Jeff Bezos is one of the world’s most admired entrepreneurs, primarily because of his humble style and his growth from a regular person background to a current net worth in the neighborhood of $200 billion dollars. He is the founder, CEO, and ten percent owner of Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce retailer, with an estimated employee count now approaching one million.
We all want to know how he did it, so I was pleased to see him publish a new book, “Invent and Wander,” with an introduction by Walter Isaacson, that gives us a glimpse into how he thinks. As a business advisor, I was anxious to spot any new magic from him, but I found his key points consistent with what most of us preach every day, and too many entrepreneurs choose to ignore:
- Long-term thinking drives innovation and leadership. Significant inventions always take time, and involve failed experiments, causing negative short-term business results. Among Bezos’s strengths is his ability to stick to a strategy by being exuberantly patient and patiently exuberant. It allows investors to come into alignment with customers. For example, he continues to invest in space travel and energy harvesting (Blue Origin), even though we haven’t yet run out of energy, and we still have space for growth. Yet near-earth space colonies have big advantages compared to populating other planets.
- Focus relentlessly and passionately on the customer. Bezos asserts that the advantage of being customer focused is that customers are always dissatisfied. They always want more, so they pull you along. If you are competitor obsessed, and in the lead, you see everybody running behind you, and may slow down just a little too much. He repeatedly refers to what he calls "divinely discontented" customers. What a positive way to look at negative customer feedback as an opportunity, rather than an irritant. As a side benefit, Amazon has ranked as #1 for customer satisfaction for many years in a row.
- Avoid PowerPoint and graphic slide presentations. He, like Steve Jobs, believes the process of generating a short written narrative forces a clarity of thinking not found in visual slide presentations. These narratives are then studied at the beginning of each meeting, followed by more collaborative team discussion and decision making. It turns out that there is some real scientific evidence that replacing PowerPoint slides with "briefing documents" is a meeting time saver. It is also a huge productivity gain, to offset PowerPoint's infamous ability to reduce organizational intelligence.
- Focus on the big decisions that are irrevocable. His focus as a business leader is on making a small number of high-quality decisions, and to leave the thousands of daily decisions to highly qualified and decentralized team members. Leadership comes from thinking and planning two or three years in advance on important strategic issues. Steve Jobs was well known for his focus on making strategic decisions. When you're at a crossroads and not sure which direction to go or which decision is the best one, take some extra time and ask yourself this simple question: "What would Steve Jobs do?"
- Attract and retain a motivated employee base. When Bezos interviews people, he warns them, “You can work long, hard, and smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.” Working at Amazon is not easy, and Bezos makes no apologies. Yet he has been able to build one of the most highly engaged teams on the planet. Most business people believe that more money is the key to attracting and retaining a motivated employee base. Yet he finds more and more evidence of additional keys to employees motivation and productivity, including peer recognition and real support.
In addition to all this, Bezos has already shown his dedication to a give-back purpose outside of business through his Bezos Day One Fund, by funding non-profits that help homeless families, and creating a network of tier-one preschools in low-income communities.
I believe that all of us can take a few lessons from his “Day 1” mindset, long-term thinking, customer obsession, employee culture, and drive for continuous innovation. I urge all of you to think of your company journey as a lifetime, rather than a sprint. Treat every day as the first day of your company's life, and you won’t have to think so much about all the ways it could end soon.