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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Dynamics of a 99% Committer

Comments (22)

I heard a great phrase the other day: “he’s a 99% committer.” It was in the context of trying to get something to closure where I felt like someone had committed but it was ambiguous. The person ultimately committed and all was good, but there was some question about outcome for a few days. To be clear, I separate this from a process issue – where the person is on board personally but going through an internal process with a partnership, an investment committee, or a decision making group. Rather, I’m focusing on the person who is able to make a unilateral decision, gets 99% of the way there, and then leaves it a little open.

I pride myself on making quick and definitive decisions. However, when I reflected on this phrase, I realize that I’ve played out the 99% committer role a few times in the past year. In each case, I made things more difficult for everyone, including myself, but not simply taking the extra time and energy up front to get to 100%. In one case that I can think of I let things drag on at the 99% point for several months; in another it was only a few weeks. In both cases, I let plenty of extra anxiety build up on my end as I wasted time churning on the 99% decision rather than figuring out what I had to do to get to 100%, running things to ground, and being done one way or the other.

Now, I’m not criticizing the 99% committer – it’s a very effective style for some people as it generates a lot of control and option value in situations. Specifically, from a control perspective, by not fully committing the 99% committer gets to keep playing out things on the edges, poking, prodding, and getting more information. As long as the other party doesn’t disengage, this is effective, although it definitely runs the risk of creating real fatigue on both parties. Furthermore, there is a lot of option value associated with being a 99% committer. You are almost there, but you stall, so the other party feels compelled to give you more information and hold the door open as long as they can.

But this isn’t me. And when I reflect on the few cases where I’ve played the role of a 99% committer, I’m not unhappy with the outcome, but I’m annoyed with my own behavior. By not being a 99% committer, I’m always able to make a decision, deal with the consequences (good or bad), and move on. As a result, the velocity of what I get done is extremely high and I have very little emotional decision backlog stored up.

It’s a great phrase. I expect I’ll use it plenty in the future.

  • http://twitter.com/defrag Defrag/Glue

    Great post. I’ve been thinking about/working on this skill (definitive decision making and the process/speed by which I can personally do this) a lot lately because I completely agree that not being able to — at the very least– tell the other party how your process works and how long it typically takes, just leads to a ton of anxiety and fatigue. 

    • http://freepository.com John Minnihan

      Being pretty sure I know the context there, I’ll say this: if you’re as open + direct w/ others as you are w/ me, everybody will be happy.

  • http://freepository.com John Minnihan

    Timely topic

  • http://twitter.com/JohnBPetersen John B. Petersen III

    Great post. Jack Canfield has a whole chapter in one of his books about how “99% is a bitch; 100% is a breeze.” It’s amazing to see the pin action of 100% commitment.

  • http://twitter.com/3dpt Peter Saal

    I agree with you 99%.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Hah! Well done.

  • http://twitter.com/LDEakman LD Eakman

    I’m currently on the opposite side of this.  I proposed an If/then position that I would now like to have back given the disjointed process since then.  Exogenous factors mean that I don’t have the ability to pull it back but I would have been better off as a 99% committer.  Don’t discount the value, especially if you’re not the sole decision maker.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Makes sense. There are definitely cases where 99% is better. But your
      description doesn’t actually sound like 99% to me – it sounds like a
      conditional, which I view as different yet again. I often am in a
      conditional zone (e.g. I’m interesting, but I have to get support from my
      partners to keep moving forward.)

      • http://fred.io Fred Davis

        Waiting to decide is fine. If you are an entrepreneur do all the deliberating and deciding you can… but wait to commit until you feel absolutely positively 100%… if you don’t you probably shouldn’t be doing it, and it will likely put some real drag on the you (the entrepreneur), investor, and startup.

  • http://twitter.com/roykaller roy kaller

    My all time favorite dysfunctional phrase, “I don’t disagree.”  I’ll use it for entertainment among friends and colleagues who know me well, but never in a serious business situation….

  • http://twitter.com/toddvernon Todd Vernon

    I’ve worked with people in the past that effectively use this methodology as you have suggested.  It’s super difficult for people who work for them that aren’t that type of personality.  It makes them seem indecisive when in fact, at least in my case it was more of an infinite optimization strategy.  Makes me nuts, burns tons of energy, can leave a lot of broken glass – but can get to an optimal outcome – painfully.

  • http://twitter.com/timrohde Tim Rohde

    “99% committers,” as you describe them, can ruin a startup. A decision is a type of work. A 99% commitment is work in process – the most expensive load on a production cycle.

  • http://fred.io Fred Davis

    Right on! An entrepreneur who isn’t 100% (or 1000%!) isn’t really an entrepreneur… they’re an employee.

    “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and
    soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a
    person.” – Albert Einstein 

  • Anonymous

    I wonder how destructive that type of commitment can be to the Investor + Entrepreneur relationship. Entrepreneurs can no doubt sense a 99% type of person and it must pain them to bend to every request and time waisting concern. From my limited perspective, the great VCs know how to toe the line between excellent due diligence/negotiation and 99% commitment that drains everyone’s time and hurts relationships.

  • http://yallaguy.com aarondelcohen

    I feel this way about exploring the move to boulder.  Of course, my wife is more in the 50% bucket for that commitment.

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  • Christopher Pearson-Smith

    After reading Malcolm Gladwell’s case for quick intuitive decision-making in “Blink,” it seems that waiting for the 1% more information has almost no probability of changing the outcome. So go forth and make those decisions if you’ve already come 99% of the way!

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