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Two way door decisions

Article originally published in May 2024 by Stuart Brameld. Most recent update in May 2024.

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Many decisions growth marketers make on a daily basis include an element of uncertainty. When faced with such decisions, the question becomes, should you make the decision quickly on your own, or should you take your time and involve others?

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One-way v two-way door decisions

When it comes to decision making Jeff Bezos uses the analogy of one-way door and two-way door decisions, which he explained in his 2016 letter to shareholders as below:

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.

As organisations 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.

Bezos 2016 Letter to Shareholders

Jeff explains this concept in more detail on the Lex Friedman podcast in early 2024, a video extract is show below.

A simple decision-making framework

Most marketing decisions are two-way door (type 2 decisions) – we are rarely making irreversible decisions in the same way that may exist for building architecture design, data storage solutions and M&A teams.

One-way door / Type 1 decisionsTwo-way door / Type 2 decisions
Hard to reverseEasy to reverse
Lasting effectsShort-lived
Slow down and considerExecute decision quickly
Significant & importantLess impactful
Heavy-weight decisionsLightweight decisions
TeamsSingle individuals

The vast majority of your work as a growth professional – new tools, processes, UI and UX changes, ads, content and creative decisions – are almost certainly two-way door decisions and should be made quickly.

Takeaways for Growth Marketers

Two-way doors provide opportunities to experiment, learn and iterate at speed. Growth teams must embrace this agility and avoid deliberating on such decisions.

A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.

General George Patton

Through experimentation – by starting small, iterating, improving and expanding over time – decisions become more flexible and reversible, turning one-way doors into two-way doors.

For more information read Reversible and Irreversible Decisions on the Farnam Street blog.