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Jeff Bezos' Decision-Making Doors

One of my old bosses sent those of us who worked for him a link to an article. I don’t know what my colleagues did, but I noted that he’d sent it, and then, without reading it, went about my day.

At some point I decided to look at it. I was probably stuck on the phone on eternal hold with IT support or something. But, as often happens when I smile politely and put off reading something, it was a really interesting article and something I should have invested in looking at when he first sent it through.

It was all about decision making and how the king of Amazon classifies certain types of decisions. Essentially, there are two types of decisions: one-way doors, and two-way doors. Two-way doors are easily reversible decisions - if you don’t like the outcome, you can go back through the door and do something different. These are the majority of decisions we’re faced with, like what to eat for lunch, or how much to charge for your book.

One-way doors are rare. They’re decisions that are difficult to reverse, and you’ll have to roll with whatever outcome you get. These are things like quitting your job, or whether to accept a publishing offer for your book.

What struck me at the time was how often two-way door decisions are mistaken for one-way doors, and how much of a role this plays in paralysing the delegation process. When the delegation process is stifled, even the best leader can stumble and the team can suffer.

What I think about now is how I can use this analogy to avoid the perfectionist trap and enhance experimentation. It’s so easy to get trapped in the idea that your book (or whatever the ‘book’ in your life is) needs to be perfect before you put it out in the world. That you have one chance to make that first impression. And this can cripple your author career before it begins.

Publishing your book might seem like a one-way door. Once you hit ‘publish’ it’s out there to be judged. But if you find there were several spelling mistakes you (and your editor, and your proofreaders) missed, you can amend your file and upload the new one. If your sales are non-existent and you think it’s your cover, you can get a new one and re-release your book.

But what about all the people who read the blemished version and judged you for that?

First impressions matter, after all. You should always try to make the best first impression you can. But just like meeting people, there will be some who you gel with, and some who you don't. And I think it's better to get out there and make all the first impressions I can, rather than waiting and trying to perfect the first impression and ultimately not making any.

I will make mistakes, but so long as I learn from them, and remain willing to try something new, I'm doing better than not trying at all! Worst case, some people don’t want to take another risk on me and my books. But there are over one billion readers using ebooks alone, so in all likelihood if I stuff it up the first time, I'll find some more readers when I have another crack.

I’m not trying to say it’s easy—it’s not. I’m about to put my first book out there to be judged, and my biggest fear is not so much that people will find a bunch of typos, or even not like it. It’s that no one will read it at all! But I keep telling myself, this is a two-way door. If no one reads it, I can try a new cover, a new blurb, play with advertising. If people still aren’t interested, well, I’ll just have to write a new book and see how that one goes!

The worst thing I could do along this journey is to think that the doors are all one-way, and spend too much time agonising about what to do.

And the best thing I can do if I do find a one-way door, is to just make a decision, commit, and dive on through :)

Anyhoo, thanks for reading!

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