by Leon Rosenshein

Action vs. Reaction

Bias for Action is one of Amazon’s Leadership Principles. Bias for Reaction is not. They sound very similar. And from the outside they look very similar. But from the inside they’re very different.

Bias for action is about making decisions. It’s about being thoughtful and using the information you have at hand to make a good decision. It’s about understanding the options and then deciding amongst them.

Bias for reaction, on the other hand, is about doing something, anything, instead of taking the time to think and make a decision. It’s about motion. It’s about not appearing idle. It’s about looking like you’re invested in the situation.

Bias for Action is a good thing. Bias for Reaction, not so much. The key is to understand that difference and then act on it.

As part of Amazon’s leadership principles, Bias for Action is described as

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

Or, in other words, when faced with an reversible decision, use the information you have and make the best decision you can. Then move forward. If you need to change it later, change it then. Don’t agonize over the decision and don’t let yourself end up with “Analysis Paralysis”.

At Amazon the key to making decisions at speed is understanding whether the decision you’re making is reversible or not. Whether it’s a one-way door or a two-way door.

A two-way door is decision that is simple to make and if you choose to, simple to unmake. Realize you’ve stepped through a door into the wrong conference room? Step back through the door and find the right room. The cost of getting through the door either way is about the same and pretty cheap.

A one-way door is like the emergency exit at the bottom of the staircase. The one that says “No Re-entry To Building” and when you get outside there’s no door handle. If that door closes you can’t just step back in. You have to expend a lot more energy (pounding on the door and hoping someone responds or walking around to the main entrance) to get back in.

Bias for action means first understanding if you’re about to go through a one-way or two-way door. Before you can make a decision on what to do, you have to decide what kind of decision you’re making. Then you make your decision. With the appropriate amount of research and study.

That’s Bias for Action. Not doing that is Bias for Reaction. And that can get you in a lot of trouble.