‘Disagree and Commit’ — Jeff Bezos

Arjun R Pillai
Apr 25, 2017 · 4 min read

The other day, I read the letter to shareholders from Jeff Bezos. Ofcourse, it had a lot of good points, but the following especially got my attention.

courtesy: geekwire

Third, 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.

One thing I heard, seen and experienced is how the leaders in different bands feel shackled because their leader (or manager as they call) doesn’t buy in to the idea. Both sides of the coin are obvious cases:

  1. People had different ideas. If they don’t get buy in and their ideas go nowhere, they will feel demotivated. After a few trials, they will be like — ‘I don’t care, either way my idea is going to get shot down’.
  2. On the flip side, the leader is a different person and might have different thoughts. So he/she might not be able to agree. Though they want their team to be motivated, they are not able to buy in.

This is where Bezos’ advise comes handy. It is very simple — ‘disagree and commit’.

Why it caught my attention so much is because I have done it so many times during my startup time and these days as well.

During our startup time, it was very common (like many good startups) to have disagreements and ferocious conversations amongst co-founders (ours were more ferocious than usual since we have been friends for 10+ years too). One of those conversations was about - what is the best channel/style of go-to-market we should focus? One of us was convinced that it was content marketing while I was totally not into it. As usual, we had our set of arguments and finally I ‘disagreed and committed’.

Disagreeing and committing is NOT about just saying it, it is also about trying your best to support what you committed to. In other words, you should try hard to prove yourself wrong. It may sound counter intuitive at first, but once you realize that all your thoughts are not right, it is easy to digest. In the above example, I committed to trying to see whether content marketing is a good GTM. I spent time, put effort, did research and wrote 2 blog posts to the best of my ability (the basic argument was — if we push content well, it will fly). There are many other cases where I said ‘happy to be proven wrong’. All these were cases where I ‘disagreed and committed’.

BTW — if you are the leader and you cannot take a gamble on your team’s thoughts once in a while, it means that you don’t trust your team. Then, it is time to fire — either yourself or the team.

It wasn’t super successful because I wasn’t explicitly telling my team that I was ‘disagreeing and committing’. I couldn’t put it across as beautifully as Bezos could. I think explicitly stating that to your team is as important as you committing internally.

When I saw Jeff’s note, it suddenly occurred to me. I realized what I was doing wrong. Immediately I pinged my team on Slack and gave the excerpt from Amazon share holder’s letter with a small footnote — ‘this is what I was doing all the while :) ’.

Not sure whether it is going to make the strategy 100% effective, but I’m sure it is gonna improve the overall dynamics.

BTW, you should read the full letter here. Jeff goes on to explain what are the other advantages of ‘disagreeing and committing’. Since I can never convey it so well, I’m not trying to. :)

Arjun was the founder and CEO of Profoundis which he sold to FullContact and joined FullContact as the Head of Data Strategy. His mantra is ‘Learn as much as possible, Pay it Forward and Leave the World’. He scribbles his learnings in the hope of adding some value to others’ life and work journeys.

Arjun R Pillai

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Founder & CEO at Insent.ai (https://www.insent.ai)| fmr Head of Data Strategy@FullContact | fmr Founder/CEO at Profoundis (Sold to FullContact)