Delta between thought and action

On my comfortably long flight from San Francisco to Dubai last week, I got a chance to reflect upon things I’ve learned since my last trip to the subcontinent. Amongst many things across various personal and professional realms, the highest order bit was obvious – delta between thought and action determines the impact one can have.I define this delta as the difference between the moment when a new thought strikes your mind to the moment you act upon it. The smaller the delta, more thoughts one can act upon. There is a fine line between acting hastily versus quickly. I’m referring to the latter. While it is important to think and analyze before investing meaningful resources on any idea, how quickly one can transform the thought to action indicates his or her expertise. 

One of the core leadership principles that Amazon.com cultivates amongst its leaders is “Be right a lot.” This trait, often considered a barometer for one’s judgement, is highly sought after at Amazon, because leaders are required to decisively execute on a “lot” of ideas. Last year, our small team at IMDb shipped five products in nine languages that directly impacted over 30 million users worldwide and started working on three additional gutsy products slated to be launched this year. Following factors helped us keep the delta between thought and action minimal and instill a strong bias for action:

1. Become an expert – be in the top 1% in your craft: Develop subject matter expertise such that no one can do it half as good as you can. Over the last year, our team developed expertise in building mobile products on multiple platforms mostly by building those products, but also by attending conferences, talking to industry experts and hiring the experts. This engineering expertise helped us quickly prototype a ton of ideas and see them in action, so that we could make product decisions based on working prototypes as opposed to wireframes. Roger Federer or Sachin Tendulkar doesn’t think before hitting every shot. Right shots are second nature for them. Building similar expertise dramatically shrinks the delta between thought and action.

2. Stick to your decisions: Stand by the decision, despite short-term setbacks. Often, there were instances when we were operating on incomplete information and several folks rightfully questioned our decisions. It was important to not waver from the critical path to success, even with incomplete information. For instance, shipping our iPad app at launch without having access to a real iPad was a bet and we were operating on incomplete information. Once we decided to ship an iPad app, we stuck to it despite early setbacks in the iOS SDK an it paid off. We repeated it when we shipped the IMDb experience on Windows Phone 7 later that year and that paid off too. When there isn’t a lot of data to support the decision, it may get tempting to waver at the first setback. It is important to resist that temptation. While decisiveness plays a critical role in shrinking this delta, it ultimately boils down to conviction in one’s ability to execute on an idea.

3. Ship: Given a choice between shipping and not shipping, ship!

As I said, this post is a note to self and while it may seem preachy, it isn’t intended to be. As an entrepreneur, I often measure the delta between my thoughts and action and then challenge myself to shrink that delta by at least half.

What’s the delta between your thoughts and action?

-Kintan