Amazon Principle #8: Bias for Action

Herbert Lui
5 min readJan 5, 2016


I read a lot of articles and think I could have done a better job. That writer didn’t do the topic justice, I tell myself. But here’s the thing.

I’m wrong.

I stop and correct myself:

It’s my fault for not taking action quickly enough. Whoever wrote the article might have read more, talked to more people and exchanged more ideas. They started writing it earlier. They recognized the opportunity earlier than I did.

On the other hand, I watched another episode of The Office this morning. I read books I didn’t learn a lot from. And I spent too much time planning and on strategy. I worried. I didn’t spend my time and energy actually writing.

This became most apparent to me when I found out about one of Amazon’s principles:

Bias for Action: Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Source: Amazon

I’m certainly not suggesting that it’s a good idea to act on impulse. It’s a good idea to plan and research, at least a bit.

But, if you’ve got a tentative plan and considered the worst case scenarios and potential alternative solutions, that’s it.

Pull the trigger.

I love books.

But there comes a point where more reading and research are more a hindrance than they are helpful. You try to answer tough questions, many of which you shouldn’t even be thinking about yet. (e.g, “What color should my Lamborghini be?” when you’ve barely started your company.)

As Napoleon Hill writes, “The most mediocre idea acted upon is far more valuable than a flash of genius that resides only in your mind.”

Maybe your eCommerce company is floundering. Maybe you have a graveyard of half-complete side projects. You wonder what the difference is between them and people who get it.

It’s not a big difference really. Success requires a bias for action.

It requires taking action even when you’re not sure what the outcome is going to be, or even if your plan isn’t completely bulletproof.

It’s scary because all bets are off.

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You release your precious, fragile, idea to the world and hope it soars. But a lot of the time, it falls flat. Hopefully that happens less as you learn more.

And a lot of times, the journey really is not nearly as fun as a book or blog post makes it sound. It’s rather painful. Some things are better to read about than to live through. But at least you’ll find out whether you think it’s worth suffering for.

Here are some benefits when you bias yourself to taking action:

You Learn by Doing

I’m a firm believer of improving quality through quantity. You will naturally improve at whatever skill you’re pursuing by trying something, failing, learning, and trying smarter next time. It’s faster than trying to conceive of a perfect strategy for weeks.

“Genius without education is like silver in the mine,” Ben Franklin says.

“The doer alone learns,” Bruce Lee says.

Consider taking action like a way of self-teaching or self-learning. You are about to discover what genius you may, or may not, have.

You Get Luckier

Once you bias for action, you start having material to show the world. In a world of talkers, you become a doer. “Real artists ship.”

When you get your work in front of people, you come across opportunities you could not have planned for. Even if it’s imperfect they’ll stop by to look. Some of them will recognize that you’re not just another charlatan. They’ll want to help you. And that’s how “good luck” happens.

You Become More Creative

What you’re doing right now may not be perfect.

But that’s fine!

Doing it could show you how to make it better. Or, you can bring it to someone, and ask them how they think it could be better.

“But listening to the ideas engenders a new idea,” says Fred Waitzkin. “The whole point is that you have to get moving. Movement begets movement. You need to get unstuck.”

The point is, it’s easier to improve upon something than to build something from scratch. Much like how a blank canvas or piece of paper is very difficult to draw upon, until you make the first stroke.

You remind yourself that you have an option to do something.

“Blame nobody, expect nothing, do something.” — Bill Parcells

Mindsets are hard to shake off. Changing your nature and habits are not as easy as reading an article or a book.

You have to convince yourself you can do it. And that’s not easy.

Particularly if you feel like a victim of the world, like you can’t control it in any way. You can’t just think your way out of it. You have to act your way out of it. Your thoughts will follow your actions.

A lot of things are out of your control, but taking action is not one of them. It’s what you decide when you’re choosing between another meeting, TV, sleep, or bringing a project closer to completion.

Get out of your own head. When in doubt, err on the side of taking action.

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Herbert Lui

Covering the psychology of creative work for content creators, professionals, hobbyists, and independents. Author of Creative Doing: