Leadership at Amazon ... Productive Friction 2.0

2017-06-12 Software-Engineering Management Culture

The other day I was reading the letter that Jeff Bezo’s is writing to shareholders every year.

The obsession with fast, good decision making was and is resonating with me.

I like fast decision making processes that produce good decisions. And I like cultures and behaviors that foster environments that produce these fast, good decisions.

In the case of Amazon they have developed a set of leadership principles and behaviors (like the famous 2 pizza rule) to protect their agility and velocity, while they are scaling (and to make sure they stay a Day 1 company).

The two that stand out to me is the ambition to decide with 70% of the information (because if you wait until you have 90% of the information you are probably too late and too slow) and the ability to disagree and commit.

Especially the last one is interesting.

I am using Productive Friction and Diversity to create environments that are innovative. But Productive Friction and Diversity are also key ingredience into good decision making. And it can slow you down. Means the question becomes: Can you have the cake and eat it too? Can you have good decisions and fast descisions?

I think a culture of disagree and commit can give you that.


But it is not easy to build.

What are the obstacles to creating a culture of disagree and commit? And one easy answer is: Ego! Means you need to hire people without an ego and the myrical is going to happen, right? Hhhmmm … maybe.

First, I am not sure that you will be successful to hire people without an ego. We all got one (at least to some extend). And second, I think that this is (obviously) a way too simple answer, because it is probably the wrong question. The better question to ask is probably: How can I create an environment, where people discuss with passion, but still feel good about being not agreed with.

The answer for me is purpose.

From my point of view the main problem is that you need to make sure that poeple put the mission before the ego. Normally a lot of self-worth comes out of your ability to have good ideas and good judgement that produce good results. If you are not agreed with, you might start to feel worthless.

But if everybody understand the purpose/mission of the endeavour and genuily cares about it, you are probably more liely to be willing to give up your ambition to be right for the greater good. And feel good about it.

This is why (from my point of view) disagree and commit needs the power of why. You need to be given that chance to identify yourself with something (or someone) bigger than yourself to overcome the rejection that comes with not being agreed with.

And this will give you the ability to disagree and commit.