4 Methods Amazon and Jeff Bezos Use to Make Critical Decisions and Work More Efficiently

Jeff Bezos speaks with retired Gen. Larry Spencer, Air Force Association president, during AFA's Air, Space and Cyber Conference in 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Tech Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

Getting out of the military means making a lot of decisions while going into a world that is largely unknown to many separating veterans. It also means there's a lot of work to do: going to mandatory classes, finishing an out-processing checklist and a whole host of other tasks. Then veterans have to adjust to a whole new way of thinking and working in the civilian world.

Vets can take decision-making advice from one of the world's most successful business leaders as they transition into the civilian workforce.

Amazon founder and Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos shared his views on efficient decision-making in a 2016 letter to Amazon's shareholders. It was a time when Bezos was the company's CEO and made dozens of critical decisions every day. Amazon's stock price was soaring, and it was a longtime market leader.

Bezos was explaining how the company intended to maintain its status in a global marketplace, keeping its "Day 1" mentality, a strategy that means taking risks and staying ahead in the business, but also building trust and being decisive. Here are a few of his decision-making tactics.

1. Never use a one-size-fits-all process.

In his 2015 letter, Bezos related some decisions to "one-way" and "two-way doors." One-way doors, he wrote, are consequential and can often be irreversible. One-way door decisions "must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation." The two-way door decisions are the most common, and the consequences aren't felt for long.

He wrote that too often, organizations begin using the one-door process for decisions that don't require that kind of deliberation. It results in unnecessary risk aversion, failures to experiment and provides for less inventive thinking, all while taking way too long. It's important to fight this kind of process.

"Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process. For those, so what if you're wrong?" he wrote in 2016, referencing his 2015 letter.

2. You don't need all the information you think you do.

This tip is about maximizing one's efficiency as well. Bezos emphasizes that speed matters in business, and being high speed makes the work more fun. If you can quickly recognize and reverse bad decisions, then you will make them faster and change them when necessary.

He wrote that most decisions should be made when the decision-maker has 70% of the information they wish they had. Waiting for 90% just means they're being slow. "If you're good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think," he wrote, "whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure."

3. "Disagree and commit."

Slower, more inefficient organizations can tend toward running on a consensus decision-making approach. If consensus can't be built, then sometimes the entire decision-making process can grind to a halt. This, writes Bezos, is "Day 2" thinking and is just one sign of a slow decline to death.

Instead, he suggests "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."

4. Escalate decisions as soon as possible.

This is a decision-making tip for those who are working in teams, when their views are fundamentally different. When there are no means to resolve those disagreements, the team whose view prevails will usually win because the other side is sick of fighting, in Bezos' view.

"Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views," he wrote "... No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment." It's important to take the decision to a senior decision maker as quickly as possible to find a resolution and move on.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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