How to make decisions according to Jeff Bezos

A few years back I sat down and listed out my personal values. It took me a few days of meditating on and solidifying the list. Having a list of what you value, and then re-visiting it regularly, reveals the type of individual you will be as well as how you will be perceived by others.

I recently met a software developer at a conference. He was my age, had a wedding ring on, and a photo of his kids on his computer. He was incredibly skilled as a programmer. Knowing the only way to get to that skill level of programming is with time, I asked him what priorities he had to sacrifice in order to gain the time he has put into programming – and does he have any regrets. He stopped the conversation and walked away, apparently we weren’t friends enough to have that deep of a conversation yet.

Looking at the successful programmer, he may have sacrificed time with his family, or he may have sacrificed certain career moves or finances or… in order to gain the skill he had. Any sacrifice is not ideal, but when one is firm on their values the choice is clear and made with confidence and includes no regret.

In regards to all of the above: I do not know Jeff Bezos personally but I can tell that he has a different set of values than I do – simply by the fact that he has made certain sacrifices which I would not make. He is however, a successful, intelligent businessman and there are principles one can gain insight from that his voice lends credence to. This is a business principle, but can be applied to every day life as well. Many have said it before, but I like how Bezos put it in his letter to the shareholders of Amazon – 2015.

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.

2015 Letter to Shareholders

Courage is a characteristic I’m currently researching and hope to write further on. It takes courage to make decisions, to risk, to become and to be a great leader. While I continue researching and putting my thoughts together on courage, I will put this short poem by Mark Twain here:

With courage
you will dare to take risks,
have the strength to be compassionate,
and the wisdom to be humble.

Courage is the foundation of integrity.

Mark Twain


If you haven’t already, I would challenge you to set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes and write out your values. Revisit the list over the next few days. Make sure those values will lead to the type of person you want to be and to be perceived as.

Next, are there decisions you have made/are currently making that need to be reversed in order to re-align yourself to your values?

Finally, are there decisions that you are not making because of fear? Are you stuck standing in front of a two-way door (Type 2 decision) but you’re treating it as a one-way door?

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