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Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images

In Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos' annual letter to shareholders, he shares seven "essentials of what we’ve learned (so far) about high standards inside an organization" in this age of "customer empowerment."

His first rule: Intrinsic or Teachable? ... People "are pretty good at learning high standards simply through exposure. High standards are contagious."

  • Universal or Domain Specific? ... You "have to learn high standards separately in every arena of interest. ... Understanding this point is important because it keeps you humble. You can consider yourself a person of high standards in general and still have debilitating blind spots."
  • Recognition and Scope: "First, you have to be able to recognize what good looks like ... Second, you must have realistic expectations for how hard it should be."
  • Perfect Handstands: "A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. ... In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. ... 'The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.' Unrealistic beliefs ... kill high standards."
  • Six-Page Narratives: "We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of 'study hall.' ... The great memos are written and re-written, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with a fresh mind."
  • Skill: "The football coach doesn’t need to be able to throw, and a film director doesn’t need to be able to act. But they both do need to recognize high standards for those things ... (As a side note, by tradition at Amazon, authors’ names never appear on the memos — the memo is from the whole team.)"
  • Benefits of High Standards: A "culture of high standards is protective of all the 'invisible' but crucial work that goes on in every company. ... The work that gets done when no one is watching. In a high standards culture, doing that work well is its own reward ... [H]igh standards are fun!"

P.S. "13 years post-launch, we have exceeded 100 million paid Prime members globally. In 2017 Amazon shipped more than five billion items with Prime worldwide, and more new members joined Prime than in any previous year."

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

Kids’ screen time up 50% during pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the coronavirus lockdowns started in March, kidstech firm SuperAwesome found that screen time was up 50%. Nearly a year later, that percentage hasn't budged, according to new figures from the firm.

Why it matters: For most parents, pre-pandemic expectations around screen time are no longer realistic. The concern now has shifted from the number of hours in front of screens to the quality of screen time.