Hands up if you read this title and immediately answered, "ESTP!" I know I did. These types are renowned for being high-adrenaline risk takers who live life in the fast lane. If there is a type that's the most likely to zoom down the face of an active volcano on a plank of reinforced plywood, it's surely the ESTP.
So, imagine my surprise when I did some digging and decided that, when it comes to risk-taking, ESTPs are outgunned by a couple of other personality types. They may be reckless, but these guys are cowards when it comes to taking risks consistently and living their entire lives outside the comfort zone.
Intrigued? Here's what's going on.....
What does taking risks mean, anyway?
It's easy to associate risk with putting yourself in extreme physical hazard, like heli-skiing or big wave surfing but, actually, risks are of different types and happen in different situations. Some risks you might not even recognize as such because they are part of our everyday lives. For example:
Stepping outside your comfort zone and becoming more courageous in your choices is taking a risk because there's a hint of failure attached to the idea. Some people have an insatiable curiosity to try different things, from eating in a new restaurant to switching jobs every couple of years. Others avoid novelty as much as possible and prefer routine.
Choosing one opportunity over another is taking a risk because you're putting your faith in a single outcome. By deciding to commit your time and energy to one opportunity, you risk missing a better opportunity and getting uncertain results.
Taking the road less travelled is taking a risk because not everyone will appreciate the value of your choices. When you follow your own path, you stop people-pleasing. Some people may not handle that you're operating on your own terms and you risk closing the door on certain relationships.
Doing anything that could lead to perilous results is definitely taking a risk, and most of us will do this only if the results are worth the risk. We all have different levels of analysis, though, such that one person's calculated risk is another person's foolish one.
Now that we understand what risk is, let's see what happens when we throw personality into the mix.
The biggest risk-taking personalities, ranked from most to least
Personality factors play a big role in determining how daring, competitive, flexible, cautious, easygoing and careless you are, so it stands to reason that they should also play a big role in whether someone is inclined towards risk. The problem is, there's no definitive research on which personalities are the most risk-taking (or none that focus on the 16-type personality system). Some studies have linked a high score on the Big Five trait of "Openness to Experience" and a low score on both "Agreeableness" and "Neuroticism" with risk-taking behaviors, but that's about as far as the research goes.
So, this is my list, based on what I know. Let me know if you disagree!
ENTPs have a high focus on novelty and are very willing to jump into new ideas, try out different possibilities and even move in completely different directions if it's going to add to their learning experience: to an ENTP, there is no comfort zone! As Rationals, you might expect them to run a full risk-benefit analysis before confronting the unknown (again and again). But, ENTPs are so confident that they can get themselves out of any hole they dig themselves into, they often plough ahead with little evidence of a contingency plan. It isn't risk taking in the sense of jumping off cliffs, but this willingness to live life outside the comfort zone makes ENTPs the type most willing to take risks.
Extraversion and Perception go hand-in-hand with a craving to make life as exciting as possible, so it's no surprise to see ENFPs running a close race for the top spot when it comes to taking risks. People who lead with extraverted intuition are entrepreneurial, highly exploratory and love taking risks with ideas. They pretty much have no brakes when it comes to looking for the next crazy scheme to pursue or explore. There's some evidence to suggest that Thinkers are more inclined to take risks than Feelers, which is largely due to their compassion for others. For that reason, ENFPs will have to be content with second place on my list.
Now we're in familiar territory! ESTPs are the adventurous thrill-seekers of the 16-type system - the type most likely to chase tornadoes for fun. Sensation-loving by nature, everything they do tends to be impulsive and excitable, especially if it scratches an itch they're having in the present moment and they can make things up as they go along. ESTPs take risks for sure – so why the #3 spot? Well, even adrenaline junkies need security. ESTPs really value the idea of family and working with familiar people is important to them. It's this need for a backbone of stability that bounces them to number three on my list.
ESFPs would rather take risks than remain stuck in the same place for too long, which puts them right up there with ESTPs in terms of risk-taking behavior. If something feels right, they are just going to do it and to heck with the consequences. True happiness, however, stems from the moments they spend with the special people in their lives. Having a family and being of service to others is important, and this can temper the propensity for risk taking into something more subdued.
ISFPs have one ambition in life, and that's to follow their hearts wherever it may lead them. They have no problem with stepping outside of their comfort zone if that's going to help them pursue their passion. Spontaneous and experimental, ISFPs will grab whatever idea enthuses them in the moment, to the point of being quite unpredictable. They do get stressed quite easily though, and may shut down when a situation gets out of control. The healthy ISFP will learn from this experience and use it as a reminder to curb excessive risk taking; hence, number #5 on the list.
If Extraverted-Perceiving goes hand-in-hand with taking risks, then our Extraverted-Judgers take a different route by having excellent impulse control. ENTJs make the list at #6 because they are willing to take a long-term risk if it fits with their vision of the future, and strong-willed enough to know when they can beat the odds and push a calculated risk through. They won't waste their time on low-payoff risks, however. ENTJs do a lot of study before they switch to play to win mode, so they're generally pretty confident that a risk will work out before they decide to take it.
ISTPs are practical people, solving problems by troubleshooting and trial and error, and you cannot explore the world this way if you are held back by fear. So, there's a definite tolerance for risk-taking here. It's not risk-taking in the conventional sense – ISTPs are unlikely to do things they consider to be truly dangerous – but their tendency to get bored easily often leads them to boundary-push in the pursuit of something new and interesting. Rational and practical, ISTPs will typically weigh up their chances before making an educated decision. Where that leads, really depends on the individual's take on risk and reward.
ENFJs take a mixed view of risks. They are not averse to risk itself, but will only take action after thorough analysis and preparation. Along with ENTJs, ENFJs are our "composed" risk takers – not usually very reckless, but can demonstrate quite a bit of nerve if the situation calls for it. They tend to be much more heart-ruled than ENTJs, however, and spend a lot of time tending to the needs of others. This makes them more risk averse, since they'd be deeply upset if their own actions hurt anyone else in some way.
INTJs have open minds and healthy egos, and are not unnerved by the idea of taking calculated risks as long as there is clearly something to be gained from it: it's illogical to have to deal with risks if you are not receiving something beneficial in return. If, on a cost-benefit analysis, the risk is worth it, then INTJs will go right in with a solid strategy - thinking ahead, anticipating the consequences and preparing a back-up plan. It's all a bit sensible – some might even say prudish – and for that reason, INTJs occupy the middle ground at number #9 on my list.
INTPs are even-tempered and highly rational, which means their risk-taking is governed more by their heads than their hearts. They enjoy stepping out of the ideological comfort zone and realize that taking risks is necessary to accomplish anything worthwhile. What they won't do, is risk life and limb for cheap thrills. Above all, INTPs are free thinkers. They are more balanced than radical in their approach but enjoy challenging the status quo and definitely will take risks in order to break new ground.
Aristotle said, "virtue is at the midpoint," meaning that most of us find worth in leading a relatively stable life, without eternal chain routines or continuous leaps of faith. And that just about sums up the INFP's attitude to risk. They tend to be spontaneous of thought and slow of deed, with a pattern of analysis paralysis that stops them taking too many risks. INFPs will take a chance if it's the right thing to do. But they'd much rather do their own thing and stay within a familiar pattern to avoid disastrous consequences.
ESTJs are dependable souls, favoring predictability and continuity over change and innovation. Taking risks seems imprudent when you could just carry on having an orderly life. While the young ESTJ may take a few moderate risks (after thorough preparation), it only takes one or two catastrophic failures for them to become much more cautious in their approach. Generally, ENTJs play not to lose. They will take risks to avoid losses but are less willing to take risks that promise high rewards.
Like ESTJs, ESFJs opt to tie their boats to the safest harbor in their personal and professional lives. They value order and convention, and the ambiguity inherent in risks makes them feel deeply uncomfortable - when an ESFJ does take risks, it's only when the outcome is fairly secure. Natural peace keepers, ESFJs do everything they can to keep their loved ones happy. They are unlikely to take any kind of risk, even one that has a good chance of a positive outcome, if it could jeopardize harmony or negatively affect the people close to them.
Like INTJs, INFJs will take risks only if they can clearly identify the reward and it exceeds the risk they're about to take. If the reward is great enough, INFJs will go all in with 100 percent of their energy. For the altruistic INFJ, however, it is uncommonly rare for the reward to match the risk, even less to exceed it. INFJs think beyond their immediate experience and if there's even a small chance that other people could be hurt by the INFJ's risk-taking – something they see all too clearly – then the risk is just not worth it. Hence: #14 on the list.
ISTJs are vigilant, cautious and wary of risk, which means there's zero chance of them doing anything that could cause permanent damage to their body! They have a strong fear of change and of failure, and feel deeply uncomfortable when placed in situations they don't understand. Put simply, ISTJs are fact people. They trust what is true and verifiable and will not take a chance on something based on a hunch or abstract possibilities. Security is their watchword. Even if they know what is expected of them, they still will need a lot of pushing to try out a novel solution to a problem.
As Guardians, ISFJs are always going to value tradition, convention and the tried-and-the-true over novelty; they may deliberately structure their lives to avoid taking risks. There's also some evidence to suggest that ISFJs suffer from more stress-related issues than we would expect based on their proportion in the overall population. So, there's a fair chance that any situation that has potential for failure will scare them away. If an ISFJ does take a leap of faith, it is because he has meticulously weighed up all the pros and cons – and has a good safety net to catch him if he falls.