Two former Amazon executives have summarized and illustrated the tenets that have made Amazon a world-class company and elevated brilliant Jeff Bezos to be one of the world's richest men. The authors state the heart of “being Amazonian” are the following 14 characteristics of excellent leaders:
· Customer Obsession. Put your customer first. A bit like Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind,” Amazonians are urged to work backwards: to start with what it is the consumer wants, not what they want to sell.
· Ownership. A fine leader owns the project, wants it to prosper over the long run, not just for the coming quarter.
· Invent and Simplify. Be smart, clever, ground-breaking, but aim for the virtue of simplicity.
· Are Right, A Lot. Smart, thorough, careful people make fewer mistakes. They listen and observe a lot. And argue.
· Learn and Be Curious. It’s a big world. Explore.
· Hire and Develop the Best. Recruit well, then train.
· Insist on the Highest Standards. Is there a “close enough”? Probably not to Jeff Bezos.
· Think big. That’s THINK BIG!
· Bias for Action. Make sure you are right, then go ahead, hard, fast.
· Frugality. Waste not, want not. Do more with less.
· Earn Trust. Truth and candor and reliability are keys.
· Dive Deep. Get to the bottom of things, quickly.
· Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. Fight for your views, then support the team wholeheartedly.
· Deliver Results. Never settle.
The authors tell of Amazon victories, like the Kindle, and failures, like the Unbox TV-film-streaming application.
We meet briefly many talented Amazonians. “Jeff” is everywhere, or more precisely, his spirit is. He examines the memos he receives by interrogating every sentence. He emphasizes over and over the importance of putting the customer first and believes that Amazon’s interests and their customers’ interests are, properly viewed, identical.
There are handy tips: PowerPoint is not just passe but an inhibitor of thought in business meetings, replaced at Amazon by six-page treatises read by all attendees before the discussion gets underway at their meetings. Hirees impress less with credentials, more with past project achievements. Execs get modest salaries and major stock participation, to align their incentives with the company’s long-term growth.
One of my sons gave me the Kindle 2 a decade ago, and I loved it. Then, it fell off the kitchen table onto the tile floor and it broke. I mourned, briefly, then wrote Amazon and told them the story, noting that a book would not have broken, though admittedly a computer would have. They sent me a new Kindle, cementing our metaphorical marriage. I’ve had a couple more Kindles and was gifted a Fire HD 8 last year, and it does almost everything but walk the dog.
I’m less enamored of Amazon right now because of its recent political activities. I still love my Fire e-reader, which now reads to me (Alexa does) when I want to rest and be informed and entertained.
Alexa read much of Working Backwards to me. I occasionally thanked her, as though she were human. She isn’t, is she?