It stems from the fact that the most important business decisions are often also the hardest ones--and those tough decisions often result in an additional cascade of leadership challenges.
It's pretty simple, really. If you make a choice from among several reasonable choices in your business, some of your team members or stakeholders will likely conclude you've made the wrong choice.
And once you've made that decision, they might have a hard time getting on board with it.
Here's a basic example. Let's say you're debating the retail price of a new product.
A low price might mean higher sales, but a high price might reinforce the perception of a premium product.
Your sales team wants to make fast sales, so they'd prefer the low price. Your marketing team would rather promote something that's seen as more exclusive.
And you can make the case for either choice. But you have to decide.
How do you get the team members who will inevitably think you've chosen wrong to move past that disagreement? That's where Bezos and Amazon come in.
Overcoming the toxic mindset
Let's call the failure to commit what it is: a toxic mindset -- although one that reflects such basic, human, emotional needs that it's hard to condemn people for it.
Recognizing this, Bezos shared a technique to overcome it in the annual shareholder letter he released on April 17, 2017.
Bezos wrote that he values making fast decisions, which often means deciding before you have all the information you'd like. He puts the sweet spot at acting when you have 70 percent of needed information.
The lack of information makes tough decisions even tougher, however, and that prompts the cascade of leadership challenges described above. To overcome them, Bezos introduced a simple linguistic trick that stops these toxic mindsets in their tracks, and cuts off the metastasis of difficulties.
It's just a three-word phrase. Bezos wrote: "Disagree and commit."
The phrase can 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 ...
If you're the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time.
Even the Kindle
Bezos goes on to give the example of when his team advocated for a particular Amazon Studios show that he personally didn't think made sense. He told them: "I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we've ever made."
And here's another high-level example I love even more: Jeff Wilke, a top executive known as the "second-most important Jeff" at Amazon, shared the story of how he originally thought the Kindle wasn't a good fit for Amazon.
But, he told The Wall Street Journal, "I disagreed and committed, and I'm very glad I did."
So, let's unpack this powerful three-word phrase, and why I think it's so effective.
1. "Disagree ... "
It all starts here. How many times have you heard that the goal in a business decision-making process is to "build consensus"? But that's wrong: The goal isn't to convince everyone; it's to review facts and make fast decisions.
Sometimes, you'll make mistakes. By putting "disagree" right into the decision-making goal, you give people an option to go on record, record their opposition, and move on quickly to helping the team.
2. " ... and ... "
It's just a conjunction, true, but it points out that this isn't just a mechanism to "agree to disagree." There's a second component coming up -- a more important one, frankly.
3. " ... Commit"
The more I think about this word, the more I love it in this context.
First, it makes clear once more that the goal here isn't agreement; it's concerted, coordinated action.
Second, it's an implicit promise from the members of your team who might have disagreed: "I might have made a different decision if I were the final authority. But I recognize we've made another decision, and I will now put my best efforts behind it."
Saying it helps inoculate against the all-too-human toxic mindset at the root of the whole problem.
Commitment over consensus. It's a powerful concept.
And if it works for Bezos and Amazon, maybe it can work for your business, too.