The Regret Minimization Framework And Making Tough Decisions

Ross Simmonds

As an entrepreneur, you have to make a lot of decisions every single day.

I’d say one of my biggest super powers is that I never beat myself up for making a decision when it needs to be made.

This month however I had to make a decision that took a bit longer than usual. I was booked to meet wth a client in the US. The office happened to be in a city with nine confirmed cases of the coronavirus. They were going to pay me handsomely for my time. We’ve had a long relationship. And I pride myself on not cancelling things that I say I’m going to do… I’ll go on stage when I’m sick. I’ll do a webinar 2 days after ACL surgery. I’ll take a red eye so I can make a birthday.

But this time it was different.

I relied on what Jeff Bezos calls the Regret Minimization Framework. Here’s a description of the framework as described by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths, in their book, Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions:

“Regret can also be highly motivating. Before he decided to start Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos had a secure and well-paid position at the investment company D. E. Shaw & Co. in New York. Starting an online bookstore in Seattle was going to be a big leap — something that his boss (that’s D. E. Shaw) advised him to think about carefully. Says Bezos:

“The framework I found, which made the decision incredibly easy, was what I called — which only a nerd would call — a “regret minimization framework.” So I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, “Okay, now 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 trying to participate 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 ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision.”

This framework made the decision to cancel the trip very easy.

I couldn’t go. 

It sucks. But the reality is… I would regret it more if I was stuck in a different country away from my family. I would regret it more if I brought something back to my family, friends or be the first person to have it my city. I would regret it more if I was sick and unable to work for weeks because of this trip.

I realize that my decision is small in comparison to those who had to cancel entire events that required months of work and hundreds of people to plan and organize… Some companies will likely lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because they couldn’t make their events happen. That sucks…  I also realize that some people don’t have the luxury to decide whether or not they should or shouldn’t go somewhere for work… That sucks.

So yeah, I’m lucky. I get that…

But my point here is that making decisions is the one thing that we all have to do every single day. Even not making a decision is in fact… A decision. That idea may intimidate you. That idea may make some people freeze up. But my hope is that you can see the power that this reality actually holds. You can make decisions. You can decide to take a big swing or bunt. You can decide to take a risk or play it safe. You can decide to stay or go. You can decide. 

For me… The key is to ensure that I’m arming myself with tools (like the Regret Minimization Framework) and knowledge (understanding a situation to the best of my ability) to make as many good decisions as I can. Some will be wrong. This one… Might in fact be wrong.

I could have very possibly flown in and flown out without contracting a thing.

But the decision I’ve made is the one I’m most okay sleeping with.

And that’s really all that matters.

About Ross Simmonds

Ross Simmonds is a digital marketing strategist who has worked with everything from Fortune 500 companies to startups to drive results using digital marketing and technology.

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