High Stakes, Play Safe Vs No Risk, No Gain: How to Choose?

Billy Wilder's quote on why trusting your own instinct is important

Have you put your hat in the ring when the stakes are sky-high?

Where a wrong move can cost your job.

Ever heard it’s not worth risking years of hard-earned reputation?

I had, too. But I did not pay heed to it.

The story dates back seven years.

The Meeting That Defined the Future

I was summoned by our Group CEO at that time. He wanted my input on the best design houses to invite for rebranding our flagship national news channel.

“Any specific reason why you want it outsourced, I asked? “

He said this was the first rebranding after a change in ownership. Nothing less than the very best would do.  

“I feel that our internal team should do it, I said.”

“Would they find the time? After all, they need to cater to a running brand,” he queried.

He added: “Besides, it requires an out-of-the-box concept. Internal teams are too used to thinking and doing in a certain way.”

I argued: “The in-house team designs in a certain way because the internal clients expect it. Or ask for it. If those boundaries are removed, only the sky would be the limit of their imagination.”

I knew this was my one chance to pitch. I needed to drive my point home. I had his attention and I was determined to make the most of it.

He wasn’t expecting me to throw my hat in the ring. I needed to make him see my point. I pushed my luck:

“The internal team has skin in the game and practical experience to anticipate problem areas. An external agency may create a great design job that may not score on applicability and stand the test of time. What good is a great design if it cannot be applied successfully or has to be tinkered with soon after the reveal?

Since the entire top management was new, there weren’t enough opportunities yet for them to judge the capability of our in-house team. But given how I argued my case, he was open to allowing me to pitch my case.

He gave me less than six hours to send him a note on why my team should be entrusted with the task. He made it clear that the final call was not for him to decide alone. He needed to share and discuss it with key stakeholders.

When You Dance With Chance

When I entered the room, I got a sense the decision to outsource had already been taken. When I left, there was a sliver of a chance that the decision could change. I was ready to take that chance.

There wasn’t much time to think. The clock was ticking. So, I got back to my desk and began drafting.

I emailed my note three minutes past the deadline. My pitch consisted of just words – from the heart. It included a brief mention of the core team and its capabilities.

18 hours later, my phone rang. The big boss had called.

“Congratulations”, he said, “your passion and conviction have won your team the job.”

And then he added a caveat:

“I hope you know the stakes are sky-high. If the work does not meet the expectations, two jobs would be on the line – your and mine.”

I knew he was being graceful by adding his name. The risk was entirely mine. And I was prepared for it.

A colleague in the senior leadership team who heard this felt it would be safer if I let this be done externally. I would be involved in the creative process but, with a safety net.

I realised he was concerned for me. He did not want me to lose my job. But if I was insecure and unsure after spending half my life in this profession, I have wasted my time and perhaps should have pursued some other calling.

Why You Should Stand Up For What You Believe In?

I entered the ring because I was ready for the challenge. I had faith in my core team.

It was not overconfidence. In the note I pitched, I mentioned our in-house capabilities and suggested we should seek external expertise in a couple of areas. A signature tune for the new brand was one of them.

The big boss promptly commissioned a leading sonic branding company for the same. A few rounds of brainstorming followed before two options were presented.

In the meantime, a significant development occurred. A new Group CEO had been appointed and both the new and existing big bosses met at our headquarters in Mumbai and agreed on one of the two signature tunes.

When the selected option was shared with me, I told the brand consultant it was not the right choice. I asked to hear the other option. Having heard, I felt it was better suited. With a few tweaks.

The consultant reiterated that the selected option was unanimously agreed on by both the incoming and outgoing big bosses. I stood my ground. After all, it is my job to let my professional opinion be known.

When the top bosses were informed, they decided to go with my view. I was relieved, glad and grateful in that sequential order.

Result Day Anxiety: What If You Fail?

Around the same time, I presented the first cut of the new screen look and the new brand identity to the top leadership team. There was an air of uncertainty and lots of butterflies in the stomach.

What if they don’t like what they see? I hoped they didn’t see the exercise as a waste of time and effort.

I was more worried about how the outcome could adversely affect the team. They had created a product prototype with unbridled passion. The moment had come now when a decision would be taken.

One of the options was greenlighted.

The appreciation that followed boosted the morale of the core team behind the new look. Their confidence grew. It gave a sense of fulfillment and purpose to the creative talent within the organization.

It also helped save a few million rupees for the company, though that was not the objective then.

This story ended well. To the satisfaction of all parties. In hindsight, it all looks good.

But it could have backfired if the new look had not met expectations. I could have lost the trust of the top leadership. And the in-house team would have missed opportunities in similar future projects. For a long time, if not forever.

It would have been much safer to let the job be outsourced. As my colleague had suggested, I would’ve still played a key role in the process. If the output was great, I’d be part of the success. If it didn’t meet expectations, the blame would squarely lie with the agency. Either way, I had little to lose.

Sounded safe, right?

Safe, it was. But my team would have missed out on a terrific opportunity to create great designs. That didn’t feel right to me. I believed they could do it, given a chance.

When I look back, I thank my stars I fervently argued my case. And made an earnest plea for my team to be given a chance. I am grateful the leadership saw my point.

Since then, our in-house team has had the opportunity to do it 18 times in seven years for 16 brands within our network.

Millions of dollars have been saved over the years which would have been paid if the creative work was outsourced. But what’s invaluable is the effect it has had on the morale and confidence of our team.

“Take risks: if you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.” — Anonymous

When you believe in your abilities, throw your hat in the ring. When you succeed, the outcome defines your future. If you fail, you would have no regret that you didn’t try. At the very least, you would emerge wiser.

You have one life to live. Go with your gut. 

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Published by RG

A Thinker at all times and Storyteller at heart. I see, I think. I hear, I think. I read, I think. Sometimes I write. Let me know what you think

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