The 3-Word Trick Jeff Bezos Uses to Defeat Indecision

Max Phillips

When I was at university, I was often assigned group work. On the face of it, that seems fine. It’s a problem when you’re in a class of people who know nothing about each other, other than the subject they share. Once the professor announces it, a collective sigh rings out. “Not again.”

This time, however, it mattered. I needed to get a good grade to boost my overall score, so I decided to work a bit differently.

Put people in a group, and some are likely to disagree with others — especially if there are consequences. If you don’t know them, you’ll put on a façade, exchanging niceties to get the job done.

Work with a group of people long enough, however, and cracks begin to show. It’s a group of people following a sat nav until it takes you off course, leaving you lost, angry, and defensive. It’s my cue to duck out for a while.

There are rare moments when a group of people clicks. They let one another speak, engage in conversation, pick up the slack, and agree on everything.

Realizing this project meant something, that was all I desired. Except, agreeing on everything rarely happens. So how does a team swiftly progress? After all, we only had a week.

I was searching for a graduate job at this point. As a part of my research, I came across Amazon’s leadership principles and briefly looked over them. One stood out: “Disagree and commit.”

It’s a core principle deep-rooted within the company and its CEO, Jeff Bezos. In his description of the “Day 1” philosophy he has instilled at Amazon, one of the critical elements is speed. His team needs to make decisions at a “high velocity” to stay at the top of the game. In fighting won’t help that.

In a letter to shareholders, Bezos disagree and commit doesn’t merely mean thinking your team is wrong and missing the following point. Instead, he writes:

“It’s a genuine disagreement of opinion, a candid expression of my view, a chance for the team to weigh my view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way.”

By getting everyone on the same page, it leaves less room for failure. Everyone knows they must commit, which saves time otherwise spent moaning about the initial decision.

Competition, different personalities and values, poor communication, and opposing principles are just a few reasons why disagreement is inevitable in the workplace. Amazon themselves describe the sort of people who use the term:

“They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.”

By implementing “disagree and commit,” you are avoiding the Consensus Trap. The “godfather of management” Peter Drucker, tells of a story about Alfred Sloan, the man, who in the 1930s, turned General Motors into one of the biggest companies in the world despite the Great Depression. At a meeting, everyone present agreed with the proposal. According to Drucker, Sloan then said:

“I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”

Developing disagreement isn’t something you’d initially want in a team. Even if everyone agrees, they most likely don’t. Some will say whatever they need to say to end the meeting. Then, even if you disagree, you have a responsibility to commit.

The late CEO of Intel Andy Grover said if the idea fails with proper execution, then you know it is a bad idea. Disagreeing and committing leaves no room for blame or mistakes. It gives everyone a backbone.

Although I wouldn’t say I used the trick perfectly, it did prove resourceful. Some people wanted to work by themselves. I disagreed, believing working in pairs would be more productive for everyone.

Deciding to use it made me end up taking the role of the group leader. I realized not all of us were going to get along and agree on everything, but it would never get finished otherwise. We ended up with a good grade and a smooth presentation.

What is the point of all of this? Well, disagreement is inevitable in all walks of life, not just the workplace. If you disagree with family plans, don’t let it stop you from going all in. Don’t just be involved, be committed. Chances are, you’ll look past the original disagreement anyway.

As someone once said, “the difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘commitment’ is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast: the chicken was ‘involved’ — the pig was ‘committed’.”

Don’t be a chicken.

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