Commit or Resist? It May Be Best to Move Forward

Robin Miller

I don’t study Jeff Bezos and Amazon very much, but I was particularly moved by an excerpt from a letter he wrote in a recent annual report where he talked about high-velocity (of course) decision making. Essentially, he commented on making decisions quickly to create a business advantage. He talked about making decisions with only 70% of the information you wish you had and also the fact that many smaller decisions are reversible — so why wait?

Love that.

Are You Willing to Commit, Even When You Disagree?

But what struck me as most interesting is his commentary on what he refers to as “disagree and commit,” because in B2B marketing, we often run into scenarios where we’re pitching ideas to a large customer committee, many of whom have worked with us side-by-side to develop a recommendation. Consider this from Mr. Bezos:

Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.

This isn’t one way. If you’re the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time. We recently greenlit a particular Amazon Studios original. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with “I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.” Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.

Note what this example is not: it’s not me thinking to myself “well, these guys are wrong and missing the point, but this isn’t worth me chasing.” 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. And given that this team has already brought home 11 Emmys, 6 Golden Globes, and 3 Oscars, I’m just glad they let me in the room at all!”

That’s pretty powerful stuff. Our clients hire highly trained marketing professionals (and marketing agencies!) to do a job: create concepts, develop marketing campaigns, establish messaging, run events, etc. These people know what they’re doing and often have the marketing equivalents of Emmys, Golden Globes and Oscars to back them up. So, why shouldn’t a general manager, vice president or C-level exec put his or her trust in that team, even if he or she isn’t fully onboard?

How Will Your Commitment Help?

Imagine the positive energy and empowering environment this creates. Rather than facing a single-vote veto or having to execute a severely compromised approach, a team of experts is allowed to pursue what they believe is the right approach with the full commitment, if not agreement, of their leadership. Which team works harder when it comes to execution?

  • Team A, who has been told to move forward with a middle-ground or completely different approach than what they recommended?
  • Team B, who has done the research, provided the justification and has been given the green light (and resources) to pursue the recommendation they developed.

Answer = B.

Of course, coming to any type of important recommendation is a process unto itself, and there are many articles about best practices on how to make an effective decision. Erik Larson published a checklist in the Harvard Business Review to help managers make better decisions. Managers who regularly followed this process saved time (10 hours), decided faster (10 days) and achieved better outcomes from their decisions (20%). He noted that employing the right process can help teams avoid making the typical, yet often undetected mental shortcuts: cognitive biases that are exacerbated by groupthink.

So, not 100% sure that marketing plan aligns with what you expected? Does that provocative creative platform make you a little uneasy? Still not sure the new messaging underscores the value proposition you anticipated? When you’re looking at a decision and not quite sure you’re onboard, consider the following:

  • Do I trust the team making the recommendation? Are they professionals who understand the context of their decision and the implications of moving forward?
  • Did they do the work and follow processes that remove emotional biases?
  • How will my commitment, even if I disagree, contribute to the success of this decision?

NOTE: A more complete excerpt of Jeff Bezos’ annual report letter can be found here.

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