Why Bezos Will Find Success – He’s Stubborn on Long-Term Vision but Flexible on Details

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on how Jeff Bezos creates opportunity for vast discovery at Amazon (my post Amazon Drives Innovation by Creating Opportunities for Vast Discovery).  I had actually been working on this post at the time when I found a great quote from Bezos on the culture of “pioneering” that he was trying to create at Amazon.  It made for such a great story that I just had to run with it and push this story aside.  Well, Bezos has done it again.  He threw the world another curveball yesterday with the announcement that he is purchasing The Washington Post for $250 million.  The pundits are in a whirlwind discussing whether or not Bezos will be successful with this big gamble.  Knowing Bezos and his long-term orientation I would give him better odds than most that he will find success.

Over and over Bezos has defied Wall Street analysts with his willingness to take short-term losses when he thought they would lead to long-term gains.  On the importance of this long-term orientation, he shared “I think some of the things that we have undertaken, I think could not be been done in two to three years.  And so basically if we needed to see meaningful financial results in two to three years some of the most meaningful things we’ve done we would never have even started: things like Kindle, things like Amazon Web Services, Amazon Prime the list of such things is long at Amazon.”

Bezos recognizes that this long-term approach is what allows him to take on some of the riskier innovation initiatives that Amazon has gone after.  Bezos is quoted as saying, “We like to invent and do new things and I know for sure that long-term orientation is essential for invention because you’re going to have a lot of failures along the way.”

This open recognition that failures will be a part of the process is still somewhat rare in Corporate America but it has been a staple with Bezos since he started Amazon.  “We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details…. We don’t give up on things easily.  Our third-party seller business is an example of that.  It took us three tries to get the third-party seller business to work. We didn’t give up.”  This reminds me of Ron Johnson’s story of how it took 18 months to figure out how to get customers to engage with Apple employees at the Genius Bar (see The Failure of Ron Johnson and JCPenney).  Great ideas can be difficult to execute and it is unlikely that you’ll get it right the first time.

As I had written in my last post, Bezos has done a great job of cultivating employee curiosity in service of the customer.  He has invested in exploring with and in service of the customer.  With this understanding he is building offerings that will make customers love Amazon even more.  Many of Amazon’s competitors see customers only in terms of profits (catch my post Do your customers love you? Have you really asked them?) but not Amazon.  Bezos stated that, “Some companies, if you wanted to put it into a single word they kind of have a conqueror mentality and we have an explorer mentality.  And the people who like our mentality of exploration and pioneering they tend to stay here and have fun here and this is self-reinforcing.”

It is far too early to tell how The Washington Post purchase will play out for Bezos but one thing that you can be certain of is that he is willing and ready to take a long-term approach to solving the woes of print media.  Good luck Jeff!

Food for thought:

  • Is your organization focused on long-term thinking?
  • Is your organization making short-term tradeoffs at the cost of your long-term strategy?
  • Does your organization have a conqueror mentality or an explorer mentality?
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