Safe-to-Try: A Way of Making Tough Decisions

Stuck making a decision?

You are not alone. Making decisions makes most people afraid. Even leaders fear the consequences of making the wrong call. Either because they want to protect their position or lack the courage to challenge the status-quo, leaders avoid taking risks.

The problem with playing it too safe is that it has consequences also. Inaction can be more harmful than making a decision that is not perfect.

Safe to try?

Stop thinking about right or wrong. Making decisions requires clarity, not certainty. The problem with decisions is that we are afraid of consequences that, in most cases, are either unclear or not real. Asking this one question will get you unstuck: Is it safe to try?

A “safe to try” approach helps defuse the drama and move you into action. It will give you the clarity to make the call. And the confidence to pull the trigger when others are afraid of failing.

According to neuroscience, decisions are emotional, not logical. When you let your fears speak up, you stop listening to your common sense.

Risk-avoidance is the most significant paradox of decision-making. Analysis helps eliminate unnecessary options. But making decisions requires taking risks. Making a choice is saying “yes” to the consequences too.

Stop looking for the right decision

There’s no such a thing as a perfect decision. A right decision made at the wrong time won’t do you any good either. The perfect time to make decisions is now.

It’s okay to take time and reflect. However, if you are letting something stew forever, you are just procrastinating.

Safe-to-try decisions drive action rather than waiting for the perfect solution to arrive. They will help you choose a path, and then course correct based on real feedback rather than getting stuck by the fear of anticipation.

Safe-to-try decisions are not perfect; but they drive action, unlike indecision. To evaluate if a proposal should be accepted or rejected, consider the following with your team:

  • “Will the decision move the team backward?”
  • “Will the proposal, if implemented, cause harm which cannot be mitigated promptly?”

This litmus test helps validate the proposal but also avoids personal bias and speculation. People are asked if they have any objection (not opinions)Objections need to be based on facts and information in the present, not on possible future worries. If no real objections are presented, the proposal is considered safe to try and the team can implement it.

Safe-to-try is an effective method because:

  • Inaction can be more harmful than a decision that is not perfect
  • Decisions are never definite, unlike analysis/paralysis
  • You can always course correct based on real-life feedback
  • It builds a habit of making small dose decisions
  • It removes worrying about what you don’t know — you focus on what you know

What’s the worst thing that can happen? That’s what you need to keep in mind. In most of the cases, the answers won’t be strong enough to stop the team from trying something new. Most objections are not that solid, once you start probing them.

An experimental mindset

Stop waiting for the perfect decision. Embrace an experimental mindset. Think of your decisions as “in beta form” — they can always be improved.

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The magic of the safe-to-try method is demystifying decision-making. However, commitment still plays a significant role. There’s no room for fears or second thoughts. Even small-dose decisions need to be treated seriously. The best decision is the one you make with determination.

“In business, if you realize you’ve made a bad decision, you change it,” said Richard Branson about Brexit. The Virgin Group CEO believes there should be a second vote on the issue . Nothing is definite.

That’s the spirit behind safe-to-try decisions. You can always course correct.

This approach was originally created by Holacracy, a self-management practice to move teams into action. You can also apply it to personal decisions. Ask yourself: Is it safe to try? Make a list of all the potential issues and worries. Are they based on facts or fears? Deal with the objections that are real. Then take the plunge.

If you are not taking risks, you are not making a decision. You are just playing safe by procrastinating making the call. And that’s not safe to try.

Gustavo Razzetti

Gustavo Razzetti helps unstuck teams to ignite innovation and accelerate change. He is the CEO of  Liberationist, Change Leadership School and author of Stretch for Change.

In his capacity advising CEOs of everything from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, Razzetti has been able to lead and transform organizations for over 20 years.

He has consulted companies in almost every business category including Verizon, P&G, 20th Century Fox, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Allstate and the Mexico Tourism Board, among others. Gustavo was previously EVP at Leo Burnett Chicago. Prior to that, he worked as CEO of Euro RSCG in New York, Argentina, and Puerto Rico. 

He has authored hundreds of articles on innovation, change leadership and self-improvement. He also participated in the — by invitation only — Innovation Leadership Program at Stanford University. 

Now living in Chicago, Razzetti is married with two sons.

For speaking arrangements, please contact: gustavo@liberationist.org