Most Decisions Are Two-Way Doors

In Amazon’s recent letter to its shareholders, there’s a bit about decision making which is simple but brilliant:

One common pitfall for large organizations — one that hurts speed and inventiveness — is “one-size-fits-all” decision making.
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.1 We’ll have to figure out how to fight that tendency.

While Bezos is clearly talking about decision making at the very large scale (Amazon has 230,000 employees), the concept is sound at any scale. It’s important to consider the kind of decision you have in front of you so you can apply the right approach.

Most decisions we face have two-way doors. Most decisions we face can teach us things only after we step through one of its doors.

Next time you confront a decision that feels really big, heavy, and important, take a pause and see if it really is one without a two-way door.

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