6 Artists Who Took Major Risks (And Reaped Huge Rewards)

Beyonce shot by Robin Harper (via Facebook).
Beyonce shot by Robin Harper (via Facebook).

Risk aversion is natural – literally, our brains are wired to react to negative information more swiftly, meaning we’re more likely to act out of fear of what negative consequences risk taking might involve. But even though it’s tempting to play it safe, stay small, and keep quiet, big risks can take you to the next level no matter what field you work in, and the entertainment industry is no exception.

From writers to recording artists to reality stars (no, seriously) and beyond, here are five famous artists who took risks that paid off – big time.


Let’s be real: the answer to any question, anywhere, anytime is “Beyoncé.” But the success of her self-titled album, which she released on her own terms, makes her one of the most successful risk takers of all time – so successful that the Harvard Business School made a case study out of it. It was incredibly gutsy of Beyoncé to decide she was “bored” with the typical cycle of release/promote/repeat, but her successful risk is nothing short of inspiring.

Key takeaway: Trust your gut about what work to share and when it’s ready, don’t be afraid to take the leap and release it.

George R.R. Martin

artists who took risksMost serialized authors bang out new installments as quickly as they can – after all, your audience’s interest in your work has to wane over time, right? That hasn’t been the case with George R.R. Martin who is, in some ways, the opposite of Beyoncé. The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the Game of Thrones series, has been in progress since 2011. It’s risky to delay a sequel for so long, and a more fearful writer might have caved and or rushed to deliver. Martin’s taking the risk of trusting his readers to wait, and if the level of anticipation around book six is any indication, they’ll still be there when he’s done.

Key takeaway: Your time is YOURS to take. Chances are, your audience will let you take it.

Shonda Rhimes

When Shonda Rhimes sends a breakdown of a new character for one of her shows to agents, she doesn’t specify that character’s ethnicity. It’s insane that that practice borders on “controversial” in the eyes of some Hollywood insiders, but it was particularly risky for Rhimes to adopt this practice early in her career. That’s paid off – her commitment to diversity is just one part of what makes her one of the most respected showrunners of all time.

Key takeaway: When it comes to making a choice between doing what’s easy and expected and doing what’s right, do the right thing.

artists who took rists

Levar Burton

Crowdfunding is risky simply because it presents the opportunity to fail spectacularly in a highly visible way. For an entertainer, that’s something that can end a career.

But by taking the leap and asking fans of Reading Rainbow to resurrect the show via Kickstarter, Burton not only brought back the show, he brought his career back into the public eye – and shattered his fundraising goal by bringing in over $5 million.

Key takeaway: Sometimes all you have to do is ask.

Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey

Long before everyone had a reality show, Nick and Jessica allowed cameras to capture the full emotional spectrum of their first years of marriage – the good, the bad, and the jaw-droppingly vapid. While the pressure of simultaneously managing a marriage and a reality TV empire ultimately led to Nick and Jessica’s divorce (whoops), by showing the world who she really was, Jessica was able to go from a one-hit pop wonder to a legitimate fashion mogul. Her eponymous brand takes in a billion dollars a year.

Key takeaway: A little vulnerability and the ability to laugh at yourself goes a long, long way.

Lauren Hoffman FOLLOW >

Lauren Hoffman lives and writes in Seattle, Washington. By day, she's a freelance writer and editor; by night, she's at work completing a book-length non-fiction project, Up High Down Low.