May 17, 2022




The Jeff Bezos Reversible vs. Irreversible Decisions Framework

At a glance

Welcome to the 500(!) new friends of the Mental Models, Concepts, and Frameworks newsletter who have joined us since last week!

This week: The Jeff Bezos Reversible vs. Irreversible Decisions Framework

Jeff Bezos

The Jeff Bezos Reversible vs. Irreversible Decisions Framework is a powerful mental model for unlocking growth in your career, business, relationships, or life.

In this newsletter, we'll cover what it is and how you can use it to improve your life.

Let's dive in!

Jeffrey Bezos is the founder and former CEO of Amazon.

With a net worth of US$182b, he's the world's second wealthiest person.

Capitalism rewards innovation, and Bezos has arguably conquered the game of capitalism.

While a master innovator today, this wasn't always the case.

Amazon's defining trait is its ability to stay nimble, creating countless innovative products while achieving enviable scale.

Some notable products include:

  • Go
  • Prime
  • Alexa
  • Kindle
  • Web Services
  • One-click checkout

These didn't happen by accident.

In a now famous letter to shareholders, Bezos explained how a company as large as Amazon can continue to be an invention machine:

"By avoiding 'one-size-fits-all' decision-making."

"We want to be a large company that’s also an invention machine. We want to combine the extraordinary customer-serving capabilities that are enabled by size with the speed of movement, nimbleness, and risk-acceptance mentality normally associated with entrepreneurial start-ups.

Can we do it? I’m optimistic. We have a good start on it, and I think our culture puts us in a position to achieve the goal. But I don’t think it’ll be easy. There are some subtle traps that even high-performing large organizations can fall into as a matter of course, and we’ll have to learn as an institution how to guard against them. One common pitfall for large organizations – one that hurts speed and inventiveness – is “one-size-fits-all” decision making."

Jeff Bezos

Enter: 'Reversible' and 'Irreversible' decisions.

We often think that collecting more information will help us make better decisions.

Sometimes that's true, but most of the time it prevents forward progress.

Other times it can be the difference between success or failure.

To avoid this trap, Bezos asks himself, "Is this a reversible or irreversible decision?"

Irreversible decisions are 'one-way doors.'

If you walk through them and don't like what you see, you can't get back to where you were before.

They must be made slowly and deliberately.

"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."

Jeff Bezos

On the other hand, reversible decisions are 'two-way doors.'

If you make a suboptimal reversible decision, you don't have to live with the consequences forever.

You can reopen the door and go back through.

These decisions can and should be made quickly.

"Most decisions 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."

Jeff Bezos

It's important to note that irreversible and reversible decisions exist on a continuum—they're not binary.

You need to plot your decision against each spectrum to determine the importance of the decision.

@BrandonMChu illustrates this process as well as key criteria here:

He breaks down decision importance into 3 dimensions:

1/ Resource investment from a decision

2/ The overall impact of a positive outcome

3/ The impacts of a negative outcome

The process involves plotting a point along each spectrum to determine overall importance.

So, how can we apply this framework to our own lives?

Step 1: Determine whether the decision is reversible

Step 2: If it's reversible, have confidence in making the decision quickly

Step 3: For irreversible decisions, slow down and gather more information before deciding

Reversible decisions aren't an excuse to act recklessly.

They're a recognition that the ability to make decisions quickly is a competitive and life advantage.

As General George Patton said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

Once you start using this framework, you'll quickly learn that the vast majority of decisions are reversible.

This will unlock considerable progress for yourself, your career, or your business.

We should always aspire to speed, because time is the one resource we lack most.

Fear of failure and perfectionism is one of the greatest barriers to individual and collective human progress.

Much of overcoming these is learning when to go fast and when to go slow.

The irreversible vs. reversible decisions framework allows you to do that.

That's it! I hope you enjoyed reading :)

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