To avoid paralysis, Instagram’s founders hold meetings where they only make decisions

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom learned how to decide.
Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom learned how to decide.
Image: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
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Instagram—the photo-sharing app owned by Facebook—has transformed itself in the last year, unveiling a slew of new features that borrow heavily from its ephemeral rival Snapchat, like Stories and live streaming. The changes have proven popular and as a result, Instagram has doubled its monthly users, to 700 million, in two years.

To move (or copy) that quickly, Instagram’s founders had to address one of its biggest obstacles to growth: their own slow decision making. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who founded the company in 2010, realized they had themselves become a bottleneck to getting things done. So three months ago, they began scheduling meetings to do nothing but make decisions, the New York Times reported (paywall). As Systrom says:

We have a doc in which we list out the inventory of decisions on products—as if it’s stacked up in front of a machine, waiting to be processed. And then we have sessions where we sit down and we decide. You just work through the decisions.

Executive decision making is much art as science, with different leaders choosing different methods, but in the high-tempo world of tech, speed is of the essence.” Paralysis-by-analysis” is a well-known threat to fast decision making.  In an annual letter to shareholders, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos urges “high-velocity decision making“ and urges his managers to pull the trigger with only 70% of the information they think they need. Waiting until they have 90% or more will cost the company more than adjusting on the fly.

Instagram was initially reluctant to make changes that changed the experience of their most loyal users, but when the founders realized the potential for growth, they were liberated to move faster. They may have lost some users, but they’ve gained far more in return.