I wasn’t sure that I was going to do this again this month. I knew that April would be a work-heavy month, and I didn’t have any trips or fun weekends planned. But I continued out of habit, and I ended up loving the final roll. Even on uneventful days, I’m enjoying capturing (and later reliving) the little moments of beauty.
For the past five years, I’ve had a weekly checkin with my friend, Kate Wing. It has been one of the most valuable professional practices I’ve ever done. It’s equal parts peer learning and coaching, but it feels like I’m just chatting with my friend regularly (which is exactly what we’re doing)!
Yesterday was one of those days when I just needed to vent. I’ve been frustrated with my perceived lack of impact and my ongoing failures, which have been wearing on me. Kate mostly listened. Later in the evening, she forwarded this Humans of New York Story via Instagram:
I’m very thankful to have friends and colleagues like Kate who share little bits of wisdom like this when I most need them.
Sometimes (often actually) in business, you do know where you’re going, and when you do, you can be efficient. Put in place a plan and execute. In contrast, wandering in business is not efficient … but it’s also not random. It’s guided – by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity, and powered by a deep conviction that the prize for customers is big enough that it’s worth being a little messy and tangential to find our way there. Wandering is an essential counter-balance to efficiency. You need to employ both. The outsized discoveries – the “non-linear” ones – are highly likely to require wandering.
On product development and listening to the customer vs inventing on their behalf:
Much of what we build at AWS is based on listening to customers. It’s critical to ask customers what they want, listen carefully to their answers, and figure out a plan to provide it thoughtfully and quickly (speed matters in business!). No business could thrive without that kind of customer obsession. But it’s also not enough. The biggest needle movers will be things that customers don’t know to ask for. We must invent on their behalf. We have to tap into our own inner imagination about what’s possible.
AWS itself – as a whole – is an example. No one asked for AWS. No one. Turns out the world was in fact ready and hungry for an offering like AWS but didn’t know it. We had a hunch, followed our curiosity, took the necessary financial risks, and began building – reworking, experimenting, and iterating countless times as we proceeded.
As a company grows, everything needs to scale, including the size of your failed experiments. If the size of your failures isn’t growing, you’re not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle. Amazon will be experimenting at the right scale for a company of our size if we occasionally have multibillion-dollar failures. Of course, we won’t undertake such experiments cavalierly. We will work hard to make them good bets, but not all good bets will ultimately pay out. This kind of large-scale risk taking is part of the service we as a large company can provide to our customers and to society. The good news for shareowners is that a single big winning bet can more than cover the cost of many losers.
I’ve been seeing my dentist, Dr. Robert Ho, for about ten years now. He’s in my neighborhood, he teaches at UCSF, and he takes great care of my teeth. I might be the only person in the world who looks forward to seeing his dentist. He is a craftsman, and for that reason alone, I value him. He also tells engaging stories and dispenses warm, timely wisdom every time I see him. I’ve taken to calling him my Zen dentist.
At today’s session, he told me that he was feeling stressed about a recognition he had recently received from his peers that would require him to give a five-minute speech in front of 500 people. In classic fashion, he wanted to express his gratitude while also deflecting attention. As he skillfully cleaned my teeth, he asked me if he could share what he was thinking of saying and get my feedback. My mouth was full of dental implements, but I did my best to nod enthusiastically.
He proceeded to tell two stories about past patients that almost brought me to tears. I doubt I have much of a dental following, but I’m going to refrain from retelling his stories here so as not to inadvertently steal his thunder. I’ll just share his punchline:
My mentor always used to say that if you take care of people, you’ll always have food on your table. That’s what this business is about: Taking care of people.
I’m feeling great appreciation right now for all the people in my life who take care of me (including Dr. Ho). Reflecting on how I can do more of that in my own work and life.