Author: Walter Isaacson, Jeff Bezos
Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos, With an Introduction by Walter Isaacson Walter Isaacson, Jeff Bezos 2020
About the book Invent and Wander
When Jeff Bezos stepped down from a prestigious and well-paid hedge fund job to open an online bookstore, many were twiddling their thumbs. But he did not pay attention – he packed parcels by hand on the garage floor after a working day, dreamed of buying a forklift and believed in future success. Today, his company ships billions of products a year around the world. Bezos is the richest man on the planet, space explorer, publisher and environmentalist. Millions of people admire him, dreaming of repeating his success. We tried to unravel Jeff Bezos’ success formula by analyzing a collection of his works.
about the author
Jeff Bezos – an entrepreneur, one of the richest people in the world – in 2017 for the first time took first place in the Forbes list, the founder of the Amazon online store, the Blue Origin aerospace corporation, the owner of the Washington Post.
Walter Isaacson is a journalist, writer, former director of CNN and editor-in-chief of Time. Author of biographies of Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, Henry Kissinger and other famous people.
Who are you, Mr. Bezos?
The little lop-eared boy was constantly fascinated by something and did not hear what the teacher was saying. In kindergarten, he was often carried along with a chair from place to place when something else needed to be done. The boy grew up, but never outgrew the age of wonder. In his sixties, he retains an insatiable childlike curiosity.
“Everything I did started small,” remembers Jeff Bezos. Amazon started with a couple of people . I drove packages to the post office myself and hoped that one day we could afford a forklift. I’ve seen small things become big, but I like to treat things like they’re small. Even though Amazon is a big company, I want it to have the heart and spirit of a small one.”
He loves to tell and listen to stories. As a child, I read every available sci-fi novel from the local library, and now organizes an annual retreat for writers and filmmakers. He built an online business and became so fascinated with the ideas of machine learning and artificial that he annually hosts an annual meeting of experts interested in machine learning, automation, robotics and space. He collects historical artifacts associated with great moments in science.
Jeff Bezos became a legend during his lifetime. He managed to significantly change many industries and is not going to stop there.
Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has changed the way we shop.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides cloud computing services and applications that enable start-ups and start-ups to create new products and services.
Amazon Echo has launched a market for smart home speakers, and Amazon Studios makes great TV shows and movies.
Bezos has created a private space company that, in the long run, can clean up the planet of environmentally harmful industries by moving them into space.
Walter Isaacson, biographer of Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, believes that Bezos is on a par with these geniuses. Isaacson collected under one cover Bezos’ annual messages to Amazon shareholders from 1997 (when the company first went public) to 2019 (when the company became the most valuable company in the world), texts of his speeches, articles and interviews. Readers can follow how Amazon and its founder’s rhetoric have changed over the course of two decades.
We analyzed all the texts of the collection and identified the principles that have remained unchanged since the end of the last millennium and helped Jeff Bezos conquer the global business Olympus. We will also talk about how Bezos is changing the world outside of Amazon.
Jeff Bezos Principles
“All of my best decisions in business and in life have been made by heart, intuition and willpower, not by analysis,” says the Amazon creator. He also has principles, which he talks about in many addresses to shareholders, interviews and articles.
Principle 1. Business is a long game (like life)
Bezos is not one of those people who want to get everything at once. He claims that any serious projects take time .
In a 1997 first letter to shareholders, Bezos said that all investment decisions in Amazon would be made by company leaders based on long-term market leadership prospects, and not for quick profits and Wall Street reaction.
The creator of Amazon is not used to resting on his laurels and is very critical of his success.
In a 1999 message in which sales increased from $610 million in 1998 to $1.64 billion by 169% and new customers increased from 6.2 million to 16.9 million by 173%, he stated that “…the current online shopping experience is the worst ever. ” In the same message, Bezos predicted that soon users will be able to browse pages faster, content will become more diverse, purchases will be made from wireless devices from anywhere.
A long-term focus allows you to balance the interests of your customers, who want quality products quickly and affordably, and your shareholders, who want the best return on investment. Long-term business thinking allows innovation.
“We love to invent and do new things,” Bezos notes, “and I know for sure that a long-term orientation is necessary for invention, because there are many failures along the way.”
Surprisingly, Bezos is in no hurry in everyday life either. He goes to bed early, gets up early, sleeps at least 8 hours a day and admits that in the morning he likes to “waste time on nonsense” – leisurely drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, having breakfast with the children.
Jeff doesn’t start working until 10 am. Before lunch, he holds important meetings and finishes work by 5 pm.
Bezos is sure that working 24/7 is ineffective if you are not starting a startup. In mature companies, decisions are made in advance .
“All Amazon executives work in the future,” Bezos says, “they live in the future. None of my subordinates think about the current quarter. I believe that the success of this quarter was laid three years ago. You need to think two or three years ahead, then there is no need to make a hundred decisions today. It’s enough to make three good decisions a day, but they must be of the highest quality.”
Bezos doesn’t like the phrase “work-life balance.” It implies that work is something hard and negative. It is better to strive not for balance, but for harmony.
If a person is charged with energy, doing his job, feels that he adds value, being part of a team, this has a positive effect on family life – he becomes a better husband, a more caring father. In the same way, if he is happy at home, this makes him a better employee, a more efficient and fair leader. It’s not about the number of working hours per week, but whether we have energy. Let’s think about whether work takes away our energy or, on the contrary, generates it. Focusing on distant horizons helps Bezos fascination with space.
Jeff says of his aerospace company’s mission: “Blue Origin will patiently, step by step, achieve its long-term goal.” No wonder the emblem of the Blue Origin company is written in Latin: Gradatim Ferociter, which means: “Step by step, steadily.”
Principle 2. Fear customers, not competitors
Every year, from the very first message to shareholders, Bezos speaks of “customer obsession.”
In 1998, he wrote: “We intend to build the most customer-oriented company in the world. We consider it an axiom that customers are insightful and smart, but this is not a reason to calm down. I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning in horror. They were not afraid of competitors, but of our customers.”
In 2020 (in one of the last articles in the collection), Bezos noted: “At Amazon, customer obsession has made us who we are and has allowed us to do ever greater things. I know what Amazon could do when we were 10 people. I know what we could do when we were 1,000 and when we were 10,000. And I know what we can do today, when there are almost a million of us.”
Amazon revolutionized e-commerce by allowing customers to post negative reviews, even though many investors were opposed to this approach. It’s just that Bezos is sure: the company makes money not when it sells a product, but when it helps to make a buying decision .
Amazon is often criticized for “arm-twisting” suppliers, but Bezos is always on the side of customers and sees his company’s mission in keeping prices consistently low. It’s no coincidence that Amazon has ranked first in customer satisfaction surveys for many years.
Principle 3. People are the main capital
Bezos from the first messages to shareholders emphasized the importance of finding and retaining talent in the company. “We know that our success will depend in large part on our ability to attract and retain motivated employees . Each of them must think like an owner and, therefore, actually be one, ”Bezos said and included stock options in the employee motivation package.
When looking for employees, Bezos recommends focusing on the following criteria:
- Does a potential employee sincerely admire you?
- Will this person improve the team’s performance level?
- In what area can such a contender become a superstar?
Working at Amazon is not easy, and job applicants are warned about this in advance. “We are working on creating something important, meaningful for our customers, and then we can tell our grandchildren about it,” says the head of Amazon. “Things like this shouldn’t be easy. We are incredibly lucky to have dedicated employees whose dedication and passion make Amazon.”
Amazon continues to invest in employees today, with more than 500,000 employees in the US alone.
Bezos regularly raises the minimum wage for employees, including temporary and seasonal employees: it is more than twice the national minimum wage.
In 2018, Bezos shared his views on pay with shareholders: “We strongly believe that investing in people will benefit our business. We have always paid competitive wages, and now we have decided that it is time to become leaders – to offer a salary that is higher than the competitive one. We did this because we think it’s right. Today, I’m challenging our top retail competitors (you know who I’m talking about!) by offering to respond appropriately to increased employee benefits and a $15 an hour minimum wage. Join now! Better yet, throw the gauntlet back by offering your employees $16. This kind of competition is good for everyone.”
Amazon supports employee training.
As part of the Carrier Choice program (Carrier Choice), the company compensates up to 95% of the cost of obtaining a certificate or a bachelor’s degree, so that employees receive demanded specialties. By 2018, more than 16,000 people have used the program.
Amazon launched the Carrier Skills program to teach hourly workers how to write resumes, work with computer programs, and improve communication skills.
Amazon executives have signed a Pledge to America’s Workers pledge that 50,000 employees will upgrade their skills through innovative training programs.
Amazon also thinks about the future, takes part in national youth education projects.
Amazon has committed $50 million to support science and computer science education at elementary and secondary schools and universities.
Jeff Bezos emphasizes that the company does not need mercenaries, but missionaries . Missionaries care about their destiny. They think about what has a real purpose, meaning, and do not look at the clock in anticipation of the end of the working day. People want their lives to have meaning so that they can be useful. But often great people leave the company because of too slow decision-making, excessive bureaucracy.
Principle 4. Failure needs to be… loved and scaled.
There are two types of failures – a failed experiment or product (you shouldn’t be upset about it, rather the opposite) and operational failure.
Over two decades, Amazon has built hundreds of fulfillment centers. How and what to do is well known. If the new fulfillment center fails, it means that the employees did not do their job well.
But when a new product is being developed or a logistical experiment is underway and nothing comes out, this is normal . The company is growing, and with it all aspects of its activities are scaling, including unsuccessful experiments.
In a 2018 message, Bezos speaks of failure as an important part of the company’s success: “Amazon will experiment at scale appropriate to the size of the company, even if it occasionally suffers multi-billion dollar failures. Of course, we will not experiment lightly. We will work hard to make our bold ideas pay off, but in the end, not everyone will pay off.”
A large company can afford significant risk , because one really successful project more than covers the cost of many unsuccessful ones.
The Fire Phone (Amazon smartphone) and Echo (smart speakers) projects started around the same time. Fire Phone failed, but provided important insights and took the developer experience to the next level. All this accelerated the creation of Echo and voice assistant Alexa.
Principle 5. Words are stronger than pictures
Jeff Bezos, like Steve Jobs, is not a fan of slides and PowerPoint presentations. He believes that employees, preparing to present their idea, should create a captivating story.
“We don’t do Amazon presentations in PowerPoint (or other presentation software,” he wrote in one of his last shareholder messages, “instead, we write logical six-page narratives and read them aloud at the beginning of the meeting.”
Not only Amazon
We all know Jeff Bezos as the head of the world’s largest online retailer, the richest man in the world. But Amazon isn’t the only thing Jeff devotes himself to. He invests in ideas he believes in, even if they are not commercially viable.
Space exploration with Blue Origin
In July 2021, Jeff Bezos flew into space, but he is not just a space tourist, but a space explorer. Space is Bezos’ childhood passion and, as he himself says, the most important job he is currently engaged in. Jeff founded the Blue Origin fund in 2000 and admits that he invests and will continue to invest significant resources in his work, despite the fact that the project is unprofitable from the point of view of rational investment. But this project is very important because it is about the future of the planet and our descendants.
Our big planet has become too small for a growing population. Sooner or later, the Earth will run out of energy, because we are spending more and more of it. All the benefits of civilization – medical equipment, transportation, entertainment, food – require a huge amount of energy. Historically, the level of energy consumption in the world is growing at 3% per year. It doesn’t seem critical, but the net effect of this increase is enormous: human energy consumption doubles every 25 years. In recent decades, we have received a huge increase in energy efficiency in various areas.
People used candles to light their homes. Then we moved on to oil lamps. Then there were incandescent lamps, and later – LEDs. In the half-century of commercial aviation, there has been a fourfold increase in efficiency. Half a century ago, it took 109 gallons of fuel to fly one person across the country. Today, flying in a modern Boeing 787 requires only 24 gallons. Computing efficiency has increased by a trillion times. The first American UNIVAC computer could perform fifteen calculations in one kilowatt-second. A modern processor is capable of performing seventeen trillion calculations with one kilowatt-second of energy.
The paradox is that as we become more and more efficient, we use more and more energy. Artificial lighting has become cheap, so we spend it thoughtlessly. International flights have become available, and now we travel a lot around the world. Gadgets are no longer so expensive, now each person has several of them, and they all work continuously.
Current global energy use can be achieved by covering the entire state of Nevada with solar panels. But in 200 years, at a 3 percent historical rate of increase in energy costs, we will have to cover the entire surface of the Earth with solar panels.
The demand for energy is constantly growing. Energy shortages can lead to rationing. This means that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live worse than we do: they will have to save a lot of resources. However, if we enter the solar system, we will receive unlimited energy resources. We are not talking about moving to Mars and Venus. First, the surfaces of these planets are not so large – only doubling the area is possible, and this will not save the situation in the long run. Secondly, the planets are very far away – it takes several years to fly to Mars. Long distances will not allow communication with the Earth in real time. Thirdly, only the Earth has gravity.
Bezos supports physicist Gerard O’Neill’s idea of creating artificial worlds that continuously rotate to create artificial gravity using centrifugal force. These are multi-kilometer gigantic structures, each of which is home to a million or more people. The space colony will have its own high-speed transport, agricultural areas, cities. Some of the colonies will become national parks, others will duplicate the existing megacities on Earth. There will be an ideal climate throughout the year – no showers, no hurricanes, no earthquakes. It will be comfortable to live in the colonies, and most importantly, they will be close to the Earth so that you can return there or go there for a while. The land will become a wonderful place for life and tourism. All heavy industry will be taken out of the Earth. This is how we save the earth. Bezos is aware that he is only at the beginning of his journey, that our grandchildren will build space colonies. Now it is important to explore space, to study its possibilities.
Helping the Poor with Day One
Bezos founded the Day One Foundation in 2018. It provides financial assistance to homeless families and funds the creation of non-profit Montessori kindergartens in low-income communities. Jeff is sure that every child should have a roof over their heads and a decent education from the first years of life. Otherwise, he will hopelessly lag behind and inevitably repeat the fate of his parents.
The fund in its work is guided by the same principles as Amazon. Chief among them is customer focus. And it doesn’t matter at all who the client is: a millionaire with a fat wallet or a homeless child who does not always have the opportunity to eat his fill.
Maintaining Democracy with the Washington Post
In 2013, the Washington Post was in dire financial straits through no fault of employees or management. The internet has just changed the rules of the game. When Bezos was offered to buy a newspaper, he wondered: is this newspaper so important for the world? And quickly answered: “Yes.”
The Washington Post plays an important role in American democracy, Bezos had no doubt about that. And he made the decision to buy the newspaper and transform it into a national and global publication.
“There is one gift that the Internet brings to newspapers,” Bezos says. – It destroys almost everything, but gives free global distribution. We had to change the business model: we used to earn a lot of money from one reader with a small number of readers, and now we began to receive small amounts from each reader, but there were a lot of readers.”
The Washington Post is profitable again today. The news department is growing, the publisher and technicians are transforming the newspaper to meet the demands of the times.
“When I’m ninety,” Bezos says, “I’ll be proud to have taken charge of the Washington Post and helped it through its difficult transformation.”
Participation in the environmental program Climate Pledge
In 2019, Amazon was the first to sign the Climate Pledge. Companies that sign the Climate Pledge agree to regularly measure and report emissions and follow the decarbonization strategies outlined in the Paris Agreement
1 . The climate commitment is implemented in cooperation with other companies, since any business is a link in the supply chain of other companies.
Bezos believes that Amazon should be a role model in environmental matters. The company has a huge physical infrastructure that allows it to store and transport more than ten billion goods a year. Amazon says: “If we can control emissions, then every other company can.”
Since 2016, Amazon teams have been measuring the company’s environmental impact. They are working to create a mechanism that can radically reduce carbon emissions across the company and across supply chains.
The company built models of processes in transportation, packaging, energy supply of both order fulfillment centers and data processing centers and individual devices. They help analyze a company’s carbon footprint. Each of these models is based on detailed data and has a carefully designed logic. Metrics and data give teams amazing insights. For example, same-day delivery is a low-carbon option.
Amazon uses 40% of its energy from renewable sources. To do this, 15 solar and wind power plants had to be built for industrial use. Solar panels are on the rooftops of sorting and fulfillment centers around the world. By 2024, Amazon will use 80% of its energy from renewable sources, and by 2030 – 100%.
The company is actively using electric delivery vans and has invested $440 million in Rivian, the company that makes them. Amazon is partnering with the Nature Conservation Fund to invest in reforestation, which helps remove carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere.
Amazon encourages all companies in the world to cooperate in the environmental field.
Top 10 Thoughts
1. Any serious projects take time , and significant decisions are made in advance – several months or even years in advance.
2. Bezos does not believe in the balance of life and work and calls not to seek it, but to strive for harmony. If a person is energized at work, this positively affects family and social life.
3. Working 24/7 and other manifestations of workaholism do nothing. It is much more important to get enough sleep, to work efficiently at the right time, and to spare no time for pleasant little things.
4. You need to be afraid not of competitors, but of customers. Jeff Bezos is always on the side of customers and sees the mission of his company in maintaining consistently low prices.
5. Working at Amazon is hard because the company is always building something of value. Therefore, the company does not need mercenaries, but missionaries. But even the most loyal and talented employees can leave the company due to bureaucratic delays. Leaders should keep this in mind.
6. There are two types of failure – a failed experiment or product, and a failed operation. The first kind is very useful and promotes development, the second is the result of bad work.
7. Historically, the level of energy consumption in the world is growing by 3% per year, the environment is being polluted. Bezos created the aerospace company Blue Origin to save planet Earth. In the long term, everything that harms her will fly into space – into artificially created worlds.
8. Every child should have a roof over their heads and a decent education from the first years of life. That’s what the Day One Foundation, created by Bezos, is doing.
9. Freedom of speech is the bulwark of US democracy and prosperity, Bezos is sure. That is why he bought the Washington Post and turned it into a profitable global publication, completely changing the old business model.
10. Every company must be aware of its responsibility to the planet. Amazon was the first to sign a climate pledge to show businesses small and large around the world that even if a company as big as Amazon can control emissions and save energy, others can too.
1. The Paris Agreement is an agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that regulates measures to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 2020.