Make fast decisions: One-way and two-way doors

At Powrsuit, we don’t generally celebrate Brilliant White Men. It’s nothing personal; we just prefer to dedicate airtime to those who don’t get enough of it. However, having used this excellent decision-making model for years, we’ve just learned that it originated from the recently re-crowned richest person on earth. Good for Jeff Bezos and us because, like his theme song, this one is a banger.

What are one-way and two-way doors?

One-way door decisions

Once you walk through that door, it closes behind you. Think big, strategic decisions that would cost a lot of time and money to reverse. These decisions need careful deliberation.

Two-way door decisions

If you walk through these doors, you can turn right around and walk right back out. These are low-risk decisions because they have very limited negative consequences.

A two-size-fits-all solution

According to Bezos, as they grow, most organisations start taking a singular approach to decision-making: every decision is treated as a one-way door. This risk-averse approach puts a hand-break on speed and innovation (which is why startups like Powrsuit have the power to disrupt 😉).

The same goes for humans. Call it fear of failure or perfectionism; our desire to get every decision right leads to over-analysis paralysis. We are all guilty of spending too much time agonising over two-way door decisions when we could have just jumped in and learned by doing.

By embracing the door metaphor, we can embrace multiple decision-making models. And, when researchers suggest that we make an (impossibly?) eye-popping 35,000 decisions a day, this might just save us a lot of wasted time and effort.

A simple way to tell the difference

Recently, Powrsuit members discussed the 10-10-10 rule. The rule is actually a simple question: “What will be the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes, 10 months, or 10 years?” 

The answer gives us an immediate, mid, and long-term view of the impact of any decision. For example, we didn’t know what to expect when we pushed ‘send’ on our first-ever article. We could have spent months researching, rewriting and reviewing; trying to determine the best newsletter length, format, timing, copy and design. But what would really have happened if we got it wrong? Maybe 10 minutes of embarrassment, but 10 months later? It would be a distant memory. 

We didn’t hesitate to treat our newsletter as a two-way door—and it was in the wild within the week. We’ve iterated and improved in the year since, and now you are reading the results! Had we treated this like a one-way door decision, we’d probably still be thinking about launching a newsletter rather than using it to inform and shape a more valuable offering: our membership network.

Making one-way doors two-way

Even when dealing with a one-way door decision, there are ways to make it two-way. Take, for example, marriage. Divorce is a relatively modern invention – back in the early 1900’s, it was incredibly rare. Nowadays? Women initiate the vast majority of them. It’s no coincidence that divorce rates have increased alongside women’s financial independence. Through increased economic independence, we have created a way out of marriages that don’t serve us. We’ve made a one-way door into a two-way (a good reminder of how important it is to be good with money).

The same philosophy applies in the workplace. Many of the hardest decisions can be converted into two-way doors by embracing an experimental mindset:

Deciding whether or not to invest in a massive marketing campaign? Test messaging and imagery on a small sample of your intended audience.

Thinking about launching a new product or service? Build a simple prototype or a manual solution and get it into the hands of potential customers.

Considering whether to sign on the dotted line with a new partner? Include an escape clause in the contract, like Richard Branson did when he launched Virgin Atlantic.

What big decision are you putting off?

At the start of this year, we were weighing up three solutions to solve women leaders’ challenges. We knew rolling back a full launch would be difficult and expensive, so we looked for two-way doors. We started by using the information we had to pick what we thought was the best solution, but we made it a two-way door decision. Instead of building anything, we simply started pitching it at every opportunity.

You might be surprised to learn that our first choice wasn’t a Membership Network. Instead, we were pitching a top-rated element of our pilot programme. However, without experiencing it, people struggled to see the value. Recognising it would be a hard sell, we walked right back through that door and tried a new solution on for size. This time? We lined up three of our four foundation partners in the first week.

If we can do it with the launch of our entire business, you can do it with the decisions in your life. With obvious two-way door decisions? Cut yourself a break and make them quickly. Facing a one-way door? Ask yourself “how can I make this two-way?’.

Take action

The next time you need to make a decision at work, ask yourself ‘Is this a two-way door?’ If it is, choose a path and go for it!

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