Jeff Bezos on decision-making

Jeff Bezos’ 2015 annual letter to shareholders is well worth the read in its entirety.

But there’s one short segment concerning decision making that stands out in its broad applicability:

“Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups. As organizations get larger, there seems to be a tendency to use the heavy-weight Type 1 decision-making process on most decisions, including many Type 2 decisions. The end result of this is slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and consequently diminished invention*. We’ll have to figure out how to fight that tendency. [* The opposite situation is less interesting and there is undoubtedly some survivorship bias. Any companies that habitually use the light-weight Type 2 decision-making process to make Type 1 decisions go extinct before they get large.]”

This piece is even more interesting when we connect it with Kent Beck’s “taming complexity with reversibility” piece that I covered here a few months ago.

Bezos presents a more static view on decision types: some are Type 1, some are Type 2 – use the appropriate process for each.

Beck presents a more dynamic view on decision types: in some (but not all cases), by thoughtfully designing the system, you can transition some decisions from Type 1 to Type 2 and then use a more lightweight, distributed process for making them. This enables you to keep the inherent complexity in a large system under control.

Jeff Bezos on decision-making

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