A clearly-stated bias for action

In the course of some conversation, a friend pointed me to a page by Amazon explaining their internal cultural principles. While I have some dislike of Amazon as a whole (most notably their avoidance of paying UK corporation tax, and their environmental credentials in their data centres and customer services) it doesn’t follow that everything they do is bad.

In particular, I was impressed with one of their working principles, called “Bias for action”:

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

To me, this captures many things I advocate about working with uncertainty and delivering constantly:

  • It puts an emphasis on delivery. Knowing is nice, but doing is what counts.
  • It explains that information only needs to be sufficient for us to act on it. Imperfect judgement is fine, if it leads to faster decisions and faster actions.
  • It links risk with reward. The reward is in the speed of doing business. The risk is explicitly stated, saying we may act while not being entirely comfortable with the information we have.
  • It explains why it’s okay to proceed with uncertainty and how we can mitigate that—because we can change our mind, and actions are very often reversible.

Clear communication is difficult. It’s notable that I’ve just used over a hundred words to unpack what Amazon said in twenty four, including one short title: “Bias for action”.

Photo by Michael Davis-Burchat

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