Regret Minimization: Jeff Bezos’s Model for Keeping Risk in Perspective

In the late 1990s, Jeff Bezos worked at a hedge fund on Wall Street. After reading a statistic on the growth of internet use in a single year (a 2,300% increase) he had to make a choice.

He could stay and continue to work in the lucrative and quite stable field of finance or quit to build something on the internet.

(Note: it’s easy to deify the future CEO of Amazon, who is today worth $95 billion, but the focus here is on the decision model he used.)

Bezos used a decision model he calls “regret minimization.” He feared the day, which at the age of 80, he would pass time cataloguing his major regrets; the things he didn’t do and the opportunities he’d passed on. It was then he decided the 80-year old Bezos would never regret taking the chance on the internet idea. In fact, he’d be proud of the decision. So he quit the hedge fund, forgoing the year-end bonus. Bezos would later refine the regret minimization technique by adding that major life regrets are due to acts of omission versus commission.

As I enter my last year on active-duty, I think about the choices in front of me. What career path to take, where in the world to find the next adventure, etc. I find that passing these choices through the eyes of my 80-year old self helps a great deal. Would he regret this decision or would he be proud?

One drawback I’ve found already with this decision-making model; that 80-year old is eccentric and demanding, content with nothing less than a life lived at a high RPM and pulling in for the final time with an empty gas tank.

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