Debate, Disagree & Commit

A letter to my team

My favorite definition of company culture is this:

“Culture is the sum of every moment you spend with people around you.” — Chris Cox

Following up a contentious yet productive debate I just had with the team last week, I came to recollect this quote over the weekend. The conversation with the team was a good reminder how I would want to spend my time with the people around me: Debate, Disagree and Commit.

I learned the phrase from one of the letters to shareholders from Jeff Bezos (Image: Google Image Search)

DEBATE HARD

Debate is essential to great products. I don’t recall any awesome products that came without grueling debate and challenge. On the contrary, I can recall many failed products that I PM-ed, thinking it was so great that everybody agreed that the product was going to be awesome.

Every time you walk out the door feeling awful that a review didn’t go well with so much feedback, your chance to make greater impact only increases. That’s because the more you’re challenged, the more unknowns become known and the more details are put into the product. That process isn’t pleasant, but the final outcome after the process will be.

When we build, we tend to optimize for our own feelings. We should optimize for the result.

Debate hard now, and you will enjoy much more later.

DISAGREE AND COMMIT

This is very important because we can’t debate forever. As much as debate is important, we will learn and make the most impact by executing. This requires the moment when you just need to disagree and commit.

It isn’t about losing the debate. The fact that we’ve debated added much value already. It is a part of dialectic product building. Your ‘antithesis’ already played a role to revisit the ‘thesis’ leading to the ‘synthesis,’ presumably a better decision. Even if it never changed, your challenge added more depth to the decision.

It isn’t about holding a grudge, wishing that the product would fail so that you can prove you were right. The failure doesn’t imply anyone was right or wrong because the key is always in execution rather than in theory. The success is completed by the implementation, not by the decision.

It is about helping the team accelerate. Many already know that a bad decision is better than no decision. Debate is helpful, but it will quickly become toxic once it’s held too long. Before hitting that threshold, say you’d disagree and commit. That’s one of the most powerful ways to help the team execute fast without losing depth.


Let’s debate hard, disagree (if have to) and commit. Every time you walk out the door of a ‘heated’ meeting room, tell yourself that you are off to a great start. :)