When It’s Time to Make a Big Move

July 2016

Photo: Survivor Tribal Council-Redemption Island c/o CBS Broadcasting Inc.

I am a fan of the long-running CBS show Survivor. Now in its 16th year, the show’s locations, challenges and competitors change each season, yet the premise remains the same: Contestants must figure out a way to outwit, outplay and outlast everyone else in an isolated area and under tough conditions. If the elements and malnourishment don’t get to them, the injuries and infighting usually do.

There are two main ways to get to the end. Be nice and win the immunity challenges or be bold and blindside key players. Doing the latter intelligently is what now typically gets someone, be they a villain or hero, enough votes to win the million-dollar prize.

In life, as in business, we all must make a #bigmove (as the Survivor hashtag goes) to win big. It requires solid planning, greater risks and sometimes a lot of luck. Big moves aren’t for everyone, which is why many of us advance through life in smaller, steady increments.

But growth comes sooner when a big move works. And hesitating for too long comes at a cost. So whether you are in charge of your organization or just your life, here are some things to consider before you make that move.

  1. Step back. Before you put a plan to paper (or memory), take a moment to figure out how you got where you are now and why you really want a big change. Is it realistic? Reactive? Even rational? Do you need more time to do it right? Or have you procrastinated and now time is running out? Who or what may become collateral damage? And what can you do to mitigate that impact?
  2. Plan every detail. Even companies that seem to make decisions on a whim, don’t. Staff and management plan the “whats “and “whens” and revisit these timelines regularly. Chief executives consult with peers and boards. Those looking to expand or exchange career or life paths should be big planners too. Plot a course, based on solid data, and try to think of everything required to get from here to there. And be clear what “there” looks like so you’ll know when you’ve truly made it.
  3. Think of contingencies. One reason people hesitate to make a big move is fear of failure and its financial and reputational fallout. Or because they have too much debt or dependents. For those willing to take the risk, have a backup plan that maybe isn’t as promising but will keep you in the game. And remember: setbacks happen. More often than you probably think.
  4. Learn from others’ experiences. The personal essay is popular now, and lots of luckless risk-takers are sharing what led to their biggest FAILs. These confessionals typically are published as much for catharsis as instruction. But it’s a brave soul who bares all, given the wrath of unkind comments these articles tend to generate. These are people you should read, provided they are honest with you and themselves.
  5. Be careful. It’s good to find a peer to vet your ideas and hold you accountable for your plans. But keep that list of advisors very short. And make sure you confide in someone who is positioned to provide sound advice, and not just someone willing to listen. (And include any close family members or friends who will be greatly impacted by your decisions, though expect some pushback if they too have much to lose.)

This last point about picking confidants is one that Survivor fans know well. In every episode alliances are formed and then broken, because someone shares a secret with the wrong player. There’s a name for that play too. It’s called a dumb move.

—Anne