In a recent internal meeting at Hennessey Digital, we were discussing how to structure the categories in the navigation menu on a client’s website. The conversation went something like this:
“We should probably include all categories so we’re sure we don’t miss anything.”
“But if we do that, the menu will be too unwieldy and hard for users to find what they’re looking for.”
“We should study all of the other prominent sites in the space and see what categories they have.”
“We can do that, but this client is unique so I’m not sure that those examples will directly apply.”
“Can we just start with a few categories, and then monitor how people are using the site search? If something gets popular, we can add it to the site.”
“Yeah, but while we’re looking at that, the client might miss out on a lot of valuable conversions. I also worry that the bounce rate will be too high if we don’t immediately show people what they want.”
“This is a tough call.”
Decision making and the perfection trap
The menu debate went on for 10 minutes (and I’ll admit I was guilty of prolonging it!)
There was no single “right” answer, and until we had actual data, it was just a battle of opinions.
Finally, someone asked one of our developers, “After we launch, how hard will it be to change the nav and add or remove options?”
“Easy. It’ll take less than 10 minutes.”
Once it became apparent to the whole team that this was not a life-or-death decision and could easily be changed within minutes, it freed us up to make our best guess and move on.
Our decision didn’t necessarily need to be perfect, it just needed to be made.
As the famous quote from General George Patton goes, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.”
The phenomenon of decisions
Jeff Bezos touched on the phenomenon of decisions in Amazon’s 2016 letter to shareholders:
Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors.
If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.
In that internal meeting about the menu navigation, we had been treating a decision about a client’s website as an irreversible “one-way door” when it was a simple choice that could easily be changed.
We had brought out the heavy-duty Type 1 decision-making machinery when all we really needed was a lighter-duty Type 2 approach.
Type 1 and Type 2 decisions
As I looked around our agency, I started to notice other instances where we were taking relatively easy decisions and fretting over them as if they were one-way doors.
And it seems like we’re not alone.
Bezos touched on this phenomenon in his shareholder letter:
As organizations get larger, there seems to be a tendency to use the heavyweight 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.
The reality is that most decisions at Hennessey Digital aren’t life-or-death decisions where there’s no turning back. Most decisions we make are Type 2 decisions that:
- Are relatively small in scope (affecting only one project or a single client)
- Can be easily reversed in the future (after we receive more information and realize the original decision wasn’t optimal)
- Benefit from a decision made quickly (taking action on a “good enough” solution today is better than coming up with the perfect solution weeks later)
- Don’t need senior leadership’s input, but rather should be made by managers and those closest to the day-to-day action.
Type 2 decisions can easily be reversed
Some Type 2 decisions are even made knowing there’s a good chance you’ll change them later. A great example of this phenomenon is conversion rate optimization.
When we launch a new paid campaign for a client, we may create a few versions of a landing page to test. Once we’ve collected enough data, we revisit, review, and make improvements to the page based on what we’ve learned.
This process is far superior to agonizing over the “perfect” landing page. Go with what you believe is best, then make adjustments based on what the data tells you.
Type 1 decisions? Those are the biggies; the ones you should spend a lot of time on.
In any organization, Type 1 decisions:
- Can’t easily be undone
- Benefit from gathering as much information as possible, even if it takes more time
- Require lots of time and attention from senior leadership
- Go over better when an established methodology is followed
Think of the kinds of huge announcements that a company seldom makes—merging with a competitor, canceling a product line, or making an investment that doubles the company’s current budget. For these decisions, slowing down and getting it right is crucial.
Getting the Type 1 decisions right
At Hennessey Digital, we make these kinds of Type 1 decisions, but certainly not every week.
Thinking back to early this year, I can think of one big strategic bet that we spent a lot of time on because we wanted to nail it.
This was the decision to move forward with the Hennessey Digital Platform, which is now where most of our client work and communications take place.
As we approached this decision, we:
- Gathered all of the necessary information
- Sketched out a couple of realistic scenarios for each possible path forward
- Brought together the right leaders who were most directly involved
- Picked apart the scenarios, respectfully challenging assumptions
- Finally agreed on a way forward
Two things about this decision stand out to me now.
First, it took a long while; much longer than we want most decisions to take. The time from when the idea was first floated to when we made the decision to move forward was over two months.
While we probably could have met more frequently and decided sooner, this realistically was going to be a months-long decision because of the fact-finding work that had to be done. (Remember: we’re okay with this for the big decisions.)
This highlights another key factor in both Type 1 and type 2 decisions: info-gathering and missing data.
How much information do I need?
The second thing that stood out was that, despite all the fact-finding and time spent carefully weighing everything, we still had less information that we would have liked to have.
Well, what do you know? Jeff Bezos wrote about this, too:
Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70 percent of the information you wish you had,” Bezos wrote in the letter. “If you wait for 90 percent, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.
Don’t get too hung up on that 70% number. I don’t know if it’s really more like 60% or 85%, and that’s not the point.
You might have enough experience and the managerial judgment to know that there may be significant unanswered questions. But we have the information to generally know what we’re dealing with and what the most likely outcomes are.
This was the situation we found ourselves in earlier this year. While I personally still had a little nagging voice in the back of my head asking, “What if we could talk to a few more people and learn a little more?”
I knew it was time for us to move forward.
Involve the team in decision making
For day-to-day decisions that our agency makes all the time, we’re making an effort to let managers and individual contributors make more of these decisions on their own. Some decisions should be free from senior management’s input and not involve weeks of digging for alternatives and chasing down obscure “what if?” scenarios.
If we make a decision that needs to be revisited, that’s okay. We won’t bat 1.000, nor should we. (And this is where the principles of Type 1 and Type 2 decisions come into play.)
Don’t obsess over getting every decision right. And don’t stress over some occasional misfires: those come with the territory as we push ourselves to move more quickly with our decision making.
Hemming and hawing for weeks to make a slightly better decision isn’t how Amazon got to where it is today. Hennessey Digital isn’t Amazon, but we want to embrace this philosophy more and more as we grow.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
And that’s what we do at Hennessey Digital!