T is for Thrill

What is your appetite for risk? If you have a high appetite for risk, then chances are you are what Frank Farley (Professor of Psychology at Temple University, Philadelphia) would describe as a ‘Type T’ personality.

‘Type T’s  crave excitement, stimulation and arousal, often through thrill seeking behaviour. They enjoy variety and change and have a high tolerance for uncertainty. In day to day life, they are psychologically resilient, believing that they control their own fate. They come across as confident and assertive.

Farley splits ‘Type T’s into two sub-types:


The T+ subtype shows predominantly healthy risk-taking. They are highly creative innovators, prepared to challenge conventional thinking and to take the lead. These are the people who find solutions, think differently and change the world.


The T subtype shows a more destructive personality, taking dangerous risks in search of ever greater thrills. Delinquency and crimes of excitement are the result of this personality taken to extremes. At a lesser extent, a T may put their own life at risk in a dangerous sport – that can also result in serious risk to the people around them or to would be rescuers.

There is an excellent 5-minute video of Frank Farley talking about this on YouTube.


Towards the end of this video you will have heard Farley discussing how to provide suitable stimulation for ‘Type T’ children. I wonder if T behaviours start to arise when children have insufficient creative and productive – socially appropriate – outlets, which could lead them to a T+ orientation.

The Genetic Source of Type T

In an earlier blog, ‘Risk Taking – it’s in your genes’, I described the genetic research of Luke Matthews (Harvard University) and Paul Butler (Boston University), who have found of mutations to a dopamine receptor gene that may be linked to risk-taking. I would love to see research on correlating these mutations with Type T personalities – mindful as always that correlation would not form proof of causation.

Type T and Project or Change Management

Farley’s last statement in the video is his assertion that surviving in the 21st Century is about dealing with change. This has always been an essential skill for managers of change. Yet, as project managers, we ted to spend a lot of our time managing-out risk and creating an environment that we can control. So I wonder: how much of a Type T makes a good Project Manager or Change Leader?

We need:

  • tolerance for ambiguity
  • a feeling that we can control our fate
  • self-confidence
  • creative thinking and a preparedness to innovate

Yet we must disdain:

  • toleration of any unnecessary risks
  • innovation for its own sake
  • creating or seeking out thrill and stimulation
  • open, rule-free environments

What balance of Type T or its opposite (which I shall name ‘Type C’ for ‘caution’) do you see as appropriate?

Post Script: The Estimation Debate

Some of my readers may be aware – or even involved – in the debate about whether estimation is sensible or practical in project management – especially in large systems projects. I wonder if the two sides of this debate represent in some ways a polarisation of:

  • Type T‘no estimates’ – let’s figure it out as we go along
  • Type C – estimates are essential for accountability and control

I confess that I have not got involved in this debate because others have articulated my own views far more robustly and rigorously than I could have (see in particular Glen Alleman’s Herding Cats blog for many articles on this).

But I also wonder if my inability to get my head around why anyone would not start with making the best estimates that the data permit is not directly related my low Type T tendencies. If you have been interested in the ‘no estimates’ debate, please do comment.

Post Post Script: It’s Bonfire Night

This blog is published on 5 November and tonight is Bonfire Night in the UK. If you are attending or making your own fireworks display and bonfire tonight: be safe!



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