What’s Your ‘Million Dollar’ Risk?

As you might imagine, I love sports movies. They seem to capture the human spirit in ways that always leave me inspired to do something Great. And they often tell a story that we might not otherwise know.

The new film Million Dollar Arm, starring Jon Hamm as real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein, tells the story of Bernstein’s idea to use a reality show contest in India to find undiscovered baseball talent in a country where few have ever even seen the game. Through his efforts, Bernstein discovers two incredibly talented pitchers in Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh. Upon winning the contest, the two young men head for the United States to receive formal training in baseball, along with the possibility of being selected as pitchers for a Major League Baseball team.

Eventually, Patel and Singh were signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates and, as happy as I was for these two players who earned this experience, I was really happy for the guy who took a risk— agent J.B. Bernstein.

It would have been easy for Bernstein to find and represent the premier college baseball players in America… that’s what he’s done successfully for years. But he took a risk. He went to India because he recognized that not only might he discover hidden talent, he could expose a sport to a billion people.

Bernstein was willing to risk his career and reputation on his experimental reality TV show, and it could have ended in a massive flop.

“Like any entrepreneur, you have to be able to deal with adversity and having a lot of experts tell you that your idea is bad,” Bernstein said to me in an interview. “Everyone we spoke to—people from other Major League teams, leagues, sports product companies, and other sports agents—told us that this was a terrible idea with no chance of success.” However, his efforts yielded what by any standard has to be exceptional results.  His story has turned into a book, and now a major motion picture.  And the game of baseball is being played in cities throughout India.

But what about the risks that didn’t pan out? Bernstein did not develop his gut instinct overnight. I am sure that he spent a lot of time chasing after other opportunities, moving from one hotel room to the next as he scouted prospective players, only to end in failure. These are the risks that he wouldn’t brag about, but his past failures did not keep him from taking another risk.

“Part of risk taking involves realizing that the way you do business evolves over time,” said Bernstein. “I have predisposed myself not to look at new things as risks, but opportunity.”

The truly Great ones understand the power of risk—thoughtful risk—and their success is evidence of this. Winners are not controlled by their fears, and they don’t dwell on disappointments. If failure happens, they simply move on to the next task applying the lessons they have learned. Bernstein’s willingness to face a possibility of humiliating failure—and embrace the challenge—is what ultimately secured his victory.

An important phrase here is “thoughtful risk.” The Great ones have thought through options before they move outside their comfort zone. This isn’t about being rash or irresponsible…in fact, it is quite the opposite.   

Bernstein took an amazing risk and, if we are to be successful, then we must stretch outside of our comfort zones and do the same. These must be risks we are willing to take, which have a Great opportunity for a payoff.

Search for and evaluate areas of your life and career where you can afford to take more chances. What could you lose? What could you gain? If your potential reward outweighs the risk involved, then go ahead and take that chance. Your willingness to face failure may reap you a Great victory.

Often, we are taught that taking a risk is a bad thing. As humans, we have a desire to stick to what is familiar and predictable to us. We like things that we can control—however, this in itself is an illusion. The need for “security” is precisely what keeps many people from living a truly satisfying life. The illusion of safety can blind you to the Great opportunities that are directly in front of you.

Without a challenge, you can never reach your full potential. Remember, all growth is calculated.

Have you ever taken a risk on someone, or do you remember a time when someone took a risk on you? What has been your “Million Dollar” risk? Hit reply and send me a note. I’d like to hear your story!

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Hellen Keller.




Leave a Comment