Make Reversible Decisions. Most of them are; some of them aren’t. But we aren’t doing ourselves any favors when we assume that they are all irreversible, because it keeps us in indecision far too long. Create an action bias for reversible decisions, as there is nothing to lose and only information and speed to gain.
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Make Reversible Decisions
Use to strategically remove indecision whenever you can and have an action bias.
In theory, decision-making is easy. Some people do it with their gut, some try to do it with their brain, and some do it entirely out of self-interest – what’s in it for me?
That said, decision-making is not our goal – optimal decision-making combined with speed is. To improve the second portion – speed – we must understand the mental model of distinguishing between reversible and irreversible decisions and how it helps us take action more quickly.
One of the biggest reasons we have for inaction is the anxiety associated with the seeming finality of decisions. We are conditioned to think that there is no turning back, and to be a “man/woman of our word.”
To be blunt, this approach is dead wrong and will keep you standing on the sidelines for longer than needed. Not all decisions have to be set in stone. Most are actually written in pencil. Most are completely changeable, and approaching decisions as such will lead you to action more often than not. For instance, do you feel more comfortable buying a car on “final sale” (irreversible) or if there is a 100% money-back guarantee (reversible)? What about with painting a bathroom (reversible) versus adding a new bathroom (irreversible)? What about shaving your cat (irreversible) versus dying its hair (reversible)? The circumstances where you would feel more comfortable taking immediate action are all more reversible in nature.
Being able to tell the difference between reversible/irreversible decisions is one of the keys to speed. Add this to your decision-making analysis: how can I make this decision reversible, and what would it take? Can I do it? Then do that.
But knowing the difference also gives you a whole lot of information that would be impossible to know otherwise.
That’s because action will almost always tell you more than analysis before the fact. When you buy a car, you are likely buying it without knowing how it will truly perform on a day-to-day basis. If you had a 100% money-back guarantee, you would buy the car instantly and gain valuable information about how it performs every day for you. Then, depending on your level of satisfaction, you can reverse the decision or not; either way, you will be extremely informed and confident in your decision. Not distinguishing between reversible/irreversible makes you slower and more ignorant.
Reversing a decision is rarely going back on your word; it’s just adjusting your position in the face of new information. You’d be silly not to. Thus, make more reversible decisions. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, but you lose nothing, you gain information, and if you end up deciding correctly/optimally, you’re ahead of the pack. The worst-case scenario is you’re right back where you started, which isn’t so bad.
Those that are still wringing their hands about a reversible decision are just losing precious time, falling behind, and using incomplete information. Architect Wernher Von Braun had this to say on the matter: “One good test is worth a thousand expert opinions.”
Knowing the difference between reversible and irreversible decisions can dictate the pace and momentum of your life. If you favor reversible decisions, you keep yourself always in motion and learning. You’re not overanalyzing or becoming mired in analysis paralysis. You’re not the proverbial Buridan’s donkey, the morose donkey who was stuck between two bales of hay and starved to death as a result of indecision and analysis. This may not change your thought process of irreversible decisions, but those shouldn’t be rushed, anyway. For everything else, you have nothing to lose and can only gain.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, who bears an increasing resemblance to Lex Luthor and is, as of this writing, the richest man in the world, classified these two types of decisions in his own way.
“Type 1” decisions are irreversible. They’re the big, often monumental decisions that one can’t take back. “Type 2” decisions are reversible, and while Bezos also warns against over-relying on them at the risk of being rash, used judiciously they allow the decision-maker more latitude to move quickly.
On the pitfalls of confusing the two, he states,
As organizations get larger, there seems to be a tendency to use the heavy-weight Type 1 decision-making process on most decisions, including many Type 2 decisions. The end result of this is slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and consequently diminished invention. We’ll have to figure out how to fight that tendency. And one-size-fits-all thinking will turn out to be only one of the pitfalls. We’ll work hard to avoid it and any other large organization maladies we can identify.
He’s on our side regarding the action bias toward reversible decisions. It’s what he sees as a hallmark of nimble, smart companies and is probably bemoaning the fact that every decision at a company as large as Amazon.com feels relatively heavyweight and irreversible.
There’s a big caveat to making reversible decisions: they may inspire more possibilities and give you more flexibility, but they should still be based on facts – not unfounded projections, wishes, or excessive emotion. Reversible decisions work when they’re realistic and supported by data or historical results. Even if you’re making a decision that you can reverse out of, it’s much easier to pivot inside and from a reversible decision if it’s tethered to some kind of provable or established information.
As mentioned, decision-making alone is not a difficult task. But if we want to make the best decision possible, we can go ahead and use reversible decisions to learn exactly what you need to know.