This week capped a remarkable ascendency for Jeff Bezos.
He’s now officially the richest man in modern history, surpassing Bill Gates. Remarkably, it’s taken him just 22 years since he founded Amazon to reach this position.
Bezos’ secret seems to be doing things differently – a philosophy practiced by other innovative companies born in Seattle – such as Microsoft, Starbucks and Costco – as well as in their day Boeing and Nordstrom. What links these companies (besides perhaps a secret ingredient hidden in the local water!) is their willingness and ability to challenge conventional wisdom and be successful. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s computer code, coffee beans, customer service or management practice, they do things differently.
Innovation in Leadership and Management
Let’s take a closer look at my top 6 innovative leadership principles and management practices Bezos has been championing at Amazon. I’ve chosen them because they best reflect Bezos’ contrarian thinking and while some companies may have adopted them, in my experience they’re not common place. And the proof is in the pudding with respect to their effectiveness as innovative practices!
- You don’t choose your passions – your passions chose you
- Take pride in your choices not your gifts – hard work is a choice
- It’s important to be right a lot of the time and with practice leaders can be right more often. HOWEVER, what’s critical is for leaders to listen a lot and be willing to change their mind a lot in the pursuit of being right. The best leaders seek to disconfirm evidence about their most profound
- Be stubborn on vision and flexible on details – This approach seems to inculcate a culture and managerial systems that embrace being experimental
- Failure and invention are inseparable twins – Companies love invention but hate failure – but the most important inventions come with lots of failure. Take a look at the great inventions of our time – they are testimony to the power of trial and failure – and perseverance.
- The optimal team size to encourage natural interaction and bonding is 2 Pizzas at lunchtime – between 10-12 people. If you need more people on a project – subdivide the teams repeatedly to keep them this size.
Leadership and Management Tip of the Day: Study Hall
My favourite Bezos management innovation is “study hall”. In place of PowerPoint presentations, executives receive 6-page narrative memos outlining a key strategic issue or initiative. That’s not so revolutionary but what is different is that they’re expected to all read and make notes on the memos in silence and communally for 30 minutes before discussion. While it may seem like a large waste of executive time, the process facilitates shared understanding and informs a comprehensive and engaging debate. It also makes sure that the issue sponsor does their homework!
Amazon as a role model
Many companies are trying to learn from Amazon’s success from a business model perspective. They can learn even more if they follow Bezos’ leadership principles and management practices!