Using Constraints to Make Better Decisions (Like Walking Away From $2 Million)

Could you walk away from $2 million? How hard of a decision do you think that would be?

If you’re Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, the decision is apparently easy. “Of course!” you might say. Stone now has more than a few million in the bank thanks to his role in the social sharing company. However, Stone turned down millions of dollars when he was still poor before Twitter even came into existence.

It was October of 2005, and Stone was working at Google1. He joined the team two years prior to work on Blogger, a blogging software built by Ev Williams.

Stone would need to put in two more years before his stock options fully vested. At that time, Google was skyrocketing in popularity meaning Stone’s options were worth about $2 million.

Yet, on that day in 2005, Stone was quitting his job ready to walk away with nothing in order to join Ev on his new venture, a company called Odeo, which would later become Twitter.

To Stone, the decision was actually quite simple. He had joined Google with one goal in mind: work with Ev Williams. Since Ev had left to pursue other projects, it was time for Stone to move on as well. As Stone put it to his wife, “We didn’t move out to California so I could work at Google. We moved out here so I could work with Ev.”

To make a hard decision, Stone asked a simple question: Is staying at Google accomplishing what I set out to do in California. The answer was obviously “No.”

Stone’s simple question is a type of constraint that helped to guide his decision making.

We typically think of constraints as a negative thing. In the land of plentiful options, constraints represent a step in the wrong direction. But, when used consistently and correctly, constraints can actually help simplify many aspects of your life from what to have for dinner to whether or not you want to walk away from $2 million.

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