How to take the leap of faith and make (difficult) business decisions

This week, skydiver Luke Atkins made history by being the first person to plummet 25,000 feet from an aeroplane — without a parachute. Atkins had only a camera, GPS, and a net to guide him to safety during his two-minute freefall. I’m glad I didn’t read this before my planes to Dubai and Pakistan (where I am currently), otherwise I’m not sure if I would have boarded!

Skydiving without a parachute is a pretty scary position to find yourself in, and while most of us probably don’t face life or death situations in our everyday work, we’re probably all familiar with the sense of anxiety you feel when on the brink of a big business decision.

As business leaders, difficult decisions often require a leap of faith. Whether it’s investing time and money into a new business venture, or dramatically rearranging your business structure, the uncertainty of being faced with big decisions can sometimes feel like you’re about to jump out of a plane without a parachute. So what steps must you take before you decide whether to make that leap of faith?

Listen to your gut instincts

This is an important step, but it’s even more important to know that it’s only the first one in a long journey. Listening to your gut instincts is very different to trusting them. However, there is a lot of power in listening to your gut instinct, and understanding how it fits in with your journey. After all, intuition and a natural drive to embrace change are crucial aspects of a good business leader.

If you have a strong inclination towards making a certain change, ask yourself the following questions:

· How would making this change fit in with my overall desired outcome for my business?

· What resources will I need to implement this change?

· What is the alternative?

If your gut feeling aligns with your answers to these questions — if there is no alternative, if you have the tools at hand, and if it will advance you towards your business goals — then you might be on to something.

Analyse data

There are lots of high profile stories that illustrate the successes and failures of data vs gut feeling. For example, in 2010 Steve Jobs famously predicted the success of the tablet when data at the time suggested the PC would continue to dominate. On the flip side, Motorola CEO Gregory Brown lost the company $8 billion in 1998 when he ignored reports indicating the success of the mobile phone and instead, heavily invested in Iridium satellite phone technology.

Yes, data is a powerful tool, but it becomes even more so when combined with intuition. It’s easy to get caught up in an idea, but remember that data is a crucial factor of decision making — that’s why we collect it. Similarly, relying on data alone isn’t always enough. When faced with a difficult decision, take time to inform yourself in more ways than one.

Your team is the bigger picture

It’s important to remember that you’re not facing this decision alone, and that your team is not only your network of support, but your door to the bigger picture. Seek advice from them. When we seek advice, we seek confidence in others. When faced with an important decision, simply ask your team “what do you think?”. If gathering data is an important step in making a leap of faith, then gathering the opinions of those around you who will work with you through any changes should be too. This will help you to make a better decision.

Negate the negatives

Luke Atkins might not have had a parachute when he jumped 25,000 feet, but he did have a net.

When faced with a decision to make, you should thoroughly consider all the possible negatives and come up with an action plan about what you can do to minimise them. Richard Branson has a great anecdote about minimising risks before undertaking a big venture. It’s probably safe to assume that Richard’s business philosophy was shaped by this act — switching from owning a record label to starting an airline is easily a risky move, but one that paid off because Richard made sure to protect his downside.

Have you ever taken a big leap of faith? What steps did you follow to make sure it was the right decision? As always, I’d love to hear from you! Comment below or tweet at @SafarazAli.