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Risk vs. Reward

Douglas Rice, assistant professor at Notre Dame De Namur University

Douglas Rice

Douglas Rice, DBA is an assistant professor in the School of Business and Management.

Even though I couldn’t eat another bite, when the door of the restaurant cracked open and the hot blast of pollution mixed with the cool, air-conditioned, restaurant air, I immediately considered going back in for dessert. But before I could say rambutan, Mike pushed me forward, through the double doors, out in front of the restaurant, where I began to sweat.

I know what’s meant by dry heat, this wasn’t. The swampy air might have been tolerable except for the unforgettable putrid odor caused primarily by the open top sewers combined with the unrestricted vehicle exhaust. This combination may have explained why the taxi drivers didn’t bother to take the cigarettes from their lips as they clamored in their best, yet still broken, English for our business. Only in Bangkok could cigarette smoke be considered aromatic.

A narrow sidewalk separated us from the waiting taxis and the four lanes of busy street traffic beyond. Our brief pause to assess the situation allowed hovering beggars to pounce. With no other escape route and while shunning a stick of Juicy Fruit for only 10 baht, we headed for the taxis.

The five taxis, boxy sub-compact Volvos, broke into two distinct groups based on their vibrant two-tone paint schemes. The three with yellow-on-top and green-on-the bottom were deemed better than other two, since the color combination meant they were driver owned. The two with the orange-on-top and blue-on-the-bottom, a sure sign of a rental – not only here but in every country I suppose – wouldn’t be taking us anywhere tonight.

Next in line were three tuk-tuks. A tuk-tuk combines a moped with a rickshaw to provide the most economic, and dangerous, method of getting around town. They come by their name honestly as even now I can hear their tuk-tuk-tuk -tuk-tuk-tuk. Tuk-tuk’s are for tourists, but even if I was a tourist, they wouldn’t be for me.

The obvious choice was the driver owned taxi like the one we arrived in. As we moved toward the first one, the drivers all became quiet to listen to the negotiations. Mike took charge and said, “We are staying at the Sheraton by the river, how much?”

“50 baht”

“No, that’s not right. We only paid 30 baht to get here and we are just going back to the same place. So it should be the same price, 30 baht.”

“Okay, okay, 40 baht.”

“No! 30 here, 30 back. 30 baht.”

“No, 40 baht.”

At this point, I was as interested in the deal as the other cabbies. Mike turned toward the second cab in line, took one step toward him, but never got a word out. The first driver said, “Okay, okay, 30 baht.” He had caved in. Feeling triumphant, Mike jumped in the front seat, I crawled into the back and we took off. And I mean we really took off. The driver wasn’t nearly as pleased with the outcome of the negotiations as Mike and he began his version of Thailand terrorism. Nothing like a little road rage after dinner to really kick that spicy Thai food into gear.

Just a minute into the wild ride, traffic thickened as we flew up on, and got stuck behind, a tuk-tuk. Our engine was going vroom-vroom, theirs tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk, not exactly a fair fight. We got so close that when the middle aged man and his wife in the tuk-tuk turned around to see the ruckus, I could see their eyes pop out of their head.

I thought this is why tuk-tuks are for tourists. We’re only inches away from disaster when Mike says, “Slow down, slow down. Not so close!” The driver said, “40 baht!” Apparently the negotiations weren’t over.

Mike had done business internationally for decades and no cab driver was going to pull this old trick. “No, slow down.” he said. Two more rounds of 40 baht, no slow down, 40 baht, no slow down, and the cab driver decided to up the anti. He actually bumped the tuk-tuk. Not hard enough to do damage, but it was enough to get the kid on the moped, who already had the engine tuk-tuking as fast as it could, to stand up in the pedals and do his best impersonation of Lance Armstrong full of steriods in the Tour de France.

Now both Mike and I know the driver isn’t really going to run over these people, he’s not crazy. But accidents do happen and this needed to stop. But, entrenched in his position, Mike held firm. So I tapped Mike on the shoulder and said, “You’re arguing over a quarter.”


“It’s 40 baht to the dollar. You’re arguing over 10 baht or 25 cents.”

“Okay, okay, 40 baht, 40 baht.”

The great negotiation ended and everyone arrived safely. I doubt those tourists ever took a tuk-tuk again. What would you put at risk to save 25 cents? Nothing, that’s what, and neither would Mike. But he was looking at the situation from his emotional perspective, defending his position.

Reframing the situation broke that emotional tie and the best course of action became obvious.

Take any situation in your life and think of it purely in terms of risk vs. reward and see if that changes your perspective. In this case, the risk became overwhelming. If he hit them, who knows how much trouble we could be in, and I for one, do not want to see the inside of a Thai prison.

So we were risking a lot and the reward was basically nothing. Why would we take that risk? Objectively we wouldn’t, but emotionally? It’s done all the time.