Amazon hates social cohesion and loves truth-seeking. Social cohesion means accepting an argument or a viewpoint that you disagree with, for the sake of avoiding conflict.
I look up at the ceiling and state that it’s 12-feet high. In response, you jump on a tall chair and measure the ceiling’s exact height with a measuring tape. Then you come down from the chair and you tell me: “You are wrong, Nick. The ceiling is 11.67-feet high.
Truth-seeking means the opposite: pressing on with an issue until the truth (to the best extent possible) becomes evident.
How high is the Ceiling?
Let me illustrate the difference between the two with an example that Bezos often uses with employees. Let’s say, I looked up at the ceiling of the room I’m in, and stated that I thought that the ceiling was 12-feet high. Then you also looked at the ceiling and said that you thought it was 11-feet high. In response, I would say: “How about we split the difference and call it 11.5-feet?” And your counter-response would be to smile, shake my hand and call it a deal. I have just described social cohesion: the very practice that Amazon hates.
Injecting truth-seeking in the above example would make it look like this: I look up at the ceiling and state that it’s 12-feet high. In response, you jump on a tall chair and measure the ceiling’s exact height with a measuring tape. Then you come down from the chair and you tell me: “You are wrong, Nick. The ceiling is 11.67-feet high.” That is truth-seeking in action and describes Amazon’s appreciation of conflict.
Conflict Creates Truth
In other words, Amazon loves conflict and views it as a conduit for obtaining unambiguous facts. In Bezos’s ceiling example, my imaginary adversary didn’t measure the ceiling to prove me wrong, or to one-up me, or to score a political victory. She did it solely because she was seeking the truth; there was no other agenda.
Truth-seeking touches on many of Amazon’s Leadership Principles but is best encapsulated by “Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit:” Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
What if no one Knows the Answer?
Now, you might point out that this ceiling example is binary and, therefore, with an easy-to-reach, unambiguous answer. What would happen if the problem is nuanced? What would happen if it’s hard to produce any evidence for what truth is? In that case, the second half of the same Leadership Principle applies, namely, the words “Disagree and Commit.” If the truth is uncertain, Amazon would rapidly test various answers, until discovering the one that is truthful. Bezos explains this very type of thinking in his 2016 Shareholder Letter: “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.”
What Bezos means by saying “will you gamble with me on it?” is another way to describe Amazon’s fail-fast mentality. A quick negative outcome is actually a positive outcome, at Amazon, because it generates data and precludes a hypothesis. Failure is how Amazon learns and how it turned a fiasco like the Fire Phone into a hit like the Amazon Echo.
People must “Disagree and Commit;” “Disagree and Comply,” or “Disagree and Reserve-the-Right-to-say-I-told-you-so-Later,” wouldn’t do.
As you can see, “Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit” is a Leadership Principle with naturally built-in tension. This tension helps shake out social cohesion from decision-making, while, on the other hand, pushes people to iterate when nobody knows the right answer. People must “Disagree and Commit;” “Disagree and Comply,” or “Disagree and Reserve-the-Right-to-say-I-Told-you-so-Later,” wouldn’t do. It must be “Disagree and Commit.” In that case alone, truth-seeking will be both exhaustive, when the answer is known, and iterative, when the answer is uncertain.
This originally appeared on amazonbound.today.