The Tension is Intentional

It is no accident many of the Amazon Leadership Principles seemingly contradict each other: they were carefully selected and crafted to encourage leaders to be thoughtful about the gray area.

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Bias for Action vs. Think Big represent favorite example of this tension.

Bias for Action – Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Think Big – Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

On one hand, Bias for Action tells us to move quickly without perfect information; to take short-term risks. On the other hand, Think Big tells us to take a long-term view, cover all the bases, and consider audacious and unconventional ideas. In the moment, you as leaders will discover these are clearly at odds with each other. Great leaders practice testing this tension and build skills for navigating it. For example, get in the habit of always asking:

“Is this decision a two-way door we just need to move quickly on, or does this decision have unambiguous long-term impacts that should be carefully considered?”

What other examples of this intentional tension resonate for you? Comment below.

PS, If you love lexigraphy as I do, head down the rabbit hole of the difference between the words “intention” and “intension”.

1 comment

  1. Hi Charlie, I’m really looking forward to work in AWS, and definitely the focus, intensity and energy over the employee culture to be driven by tough leadership must be very challenging, but also engaging, as it pushes far way from personal comfort zones, and help us grow a lot.

    In the case of both LPs (Think Big vs Bias for Action), interesting point to see ambiguity and grey areas, which seem to force mutual exclusion given the situation, such as making the decision of which one of the LPs should prevail. If you allow me to add, my view is that they don’t conflict with each other, if they sit in different arenas of action and how we understand and apply them. Therefore they actually could complement each other. Even when you think big, which is dealing with the “dream” and vision of an idea, which may not lead to short-term results, we still should act upon it assertively, decisively and persistently to go through action steps to help solidify and evolve this Think Big idea, don’t you think this way too?

    On the other way, even when I have something smaller in scope, that seem to be a natural decision to move fast towards serious action, we should Think Big as well, in order to explore opportunities unforeseen by the original scope.

    Off course, I may be wrong, you did work there for 5 years, I have not, but would be great to get your reply to this.

    Good day and be safe.

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