Meet Condorsay

An open letter from Condorsay founder James Barnes

I'm writing today to tell you about Condorsay, a new company that I'm building with a few very talented friends who worked alongside me on Barometer, our successful effort to help defeat Donald Trump using technology and analytics. This experience revealed important opportunities to improve how teams make decisions, and I’m excited to share some of our ideas from the past few months.

Building Barometer, I was surprised to find that, despite creating some of the most advanced analytics tools in the world, the process of deciding what to do with their insights was barely less confusing than roadmapping in my early days as a rookie product manager at Facebook. Especially in the worst days of the pandemic, confined to Zoom and spreadsheets, all my familiar anxieties were out in full force: "Am I missing something?" "Are we really working on the most important thing?" Am I going to align the team around a decision that gets us where we need to go?" "Crap, I overwrote your column in the spreadsheet...."

Making decisions that reflect a diverse set of perspectives in service of a shared goal is not unique to product management or even technology -- it's one of the most common things we do as humans. And mostly, we suck at it. Including more than a few options scrambles our brains, forcing us to try to evaluate each option against one another without enough mental capacity to keep everything in order. When our task is synthesizing feedback across a group, this shakiness with our own preferences is worsened by our mixed abilities to communicate with others, existing power structures, and personal biases. As one Google engineer put it to me, "Every quarter, I watch product and engineering managers leave roadmapping looking more confused than they were going in." As another friend grumbled on a recent group text, "CAN SOMEONE JUST PICK A PLACE TO EAT DINNER I AM SO HUNGRY".

While organizations are often more than the sum of their parts, that feels less true for the pivotal task of figuring out what they actually do. We rely on great leaders to cut through the noise and rally us to a path, but the lack of a good direction-finding device leads us to ask superhuman things of people who are mere mortals, and leaves our collective intelligence to languish away in our individual brains. The Tao Te Ching says, "If you overesteem great men, people become powerless." I think this is one of the key problems with today's society: the way we make decisions is broken.

THERE'S GOT TO BE ANOTHER WAY! Can we build a process that empowers people? Harnesses our collective wisdom? In a way we can all feel good about at the end? And that creates better outcomes for us, our organizations, and society? This is why we are building Condorsay, an ambitious company with the mission to empower everyone to make better decisions.

Condorsay uses forced-choice surveys and ranked-choice voting to allow people to better understand their own preferences, effectively communicate them, and synthesize them with others to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Given any decision, it forces people to choose between every pair of potential options, and combines these choices into a list that represents the preferences of the group.

Armed with this information, my cofounders and I have found it easier to understand ourselves and each other, and reach decisions on complex, high-stakes decisions without fear or judgment. As an example, we used Condorsay to help figure out our equity split by ranking the qualities most key to our potential success, and will be using it consistently to prioritize our roadmap. Condorsay itself was born out of a forced-choice Python script that I wrote to figure out what I should do after the 2020 election.

If you're interested in contributing to this project in any way, please get in touch. I'd love to hear from you!

We believe that Condorsay will be useful to people and organizations in matters as diverse as hiring, roadmapping, financial planning, or figuring out what to eat.

We can’t wait to see what it helps you do.

With gratitude,
James Barnes
CEO and Founder