Jeff Bezos on Wandering, Experimenting, and Scale

Jeff Bezos’s 2018 letter to shareholders is required reading, as usual. Here are some gems:

On wandering vs efficiency:

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.

Ross Mayfield’s tweet on this is also worth noting:

On scaling and failed experiments:

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.

Leonardo Da Vinci on Human Ingenuity and Nature

From The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (Jean Paul Richter, 1888), XIV Anatomy, Zoology and Physiology:

Though human ingenuity may make various inventions… it will never devise any inventions more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than Nature does; because in her inventions nothing is wanting, and nothing is superfluous, and she needs no counterpoise when she makes limbs proper for motion in the bodies of animals.

Thanks to Andrew James Campbell for sharing.

Virtual Beverage De-siloization Hack

The Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) is a great community around reinventing management. My friend, Chris Grams, is one of the community builders there, and one of my past projects (the Wikimedia Strategic Planning process) was a finalist in its Management 2.0 competition.

A few weeks ago, the MIX decided to harness its own community onto itself, hosting a Hack the MIX Hackathon. Chris pinged me about it, and so I started poking around to see what people were saying.

There were lots of great ideas, but it didn’t feel like much of a hackathon, because it felt like many were treating this process as way to propose things for somebody else to implement. Hacking is all about doing, and there were already a great community  and a plethora of ideas that were ripe for the picking.

So I decided to contribute a hack that I would also do. I discovered ideas posted by Aaron Anderson, a professor at San Francisco State University’s College of Business, and Susan Resnick West, a professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, that really resonated with me. They were all about implementation and about building community.

I decided I wanted to do both of what they suggested: get to know people in the community better (and Susan and Aaron in particular) and look for excuses to actually try some of these hacks. So I invited Susan and Aaron to a virtual coffee over Google Hangout (my virtual beverage de-siloization hack), and I promised the MIX community that we would share what we discussed with everybody.

We spoke this morning, and it was delightful. Here’s the video:

Here are three brief takeaways:

  • It was super fun getting to know Aaron and Susan, who are both doing cool stuff and who are both great people. Both Aaron and Susan have their curriculums available online.
  • Susan’s story about an Annenberg Innovation Lab hack (the Think-Do process) was a finalist in a previous MIX competition, and it seemed like something we’d like to experiment with. So we’re going to try it, hacking the hack as we see fit, and we’ll share what we learn. If you want to play too, add your name in the comments here or in the comments section below.
  • The MIX site is a community hub, but that doesn’t mean that all community activity needs to happen there. Furthermore, not everyone has to agree on something before you do something. We showed that by using Google Hangouts to get to know each other and to brainstorm ways to play together. We’ll now go back to the MIX to share what we did.