. Fortunately for history’s sake, bad outcomes are much more the exception rather than the rule, since seasoned explorers are serious risk managers, too.

Michael believes that this need to keep pushing limits has both a biological and personality component. Not being a scientist, I’ll leave the dopamine deficiency hypothesis to those more qualified. At the same time, though, I heartily agree that so many explorers I’ve met seem to have a risk-taking personality that draws them back into the field again and again.

Like Michael, I’ve also seen these traits in abundance in the business world. During a three-decade career in finance, I came across many who had risk-taking personalities, although one size, of course, doesn’t fit all. If you’re a businessperson reading this book, you’ll enjoy fresh perspectives on names and deals you might recognize. And for those who don’t come from that world, this section of the book provides a thoughtful, understandable, and entertaining introduction to the realms of deal making and investing.

Michael is an original. That’s clear after a few minutes with him and even clearer as you get to know him better. If you haven’t met him, however, you have the opportunity here to experience his candor, intelligence, and, yes, ever-present sense of humor. You’ll learn about many things—investing, the ballet, and prehistoric sharks—and take away some valuable, hard-earned life lessons. And most importantly, you’ll see curiosity in action.

Respectfully submitted from the field (actually New York City, but you get the idea).

Ted Janulis

President Emeritus, The Explorers Club

FOREWORD II

One of the most ancient questions is Will I have dinner tonight or will I be dinner tonight?

A man who left his cave would get the dinner, feed the family, and procreate even though there was a great possibility of becoming a dinner. Ancient areas of our brain genetically captured both of these possibilities. We get rewarded for taking the risk, and we get rewarded for escaping the danger. Achieving something or obtaining something we want makes us happy. But overcoming fears and escaping the danger is just as exhilarating. Reward and fear circuits are part of the ancient limbic system that is responsible for our emotional responses. As a neuroscientist and a researcher, I have studied these systems since 1972. I first engaged in animal research using brain stimulation in rats and cats during animal interaction. Later I studied how manipulation of neurochemistry by psychopharmacological agents changes animal behavior. For my work I received the gold medal for the best student scientific paper in Russia (formerly the USSR). Later I continued my studies at NYU, both in animals and humans.

During and after my residency at NYU and fellowship at UCLA, I continued my research of neuronal circuits using the latest imaging techniques, brain stimulation, and neuropharmacology. Many years of diversified research gave me a deep understanding of the intricate networks connecting gray matter nuclei in the deep subcortical areas that are responsible for the regulation of our emotions. Many neurotransmitters provide the smooth transition of signals from cell to cell within those circuits with dopamine, serotonin, and GABA among the most important. The balance between fear and reward with its many shades creates the colorful personality of the fearless risk takers and leaders who move the world. Of course, the intellect, the skill set, and creativity also play a role.

Michael Tennenbaum is one such risk taker and leader, and also a thinker, economist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur as his many adventures show. In this book, Michael moves from a boy growing up in a usual American immigrant family. Many of his peers were content with the small-town life. Contrary to that, he was driven to explore the world and his potential within the game of life. The book methodically takes us through his education and evolution into a fearless, tough competitor who can swim equally well with the business sharks of the investment ocean and real sharks in the deep sea.

Throughout the book Mr. Tennenbaum gives examples of other people who have been incredibly successful in their businesses and life accomplishments. He continuously asks a question: What makes a person a driven and fearless risk taker? What is characteristic of this group of people? His conclusion is that it is a specific state of mind, most likely determined by brain structures and neurochemistry. He also asserts in many examples given in the book that it is not only high drive and affinity to high risk–high reward, but also persistency and higher creativity expressed in clever problem solving. However, fearlessness and ability to derive the reward from escaping risky situations shows throughout the book. It is everywhere from betting on high-risk investments to racing full speed down expert ski runs even in his later years.

Throughout the book we are being presented with a brilliant analysis of the American economy and a guide to how to make the financial decisions that lead to success. At the same time, accumulation of fortune is not the final goal. He is being human, a family man with his share of marital and children issues. He also continues intellectual pursuits and supports arts and sciences ranging from UCLA to Smithsonian’s institutions. There again we observe the relentlessness and passion toward his interests.

This book is a fascinating story of never-ending travel full speed on the wonderful if sometimes curvy road that we call life. Enjoy.

Alexander Bystritsky, MD, PhD

Professor Emeritus, Director, Anxiety Program and Targeted Brain Stimulation, UCLA

FOREWORD III

This book is a deeply personal account that delivers on the title: Risk. There are lessons for everyone that are delivered in an engaging and insightful manner. The first lesson is that, in spite of changes in our circumstances, we all carry the history of previous generations. For the author’s parents, it starts with the shtetl and pogroms of middle Europe. Fear, poverty, and downward mobility were suffered by the attorneys and land owners who knew little about their future in the new country, but who knew they faced a bleak future in the old one.

As I have studied entrepreneurship over the last fifty years, I have concluded that entrepreneurship is about the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you currently control. Two elements are important to opportunity: a desired future state that is different from the present and a belief that achievement of that state is possible.

For Michael’s forebears, the new land was not filled with milk and honey. It delivered discrimination, economic hardship, and only occasional triumph. Few émigrés in the 1920s rose to the top of society in the first generation, but they saw hope.

Michael’s life began in the middle of the Great Depression with all of the disappointments and enforced changes that impacted his family and so many others. The lesson learned was that things not only can get better, they can get much worse quickly.

Michael argues for risk taking as the driver of his life. Another reading of his story shows that he was always in search of opportunity. Often his perception of opportunity was not widely shared. Feeding the sharks was a unique opportunity, as were many of his investments. Often opportunity opened unexpectedly through chance encounters, dormant relationships, or pure chance.

Entrepreneurs often see risk differently than others. They believe they can control the risk, whether it is skiing, shark feeding, or investing. The successful ones bring experience and good judgment as to which risks are manageable and which are not. Some choose to live by the numbers and some by their judgment of people.

The biggest lesson as a reader is simple: seize opportunity! Whether it is feeding sharks or working with financial ones, no one succeeds by avoiding change. Don’t act impulsively and don’t lose control. Make calculations of both the upside and the downside. Work with meticulous preparation, detailed knowledge, avoidance of foolish risks, and the ability to remain calm, even in the face of acute peril.

Success belongs to those who underestimate the risk of change and value the options that change offers. Define what is rewarding to you, seek out the rewards, and calculate the odds. Nothing in life is certain.

Howard Stevenson

Sarofim-Rock Baker Foundation Professor of Business Administration Emeritus, Harvard Business School

First Chair of Entrepreneurship Unit

PART I

HIGH-RISK FINANCE

• • • •

"If winning isn’t everything,

why do they keep score?"

—Vince Lombardi

Chapter 1

SWIMMING WITH SHARKS

"I do this as a matter of personal satisfaction.

To achieve something that is difficult

and that stretches my ability to do it."

—Steve Fossett

The shark came at me from behind. I dodged quickly to my left, glancing back just in time to see a wet gleam of silvery skin and the dark slit of an eye cruise silently by me, inches from my head.

My heart was in my throat. All I could hear was the eerie hiss of my breath as I gulped in air from the Aqua-Lung. Weighted down on the sandy bottom of the Caribbean Sea in a chainmail suit, I stood as still as a statue, watching his wagging body disappear into the blurry blue… knowing he would circle back around.

Oblivious to the danger, hordes of angelfish and puffers started swirling toward me. Other reef sharks were closing in, eager to be fed. I went back to handing out fish to them, slowly and carefully, so they wouldn’t mistake my hand for a herring—exactly what I’d done to make the other shark lose patience and try to strafe me.

I did my best to keep a lookout for him now, but he had me at a disadvantage. Sharks have mirrored crystals (called tapeta lucida) just behind their retinas. It’s why their eyes seem to glow in the dark like cats’ eyes. But a shark can see twice as well as a cat in dim light, ten times better than we can. When he came back, my nemesis was going to see me long before I saw him.

To make matters worse, I was still gripping a two-foot feeding tube crammed full of dead herring I hadn’t released yet, and he could smell it. Unlike us, sharks don’t use the same orifice for breathing and smelling. Breathing they can handle with their gills. Smell is so important to their survival that they devote not only their nose but two-thirds of their brain to nothing else.

That wagging motion—which John Williams captured so brilliantly in the ominous music for Jaws—turns a shark’s entire body into a directional sensor, constantly scanning for smell. If a single drop of blood touches the water, a shark can smell it and track it down from a quarter of a mile away.

Wherever he was lurking out there in the dark, I knew that shark could practically taste those herring. My problem was, I had what he wanted. He knew I had it. And he thought I was holding back.

I was a long way from Manhattan.

My wife Suzanne and I had been diving for years in places like Salvador da Bahia in Brazil, French Polynesia, and the Grand Caymans. We delighted in the novelty of beautiful coral gardens and interactions with octopuses, tropical fish, and eels.

Not until late 2000 had I discovered the shark-feeding dives at UNEXSO, a dive facility on Grand Bahama Island. There I had joined ten nervous first-timers fifty feet below the surface, where we deliberately surrounded ourselves with sharks. I’d felt like I was offering myself up as an hors d’oeuvre at the underwater buffet.

We were instructed to sit shoulder to shoulder in a circle while a professional diver plucked a fish from a tube and held it out to the nearest shark. (That’s when I noticed that he always withdrew his hand quickly to avoid losing it. I took it as a safety tip.)

After we’d shot as many photos as our shaking hands would permit, we headed back up to the surface. I couldn’t help but cast an anxious look at the sharks still milling beneath us, wondering if they’d follow us. Surely their appetites had not been sated by a few handfuls of herring.

On my first two dives at UNEXSO, I had added to the shark feedings the joy of watching captivating dolphin encounters. The experience was exhilarating and I was eager to do it again, but sitting on the sidelines was never going to cut it for me.

I wanted to feed the sharks and have the dolphin encounter myself!

Oh no, we never do private dives, the staff at UNEXSO told me. It’s against our policy.

When I told Suzanne, she gave me a look. She knew a policy like that was never going to stop me. It took a year of finagling, but I finally managed to make arrangements for a private dive.

I was joined by my friend Lionel Pozzoli, the great underwater photographer. Cristina Zenato, UNEXSO’s shark trainer, was our instructor.

Cristina seemed almost as much at home in the water as the sharks did. In childhood, her main complaint had been that when you’re a kid, you can’t be in the water all the time—people are always telling you to get out.¹ She’d known since she was seven years old that she wanted to spend her days in the sea.

Astonishing as it was, I’d seen her take total control of a shark, putting it into a trance and then literally balancing it upright on its tail. Scientists call this state tonic immobility. It’s a common reaction to fear among certain amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects, and fish, but among sharks, fear does not induce this state. Instead, these awe-inspiring animals roll their eyes back and fall into a state of paralysis when they are flipped on their backs or rubbed on the snout. Researchers suspect that it is part of their mating ritual.

Whatever the cause, tonic immobility makes sharks surprisingly vulnerable—to shark trainers and savvy orca whales. A recent National Geographic Channel documentary reported that female orcas had started tipping sharks and stingrays upside down to induce tonic immobility, so they’d be easier to eat.²

Knowing that Cristina had the skill to immobilize a shark if necessary was comforting to me in those final moments before we went down into the sea.

Cristina suited me up, helping me pull on the heavy chain mail. Even the air-supply lines to the Aqua-Lung were wrapped in steel. I was wearing chainmail gloves with fabric gloves over the top, and she layered duct tape around my fingers for added protection.

You don’t want a shark to bite your fingertips! she said with a wink. I hoped that she was kidding, but I double-checked the duct tape just in case.

The most important thing, she told me, was to shark yourself, a phrase she’d coined to remind people to take in the moment. She encouraged me to stretch out my arms and marvel at the fact that I was standing on the bottom of the ocean, feeding sharks. By the time we were ready to dive in, I felt excited yet amazingly calm. Then we went under.

Swimming with Caribbean reef sharks is relatively safe, of course, but once you’re deeply underwater, surrounded by twenty sharks with no cage or boat to protect you, adrenaline courses through your bloodstream anyway. The actual risk may be low, but the emotional perception of risk is high. Your amygdala—the part of the brain that reacts to potential threats that are out of your control—goes into heightened alert. Every image of a great white shark crashing through the waves with its gaping maw comes back to haunt you. If you’ve ever seen a video of sharks in a feeding frenzy, you remember it now. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

These aren’t great whites, you remind yourself. But your pulse keeps racing. You know full well that attacks by Caribbean reef sharks almost never happen. But there’s always the possibility that you will be the exception. Sharks can—and do—sometimes eat people.

Jim Abernethy, a National Geographic shark photographer with twenty years’ experience, guided people on shark dives without incident for years, until one day an Austrian client swimming near a plastic crate of chum was bitten by a shark and bled to death. Abernethy himself was later bitten.³ Although he recovered quickly, I had no intention of testing my shark bite recovery time!

Gathering my wits, I planted both feet in the sand and sized up the situation. It was immediately clear to me that you had to control the approach of the sharks lining up for food. They constantly swarm around you. If they come too close, they could easily mistake your hand for a herring. The best solution was to slow the process down to keep them at a distance, then extend the fish out to them.

The more the sharks urged me to hurry, the more I deliberately slowed down, not wanting to lose a limb. I kept glancing behind me, with Cristina on one side nodding encouragement and Lionel on the other with his camera trained on the action, taking what would turn out to be the most amazing underwater shots. Gradually, I started to relax.

That’s when trouble struck…

As I gingerly extended my hand with the next herring, a shark got its tooth caught on my glove! Apparently, Cristina hadn’t been kidding about protecting my fingers with duct tape.

My feet slid on the sand beneath me as I tried to shake the shark’s mouth loose—firmly enough to dislodge it, but not enough to provoke an attack. So I was alarmed to find that our struggle was literally yanking his teeth out as he tried to break free!

It turns out, shark teeth aren’t embedded securely in their sockets like ours. Soft tissue connects them to the jaw, so they fall out easily. I didn’t know it then, but sharks lose teeth all the time. It gives them a continual upgrade as worn-out, broken teeth are regularly replaced by new ones.⁴ (The better to eat you with, my dear.)

Jerking my hand away with a little more force did the trick. To my relief, the shark swam away without a backward glance as a few of its teeth drifted down to the sand at my feet. Cristina immediately dove down to retrieve them. I later had them made into cuff links.

But it was an unnerving experience. When you’re underwater, your senses are limited. The flat scuba mask makes objects in salt water appear larger and closer than they actually are.⁵ If the mask comes off, you quickly suffocate and die. (One time, in the Bahamas, Suzanne’s tank air supply cut off. It was a terrifying experience that made me very much aware of how vulnerable we are without oxygen.) We are out of our element down there. Sharks are predators in their natural environment. And they’ve been there forever.

In her book The Devil’s Teeth, about the surfer-scientists who study great white sharks on a remote island off the California coast, Susan Casey points out that sharks are so old, they predate trees.⁶ Thousands of species have fallen into extinction, while sharks have survived. Much about them is still a mystery to us.⁷

One shark after another approached me for fish, but now I was even more cautious than before. What if the next one caught its tooth on my glove and became impatient? Would it attack my face or bite my hand? Visibility was low in the deep blue sea around us. As my pulse beat faster, I started feeling claustrophobic. I wasn’t having fun anymore.

Suddenly, another shark bumped into me from behind. It happened so fast, I couldn’t tell if it was the same shark that had strafed me before or not. Then, impatient with my measured generosity in handing out their lunch, three hungry sharks ganged up and came for my fish cylinder. When I yanked it away and held on tight, they jammed their snouts into my groin.

My bravado evaporated. I surrendered the fish cylinder to them, and I looked at Cristina. She understood my meaning, and she called an end to the dive. I heaved a sigh of relief when we were back on the boat.

After Lionel and I pored over the hundreds of photos and hours of video he’d taken, I got on the phone with my partners at Tennenbaum Capital Partners (TCP), who were every bit as worried as I was. It was 2008, at the absolute peak of the financial crisis. The markets had taken a steep dive and then gone into a tailspin. We had lost millions!

TCP was designed to produce high investment returns by buying unusual securities. Often, they were illiquid. It gave us the most latitude, but it also put us in a vulnerable position. If, at any time, their holders panicked and sold, then the prices would drop sharply. And in 2008, the holders were starting to panic.

We had leveraged the securities, borrowing 50 percent of their value. That meant that, if our sellers dumped their holdings and pushed prices down by even 15 percent, then our equity would drop by twice that (30 percent) due to our financial leverage. Our portfolios were priced every Friday. If ever our equity account dropped below an agreed proportion, then our lenders could force us to pay off the loans—thus, dumping the investments at low prices and realizing huge losses.

If we had suffered huge losses at that time in our firm’s life, we probably would have been forced to shut down. It was properly scary, but we remained cool and did what we had to. All our funds survived, and our debt ratings remained high.

It was pretty dramatic. By day I was trying to stay alive surrounded by sharks, and by night, I was trying to stay alive surrounded by creditors. Juggling crises of such magnitude was an emotional high.

Why was I doing any of that in the first place, you may ask. Why put myself in proximity to danger when I didn’t have to? I could’ve snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland or watched one of the few great white sharks in captivity swim by, protected by the massive acrylic windows of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Instead of starting my own company specializing in high-risk securities, I could have pursued a safe career in engineering with a guaranteed salary and steady, incremental bonuses.

Something in my nature drives me to reach for more, to take the risks that most people quite sensibly avoid. In my life, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many exceptional people who strive for the kinds of high-intensity achievements that are out of reach for those who are unwilling to take risks.

Those who achieve so much in their chosen field have a bold drive to succeed, a hunger for innovation, a willingness to challenge the status quo.⁸ Whatever this quality is, it produces an intrepid breed of people who are self-confident, gritty, and undaunted by whatever challenges come their way. They yearn for dramatic victories. They tend to enter the toughest academic programs in the world because they savor a challenge and nurture an audacious conviction that they ought to take their rightful place among the best. They often enter professions with such high failure rates that more practical people run away. The idea of settling down or establishing themselves in a predetermined niche for a predictable life bores them. If anything, they’re likely to upend the businesses they establish and launch out on a totally new career path with an uncertain future, shrugging off the risk of starting a business from scratch with no connections and expecting themselves to find solutions as they go. They pursue each of these aims with a vigorous appetite.

America was founded by a breed of pioneers who were willing to sail perilous oceans and cross uncharted frontiers to forge a new country from the ground up. Just one hundred years ago, that same willingness to take risks on the unknown fueled the achievements of the Wright brothers, Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Theodore Roosevelt, and Nikola Tesla.⁹ Today the urge to disrupt the status quo and blaze new paths is clear from the trajectories of visionary innovators like Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg. What trait sets geniuses like these apart from those who never break out of the mold? A love of risk.¹⁰

Most people are exactly the opposite. Even when there is a chance they could double their money in the long run as a freelancer, the vast majority of people choose a guaranteed salary over the uncertainty of fending for themselves.

According to Karl Deisseroth, professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry at Stanford, risk avoidance is a sound survival strategy on an evolutionary scale. With a constant onslaught of threats ranging from starvation to predators, the risky option may have offered greater rewards, but human beings haven’t always lived long enough to take advantage of the risk. And yet, as a species, Deisseroth says, We wouldn’t have come as far as we have without it.¹¹

Some would argue that we owe the very survival of the human species to those crazy adventurers who weren’t content to squat around and eat bugs with a long stick, the ones genetically inclined to seek out the better-tasting protein, the greener pastures, the prettier mates from unfamiliar territory.¹²

Not only are risk lovers more likely to expand into unexplored regions and fend off attackers, but we now know that a love of risk significantly improves the brain.

The 2015 study surprised scientists at the University of Turku in Finland, when they used the latest functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to study the brains of high and low risk takers during driving simulations.

We expected to find that young men who spend time considering what they are going to do in a given risk situation would have more highly developed neural networks in their brains than those who make quick decisions and take chances. The opposite was true.¹³

Our brains are composed of what is called gray matter (neurons) and white matter (the hundred-thousand-mile neural network that holds it all together, connecting the parts of the brain, regulating autonomic functions like our heart rate and temperature, and conveying sensory information from the body to the brain).¹⁴

Remarkably, the study showed that those who took risks and made quick decisions had significantly more white matter in their brains than those who hesitated, evaluated, then made safer, more conservative choices.¹⁵

The men who were active and regularly sought out challenges did so out of curiosity. They all expressed a hunger to learn and experience new things. They were driven to achieve a sense of mastery over their environment. Every one of them displayed a distinctive combination of playfulness, seriousness, and enjoyment.¹⁶

Nature seemed to thrive under these conditions, rewarding the expression of these qualities by expanding the brain and building stronger, more versatile connections into it. The study shows that all the positive brain chemicals respond under such conditions, promoting growth factors that contribute to the development of the robust neural networks that form the basis of our physical and mental skills.¹⁷

For Dagfinn Moe, the head researcher and behavioral analyst of the study, the result is obvious. We have to stop regarding daring and risk-taking as undesirable, uncontrolled behaviour.¹⁸

As you might expect, there is a catch. Risk taking is a lot more complicated than it seems. What looks rash, impulsive, and out of control to a cautious outsider might instead be a bold, high-stakes bet against good odds.

For all their rapid decision making, the young men in the driving study were experienced with taking risks on the road. If you’re going to take risks, you have to have the required skills, Moe says. And these have to be learned. Sadly, many fail during this learning process—with tragic consequences.¹⁹

Others go too far. In his own studies at Stanford, Deisseroth has seen patients whose aberrantly high risk-seeking activity resulted in accidents, addictions and social, financial or occupational failures… or even "disorders of maladaptive decision-making, such as gambling and substance abuse.²⁰

When radical adventurers were given the BART test at the University of Maryland’s Center for Addictions, Personality, and Emotion Research, measuring the three main components of risk taking—sensation seeking, distress tolerance, and impulsivity—they each got different scores. Christopher Swain, who swims the open water amid lightning storms and lamprey eels, scored very high for impulsivity but fairly low for sensation seeking. Steph Davis, a free climber and wing-suit flier, showed average for sensation seeking and impulsivity but an exceptional ability to tolerate distress.

Of the seven adventurers tested, only Ted Davenport, a free skier and BASE jumper, ranked high on all three variables. A classic high-sensation seeker with high impulsivity and little distress, it’s not surprising that he also runs into the most trouble.

Director Carl Lejuez, who invented the BART test, said that he would have predicted Ted would be freebasing, not free skiing. Ted agreed: I’d probably be doing heroin if I weren’t jumping. It was clear from the test that as inspiring as it is to watch him on skis, you wouldn’t really want him commanding NATO forces.²¹

Just about the time I was starting my career, psychologist Marvin Zuckerman was running sensory deprivation studies at the University of Delaware when he noticed that all his volunteers tended to show up with motorcycle helmets. Wondering if there could be a sensation-seeking personality type, he not only coined the term but created the first study to investigate.

He soon discovered only 10 percent of people qualified as sensation seeking, though they all tended to be open-minded, curious, and intelligent. They were more likely to perform life-and-death surgeries, compete for political office, create new sports, or take jobs on Wall Street.

Today we know that, while workaholics and guys jumping off cliffs can be as abnormal as someone addicted to cocaine, not every risk taker fits that profile. But as Jerome Kagan, emeritus psychology professor at Harvard, points

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