The Secret to Beat the ‘Big Decision Trap’

Making decisions can be downright scary. What if you make the wrong call? What if the new initiative turns out to hurt more than help (remember the launch of New Coke?)

“I’d better be careful not to screw things up,” you tell yourself. “Don’t push the envelope. Just keep it safe.”

Think how much effort it takes to pass a new law. Months of sub-committee meetings, political back channeling, public hearings, voter polling. The result? A system that sorely lacks innovation and agility.

As we make decisions in our own lives — ranging from big moves in business to smaller, personal choices — we tend to put the weight of the world on our shoulders. The nagging impulse to avoid mistakes, get it right, and not lose ground can paralyze our ability to try new things. Accordingly, many businesses and individuals remain stuck in the quicksand of the status quo.

To crack through this barrier, try this fresh approach: rather than viewing a decision as a written-in-stone, life-or-death morass, reframe it as an experiment. Put on your imaginary lab jacket, and picture yourself as a scientist doing research in a lab.

Breakthrough innovations such as curing disease with a new drug therapy come from a series of experiments, not a single idea that is instantly hatched in a perfect state. In fact, most major innovations are the result of a series of experiments, which encounter setbacks, mistakes, and roadblocks. The act of progress, therefore, is a process of discovery, not a single lightning bolt of inspiration.

Many of us have fresh ideas for change, but view the situation as binary: Either fully embrace the new idea and risk everything, or don’t pursue it at all. I suggest you forgo this all-or-nothing trap in favor of experimentation. Break the idea down into one or more experiments, where you can test your new vision without betting the farm. If you’re trying to effectuate change at your company, bosses are often reluctant to ratify permanent changes but have a healthy appetite for experiments.

The same logic applies personally. Even small decisions such as your route to work, Thursday’s dinner menu, or which friend to invite to the game can be enhanced by viewing them as experiments. Inject more experiments into your weekly routine, and you’ll uncover fresh possibilities.

In the words of American poet and musician Tuli Kupferberg, “When patterns are broken, new worlds can emerge.”

Don’t wait for an act of Congress to embrace new ideas. Minimize the pressure of making permanent decisions through regular and systematic experimentation. Give that whacky idea a shot — not by instituting a new policy, but by conducting an experiment. When the pressure is off, your creativity will soar.