Stories

How Jeff Bezos leads

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."