A Jeff Bezos Classic: The Regret Minimization Framework

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. Credit: Amazon

The Regret Minimization Framework. Sounds sufficiently nerdy. I heard about it today listening to Benchmark partner Sarah Taveltalk about how she used it to make a big career decision.

The framework is a relic from Jeff Bezos that he used to decide if he should quit his banking job and skip his annual bonus to start Amazon.

The following is what Jeff said in an interview from 2001. I’m clearly not the first to hear about this — it’s a simple way to approach complex decisions that clearly stands the test of time.

Jeff Bezos and the Regret Minimization Framework transcript

I went to my boss and told him, I’m going to go do this crazy thing — I’m going to start this company selling books online. This is something I had already been talking to him about in a more general context, and he said, “let’s go on a walk.” So we went on a 2 hour walk in Central Park in New York City and the conclusion of that was, he said, “this actually sounds like a really good idea to me, but it sounds like it would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job!”

He convinced me think to about it for 48 hours before making a final decision so I went away and was trying to find the right framework to make that kind of big decision. I had already talked to my wife about this and she was 100 percent supportive and said, “you can count me in – whatever you want to do.” It’s true, she had married this guy in the stable career with stable career path, but she was 100 percent supportive.

So it was really a decision I had to make for myself. The framework I found which made the decision incredibly easy was what I called — only a nerd would call – a regret minimization framework.

I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, I’m looking back on my life, I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have. I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret participating in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that. But I knew the one thing I might regret is not having ever tried. And I knew that would haunt me every day.

When I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision. If you can project yourself to age 80 and think, what will I think at that time, it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion. I left this Wall Street firm in the middle of the year, and when you do that, you walk away from your annual bonus. That’s the kind of thing that in the short-term can confuse you but when you think about the long-term, you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later.


Also published on Medium.

About The Author

David Swain

David Swain is the founder of Common Threads Media. Swain was the head of communications at Instagram and director of technology communications at Facebook. He is an advisory board member of Strava.

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