By Anne Cheng
“Keep inventing, and don’t despair when at first the idea looks crazy. Remember to wander. Let curiosity be your compass. It remains Day 1.”
Jeff Bezos had just stepped down from his position as CEO and in his letter to Amazonians, he ended with the above. But what does it mean when he says, “it remains day one”?
I remember my first day on the job — I was ready, raring to go, wanting to make a difference. In the book Always Day One, Alex Kantrowitz relays a story about an employee asking Bezos to imagine Day Two.
“What does Day Two look like?” Bezos asked. “Day Two is stasis, followed by irrelevance, followed by an excruciating, painful decline, followed by death.” But what is “Day One”?
Day One at Amazon is code for inventing like a startup, with little regard for legacy. It’s an acknowledgment that competitors today can create new products at record speeds — thanks to advances of artificial intelligence and cloud computing especially — so you might as well build for the future, even at the present’s expense. Amazon’s inventive culture is driven through fourteen leadership principles, adhered to by most Amazonians more closely than their own religions, which can sometimes make Amazon feel like a cult.
We explore some of the fourteen principles briefly in this article.
Think Big encourages Amazonians to dream up the company’s next great product, process, or service. Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
Invent and Simplify. Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers. Another reading of this principle would be: Your entire purpose at Amazon is to invent. If you are not inventing, your job will get simplified and then automated. At Amazon, you invent or hit the road.
Bias for Action. Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk-taking.
Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
Customer Obsession. Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
Ownership. Leaders are owners. They think long-term and do not sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say, “that’s not my job”.
Insist on the Highest Standards. Leaders have relentlessly high standards — many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
What does Day One mean to you?