Rousseau Kazi became a product manager at Facebook in 2011 at the age of 19, while still an undergraduate at the University of California-Berkeley. He recently left Facebook to work on a new, unannounced project, and reflected on his career on the podcast “Modest Conversations” with Sam Lessin, an entrepreneur who is also a former product manager at Facebook.
The conversation turned to the subject of difficult decisions, where Kazi shared one of the most striking lessons from his six years at the company: the hardest discussions don’t have to be the most time-consuming ones.
“I used to think, ‘Oh man, being able to make the hard decisions is going to take all this time. It’s going to take hours and hours and hours, and weeks and weeks,’” Kazi said. “Over the career, I figured out that hard decisions are hard, but they can be quite time efficient. They’re not actually that hard to make.”
The key, Kazi realized, was getting all parties to realize just how much they agreed upon already. By his estimate, people tasked with solving difficult problems are already roughly 80% aligned in their thinking by the time they get to the table. Getting people to see that, and to agree on the terms of the discussion going forward, saved time and angst.
Kazi asked people to withhold stating their preferences before some ground rules were established: Does everyone agree that there is, in fact, a decision that needs to be made here? Is everyone using the same terminology to discuss the problem at hand? Then he presented all the options, and asked people to commit to a point at which they’d feel comfortable handing over the final call to someone else if they couldn’t reach a consensus. That way, even if an agreement wasn’t reached in that meeting, everyone left feeling confident that the team was on the same page.
“People usually don’t hate an idea. They’re just scared that you didn’t think through it exhaustively enough, and that there’s a better idea. They’re afraid of opportunity costs,” Kazi said. Emphasizing how much the parties agree can go a long way toward easing that fear and getting everyone to feel comfortable about a decision.