How does Amazon decide on what to build or do next? How do they ensure that technical dependencies don’t get in the way of continuous growth? In this episode we cover Working Backwards written by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, 2 senior employees who worked closely with Jeff Bezos during some of the most explosive growth Amazon has experienced to date.
This episode covers strategies that can be used by companies of any size.
At the time the book was written, Amazon had 14 principles (there are now 16) that directed all decisions. An example of one of the principles is
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t 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.”
People in the company would be admonished if they had a project who’s sole focus was to make a ‘quick buck’. Long term thinking for everything is how they have become the behemoth they are.
Another example is:
Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
Learning is baked in to the culture. This came from Bezos down. They talk about the disaster that was the Fire Phone. Huge amount of resources went into developing it and it was a flop. Bezos was completely unfazed by the result. He and the team learned a huge amount about what not to do and then they invented the Kindle.
This book really and truly pulls back the curtain on the mechanics of how Jeff Bezos thinks and runs his teams. Everything from their yearly planning right through to execution and corrections. In this episode we cover it all including how Amazon created ‘The Bar Raiser’ process. Essentially this means that anyone being hired into a team has to improve the performance of that team in a concrete measurable way.
A lot of companies assume that to improve communication between teams means having more communication. But remember the famous George Bernard Shaw quote:
“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”
Jeff Bezos being Jeff Bezos went in the opposite direction – there should be less communication between teams. He had key teams create a list of options that were available for anyone who had a request. The analogy is to have a menu like a restaurant. If you go into a restaurant you choose from a pre-selected list of options, you don’t go in with your own ideas of what the chef will make. Same thing in Amazon – ‘if you want to API into our system, these are you options for doing so’. They simply worked backwards from the team that has to deal with countless bespoke requests.
Another example, Jeff Bezos banned the use of PowerPoint presentations in meetings. Why? They are a waste of time. It is too easy to be swayed by a great presenter or to miss a great opportunity because of a poor presentation. So what do they do instead? Have a listen to find out why every Amazon meeting starts with 20 minutes of silence!