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#321 Working with Jeff Bezos
September 20th, 2023 | E321

What I learned from reading Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr.


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(8:00) Principles Jeff Bezos would repeat: customer obsession, innovation, frugality, personal ownership, bias for action, high standards.

(10:30) Single threaded leadership: For each project, there is a single leader whose focus is that project and that project alone, and that leader oversees teams of people whose attention is focused on that one project.

(11:00) The best thing I did as a manager at PayPal was to make every person in the company responsible for doing just one thing. Every employee’s one thing was unique, and everyone knew I would evaluate him only on that one thing. I had started doing this just to simplify the task of managing people. But then I noticed a deeper result: defining roles reduced conflict. — Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Futureby Peter Thiel. (Founders #278)  

(12:30) Jeff said many times: We need to eliminate communication, not encourage it. Communication is a sign of dysfunction.

(14:30) Jeff is insisted that instead of finding new and better ways to manage our dependencies, we figure out how to remove them.

(15:30) Jeff on decision making speed: “Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you're probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you're good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure."

(16:30) The best way to fail at inventing something is by making it somebody's part-time job.

(21:00) Even though you cannot hear it, with a well-written narrative there is a massive amount of useful information that is being transferred in those 20 minutes.

(23:00) A simple tip on how to produce unique insights:

Jeff has an uncanny ability to read a narrative and consistently arrive at insights that no one else did, even though we were all reading the same narrative. After one meeting, I asked him how he was able to do that. He responded with a simple and useful tip that I have not forgotten: he assumes each sentence he reads is wrong until he can prove otherwise. He's challenging the content of the sentence, not the motive of the writer. Jeff was usually among the last to finish reading.

(26:30) Jeff wanted to know exactly what we were going to build and how it would be better for customers. To Jeff a half-baked mockup was evidence of half-baked thinking.

(27:00) Founders force the issue.

(28:00) Writing required us to be thorough and precise. We had to describe features, pricing, how the service would work, why customers would want it. Half baked thinking was harder to disguise on the written page than in PowerPoint slides.

(34:30) Failure and invention are inseparable twins.

(35:30) Working backwards exposes skill sets that your company needs but does not yet have.

(36:30) Differentiation with customers is often one of the key reasons to invent.

(44:00) To read Bezos’ shareholder letters is to get a crash course in running a high-growth internet business from someone who mastered it before any of the playbooks were written.

(46:00) The idea that Amazon, a pure e-commerce distributor of retail products made by others, would become a hardware company and make and sell its own reader device was controversial.

(46:00) If you outsource then your company doesn’t acquire those skills. Amazon wants the skills.

(54:00) Jeff wanted to build a moat around his best customers.

(58:00) We had acquired a core competency only a few other companies could match.

List of Jeff Bezos episodes to learn more:

#282 Jeff Bezos shareholder letters

#180 Jeff Bezos (Invention of a Global Empire)

#179 Jeff Bezos (Everything Store)

#155 Jeff Bezos (Invent and Wander)

#71 Jeff Bezos Shareholder Letters

#38 Space Barons

#17 Jeff Bezos (Everything Store)


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