I Disagree and Commit

The following is a link to a letter written by the CEO of Amazon (Jeff Bezos) to the shareholders in 2017. It is hugely insightful, and a fascinating look at how a behemoth like amazon has managed to stay dynamic and ahead of the competition for so long.


Cash Cow

The letter discusses in detail ‘day 2’, which in layman’s terms means the time when a business is at a later stage in its life-cycle, being more established and less ‘start-up’.

“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”
That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.
I’m interested in the question, how do you fend off Day 2? What are the techniques and tactics? How do you keep the vitality of Day 1, even inside a large organisation?

The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.

Whilst Jeff is focusing on businesses in general and Amazon specifically, I have thought a lot about day 2 in my day-to-day-life. How do you stay dynamic? How to stay on top of life, enjoying the ride and maintaining the sense of adventure? How to avoid the slow stagnation that (IMO!) tends to happen to most people past a really-not-that-old age? I think a lot of us give up at a certain stage and accept that this is our lot. Yet we needn’t, we just need to try and break free of the boundaries that are, more often than not, self-imposed. Processes and routine, designed to make life easier, can actually make things worse and suck the fun out of life. As the letter states:

It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.”

Quite often, we follow the process of our own lives. We can get stuck in a rut and do things because other people have done them and paved out an obvious path for us. It means we can avoid thinking for ourselves and deciding what is best for us. It’s easy, but does it make us happy? I would argue not. Note, I am not advocating a thrill-seeking ‘every day might be my last’ approach (that sounds exhausting) but there is a middle ground.


Decisions, decisions..

The second part of the letter I want to highlight is decision-making. Start-ups and small businesses can make decisions quickly and easily. Larger companies struggle – even if they make good decisions they often make them slowly. Furthermore the problem can be that once decisions are made, there is no going back. Whether it be that the process is too painful to go through again, or no one wants to admit that it isn’t working, decisions that were not in the best interests of the company remain in place.

There is clear parallel here to life. Often our commitments get in the way of making decisions that we want and need to make. Our obligations can really slow down growth if we let them. So.. throw them out! Jk1. The solution?

First, never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process. For those, so what if you’re wrong?

Second, most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.

Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.

“You’ve worn me down” is an awful decision-making process. It’s slow and de-energizing. Go for quick escalation instead – it’s better.

Try that in your personal life!


Harry x

  1. Jk = Joking

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