Falling Through Two-Way Doors – Empowering Employees to Embrace Risk

We live in a risk-adverse culture. I see this professionally and even at home with one of my young daughters. She’s talented in many areas, but she’s exceptionally hard on herself when she can’t accomplish something right away. In these situations, she becomes discouraged to the point she stops trying.

For a child, FAIL is nothing more than the “First Attempt In Learning.” As her father, it’s my responsibility to help her grow comfortable with failing so she can be the best version of herself.

Likewise, in business, one of the biggest mistakes I see talented people make in their careers is being afraid to fail. The prospect of failing is so intimidating, they pursue goals they are guaranteed to achieve rather than aim for more ambitious outcomes they could miss. They are so motivated to avoid error, they shortchange themselves and their colleagues, sacrificing creativity and ingenuity for the safety of the status quo.

To make any decision is to take a risk. Some percentage of our decisions will fail. According to JP Morgan’s Chief Marketing Officer, Kristin Lemkau, “If you’re not failing, then you’re not learning.”

One of the best ways people can get comfortable making fast decisions is to focus on “two-way door” decisions making, rather than “one-way door” decision making. Jeff Wilke, Senior Vice President of Consumer Business at Amazon, does a great job describing the critical difference between these two: “A one-way door is a place with a decision if you walk through, and if you don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back. You can’t get back to the initial state. A two-way door, you can walk through and can see what you find, and if you don’t like it, you can walk right back through the door and return to the state you had before.”

Two-way door decisions are reversible and therefore require less vetting. As Wilkes says, “Why would we need anything more than the lightest weight approval process for those two-way doors?” What applies for Amazon as an organization applies to people as well. Why worry too much if you can walk it back?

As a CEO, I encourage my employees to make two-way door decisions. This may take the form of releasing a software enhancement that can be rolled back, or piloting a program within a single department before implementing company-wide.

One-way door decisions require more thought and buy-in since they cannot be undone. Both decision types have the potential to yield great results, but one-way decisions risk greater repercussions if they are wrong and take greater care and vetting.

If fear of failure is hindering your organization’s ability to innovate or your personal ability to take risk in your life, consider using the concept of two-way door decision making. It is a safe, simple, smart way to open up your employees or yourself to the risk of failure, and, more importantly – the risk of success.