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Writing vs. talking


Matt Mochary, in The Great CEO Within, has excellent advice on writing vs talking during decision making. We have reprinted it in full below.

When two people are discussing an issue, the need to be efficient is important. When a team is discussing an issue, the need to be efficient is paramount, because each inefficient minute is multiplied by the number of people in the discussion.

If you want the most effective and efficient decision-making process, require that anyone who wants to discuss an issue write it up, along with the desired solution, ahead of time. The goal of this write-up is to be thorough enough that at the time of the decision meeting, there are few or no questions. This can be achieved in one of two ways:

  1. The hard way: Write an extraordinarily thorough analysis from the get-go.
  2. The easy way: Write a draft, circulate it to the meeting participants before the meeting, and invite comments and questions. Then write out responses to all of these comments and questions prior to the meeting.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is famous for using this written method. He requires that anyone who wants to bring up an issue or proposal must write up the item fully prior to the decision meeting (with someone else writing up a counterproposal if necessary). The meeting is then spent reading the write-ups. Once the decision-making team has read them all, a decision is made. If consensus is not reached, an appointed decision maker makes the call. If there are still open questions, then the decision maker assigns one or more people to research and, of course, write the needed follow-up. At the end of the next meeting, the decision is made.

This method, although time-consuming for the sponsor, yields extraordinarily thoughtful decisions in a very short amount of time. The extra effort and work by one person creates net savings in time and energy across the whole group.

Imposing this process on a group is daunting. Here is a way to ease a group into it.

  1. Reserve the first 15 minutes of the meeting for all participants to write out their updates and issues. Then use another 10 minutes of the meeting for all participants to read each other’s updates and issues. Then discuss and decide. Use this method for 2–3 meetings, then ...
  2. Require that all participants write their updates and issues prior to the meeting. Do not allow people to bring up an issue that they have not already written up. Use the first 10 minutes of the meeting for all participants to read each other’s updates and issues. Use this method for 1–2 meetings, then …
  3. Require that all participants write their updates and issues by a certain time prior to the meeting (e.g., 6 p.m. the evening before). Require that all participants read and comment on each other’s updates and issues prior to the meeting. People can prove that they have read the docs by adding their comments in the docs themselves. Do not allow people to make comments in the meeting if they haven't already commented on the docs themselves. This will make your meetings much more efficient and ensure that meeting time is spent effectively.

Type 1 vs Type 2 decisions

In his iconic 2015 Shareholder Letter, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos introduced us to lightweight, distributed decision making. He wrote:

“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.

“Each time there is a decision to be made, rate it as Type 1 or Type 2. If Type 2, allow one of your reports to be the decision maker. The decision will be made faster, your report will get the chance to exercise their decision-making muscles, and you will have the chance to gain confidence in your report’s ability to make decisions well."

Getting buy-in


Matt Mochary, in The Great CEO Within, has excellent advice on getting buy-in. We have reprinted it in full below.

One of the core challenges in leadership is how to get your team to buy into a decision. It’s often easy to make a decision, but it can be much harder to get your team to invest emotionally in that decision.

You create buy-in when you make people feel that they are part of the decision and that their input contributes to the final outcome. The more influence they feel they have on the outcome, the more they’ll be invested in the final result.

Broadly, there are three ways to make a decision. Each has a different time requirement and creates a different level of buy-in. There are no free lunches here, unfortunately—the method that creates the most buy-in also takes the most time.

The methods are:

  1. Manager makes the decision, announces it to the team, and answers questions. Pro: Takes very little time. Cons: Creates very little buy-in from the team. Gets no benefit from their collective knowledge and experience.
  2. Manager creates (or assigns someone to create) a written straw man (a hypothetical answer designed to inspire discussion), shares it with the team, invites the team to give feedback (written and verbal), facilitates group discussion, and determines the final answer. Pros: Creates more buy-in. Gets some small benefit from the collective wisdom of the team. Con: Takes more time.
  3. Manager invites the team to a meeting where the dilemma is discussed from scratch with no straw man. Manager and team equally share ideas. Final decision is determined by consensus if possible. Pros: Creates the most buy-in. Gets a lot of benefit from the collective wisdom of the team. Con: Takes the most time.

Not surprisingly, the greatest benefits require the most work. If you want more buy-in and a better decision, you need to take more time in making the decision.

So, which method should you use? It depends on how significant the decision is and how important buy-in is. For everyday, low-impact issues (e.g., the venue for the holiday party), Method 1 is sufficient. For major, core issues (e.g., the company’s 10-Year Vision), Method 3 is necessary. For everything in between (the vast majority of important decisions), Method 2 is optimal.

Disagree and commit

The dark side of consensus is that it can lead to inaction. “Disagree and commit” is a method of avoiding this trap. Jeff Bezos describes how he uses this at Amazon:


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.

This isn’t one way. If you’re the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time. We recently greenlit a particular Amazon Studios original. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with “I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.” Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.

Note what this example is not: it’s not me thinking to myself “well, these guys are wrong and missing the point, but this isn’t worth me chasing.” It’s a genuine disagreement of opinion, a candid expression of my view, a chance for the team to weigh my view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way. And given that this team has already brought home 11 Emmys, 6 Golden Globes, and 3 Oscars, I’m just glad they let me in the room at all!

-Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO