While this author tries to make a point that bezos is a good writer, I am afraid that this is just riding a wave of bezos worship (like Elon worship, Jobs worship, Buffett workship, [‘name successful business person, preferably, billionaire’] worship) — after bezos’ company is seeing good results.
I wish more business writing was devoted to 1) suggesting ways so that people have their own original thoughts 2) Discussing merits of strategies before they become successful 3) Discussing problem solving frameworks 4) early days of companies when they weren’t successful etc. I believe learning about the first 100-300 days of companies would be very instructive. Someone should write a book about that :-)
It talks about exactly this issue:
If company A is successful, we explain it by saying that the management is absolutely brilliant,
if company B does the exact same things but is failing, we explain it by saying that management are totally incompetent.
It's a major cognitive bias which renders most "business press" articles totally worthless.
The solution, obviously, is to gather a large amount of data and do some rigorous analysis.
People have tried to do this but the general conclusion is that there are no real simple rules that a business can follow to always succeed despite our eager desire for simple explanations.
Anyway after reading the book I thought phil rosenzweig was a genius and this book ought to be more popular.
What is impressive about Amazon IMHO is that they have succeeded in multiple businesses. One could argue that they are all under the halo of "ecommerce" but what was just a bookseller spread into virtually everything sold online, reshaping distribution networks, moving into groceries, content, etc.
She presided over a (mostly) graceful decline which allowed a reasonable end to the company.
She wasn’t some genius but I never understood why she was considered that by some anyhow: she’d previously shown solid competency not amazing insight.
Though in Buffett's case he used to lose money in the stock market as a kid - he bought his first stock at age 11. He only really started winning there after reading The Intelligent Investor at 19. He kind of started writing his letters around 27.
The issue is successful companies are riding such a tidal wave of money and good will you can never tell if they're successful _because_ of X, or successful _in spite_ of X.
For example, the stock price of GE rose 4000% in the 1980s when Welch introduced Rank and Yank . Does that mean it was a great policy - or was there some other change responsible for the rise, while Rank and Yank had a neutral or even negative effect?
It's really a secularization/inversion of [true] "Puritan thinking" - whereas the Puritans were worried about whether they stood or fell before God in their faith, belief, and practice, the pervasive inversion/misapplication of that line of reasoning into the secular world brings you the general New York & New England (Welch was born in MA; GE is HQ'd in Schenectady NY) mentality of:
- know where you stand
- rank others
- excessive competitiveness
It even show[s|ed] up in loads of college classes where grading would often enough be done on strict bell curves - didn't matter if you earned an "A", if you were the lowest scorer, you could easily be given an "F" (or "D")
Also he's changed strategy over the years as the low hanging fruit in the areas he's operated in have disappeared.
From my understanding businesses operate by optimizing over some gradient similar to gradient decent. Correlation or causation is really not the objective (but can be helpful to optimize over).
Incidentally, for what it’s worth, Gassee was a tech executive himself before many of us, myself included, were even born. He’s not just a pundit.
Recently, I exchanged some email with my friend Colin Steele, currently CTO of TypeZero and formerly CTO of RoomKey.com. We discussed another startup that had failed, and he wrote:
It’s sad and disheartening. I think few people understand how amazingly difficult it is to start a new business, and run it successfully. Drama, people, and personalities, seem to have an outsized role in how these things crash and burn. There needs to be some codification of best internal practices for creating startups, like Steve Blank’s book “4 Steps To The Epiphany,” but for the culture; a co-routine that runs alongside “customer development” — call it “culture development” or something.
I agree wholeheartedly, and would also add that more public discussion of the difficulties would help startup culture. I would make an analogy to the history of divorce in the United States. The divorce rate rose for much of the twentieth century, and it peaked in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then there has been more public discussion about what makes marriages strong. You can see the trend reflected on television shows: neither Leave It To Beaver nor the Brady Bunch mentioned the difficulties of marriage, and that was the era when the divorce rate was rising the most. Modern sitcoms talk endlessly about the difficulties of marriage. Couples still face drama and conflict and personality, but the public discussion seems to have granted people the vocabulary they need to address their problems, and the divorce rate has come down. Popular awareness helps. At the very least, books and movies can help explore the important reality that startups are not easy.
From the books I've read about the following self-made billionaires so far (Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Yvon Chouinard, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger) the most important things I've found they have in common are that:
They avoid competition, think long-term, and don't copy others foolishly.
-They break down the world to the fundamentals, the essential, the Feynman method. When Musk wanted to build SpaceX everyone thought he was crazy. But when he broke it down to the raw costs for space shuttle manufacturing, the typical costs were too high and he saw opportunity. Many people tend to learn complex abstract concepts without truly understanding the building blocks or learning trees that it took to get there. There can be times when someone calculated incorrectly but everyone took it for granted and it became the status quo of knowledge. I believe these are one way to access the secrets in plain sight. Question everything.
- They focus on the long game like the power of compound interest. They operate with a vision of what the future might look like 10 years down the road, and then they work backwards to create that vision. Did they see the future, did they just build it before anyone else, or both?
- Most of the billionaires I've read about had humble beginnings. Yvon Chouinard used to sleep in his van. Elon Musk couch surfed during his worst times. Jeff Bezos started out in his garage and made tables from doors.
- All of them have very strong beliefs. They are not swayed by what everyone else is doing which is how most, even big companies fail. Peter Thiel mentions mimetic theory, basically that people copy each other, even companies, and that's how you get competition. Buffett indirectly talks about it too. ExxonMobil hires a fertilizer expert and then all the other oil companies start hiring a fertilizer expert even if they don't really know why Exxon hired one in the first place. Or how big companies (GEICO) can lose focus of their circle of competence by getting distracted by what everyone else is doing and creating inferior copycat products - which eventually leads to value loss of their core competency and what actually drives value for their customers.
I think that's one thing that makes them all special. They all took different routes to get where they are. To be tacky, they didn't follow someone else's road, they created their own.
- They didn't do it alone. All those people knew how to build and lead a great team. If they didn't, they found someone who could.
Books I'm getting this info from:
Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
I was under the impression that Bezos founded Amazon after he graduated from Princeton and had worked for a hedge fund for a few years. Wikipedia also says that his parents invested an estimated $300,000 into Amazon. I would hardly call that humble beginnings.
The list of the 15 richest people in America also include the two Koch brothers (inherited their wealth), three Waltons (inherited their wealth), and plenty of people with Ivy League educations who earned their wealth but did not have humble beginnings.
You seem to have drunk a little bit of the kool-aid the comment you're responding to is talking about. I suggest spending some time reading about people who are NOT billionaires (and some less high profile billionaires) and you will see that there are plenty of poor people with the traits you describe and plenty of rich people without them.
2. My list was for self-made billionaires.
3. I like reading about self-made billionaires because as an entrepreneur- why wouldn't you want to learn from the best? At the same time, I don't want to be a billionaire if that's the kool-aid you're referencing.
I grew up in poverty and love reading about poverty because I want to learn more about the circumstances that affect my reality today. Why can some people like my mom work 60 hours a week at $10/hr and never become a millionaire or even afford to retire? While others can? I wish I knew. Poor decisions? Poor environment? Or both?
I haven't met any billionaires but I've met many self-made millionaires who literally built their way from nothing. In my experience, most of them built their wealth over years or decades. It's very hard to build something from nothing overnight.
If there's anything I learned from reading self-made billionaire stories- it's simply better decision-making. Can't do much about a poor environment but at least you do have control over the decisions you make.
Hasn't written a book, like most billionaires. Hence you don't see all the other ways, personas, etc.
My extrapolation based on working for him:
Billionaires are, at the core, ruthless and self centered. History gets re-written by them, because that's just how it works. The role of luck and personal decisions is constantly underplayed.
And mind you, ruthless means being like a surgeon in war time. Leg comes off, don't care about your pain. Co-founder has to go after 10 years? Co-founder has to go.
I'd think, based on my sample of one, it will be hard to find a billionaire that the majority would label a "nice" person. Polite, ethical ... sure. But not nice.
I would never be able to or want to do any of the things some of those people have done to be able to achieve their goals.
The only rationalization I have for their behavior is that they have a higher mission and they won't let anything or anyone get in the way.
I think the danger here is seeing a list like yours and assuming that's all that's going on or that somehow it's a simple recipe that you follow and after 30min at 375F in the oven: you're a billionaire! Truth is that I think your list isn't fundamental; these are secondary, perhaps emergent, traits which have deeper origin.
When you break down the world into fundamentals: you still need to do that correctly, if you misunderstand what you see, you'll not take correct action. If you take the time, but really can't see the forest for the trees, you'll fail. Your strong beliefs can help you defy less insightful naysayers, but also prevent you from seeing the actual errors of your ways, too. In short, I'm going to bet that if you look at a broad swath across people with varying wealth levels, you'll find many people of whom you can attribute many of those traits... only that the traits served each individual more or less kindly.
I think at each step in your list, the key distinguishing feature is that each "billionare" in question was able to correctly assess the context of the point in light of the goal of advancing their self-interest. Being able to correctly reason about the facts, opportunities, and risks in front of you and envision the correct action and execute on that action are much more important that circumstantial facts that you can see in an after-the-fact analysis.
I may sound like I'm discounting luck in all of this (right place, right time, etc), and I don't mean to... but I think there are those that want to over-play the role of luck in these things for a variety of motives. Luck is real and does help some and hinder others... but if you're lucky/unlucky you still have to be smart enough to react to the hand you're dealt in order to maximize/minimize the outcome.
The idea that predicting the future, humble beginnings, and strong beliefs are key to getting rich is pretty funny. It also sounds like a recipe for being a penniless misanthrope left wondering where everything went wrong.
You’re really buying into the PR effort of these billionaires.
Don't live outside your means. Don't get in debt. Don't risk things you can't afford to lose. Everything else is compound interest and mathematics.
"Whenever a really bright person who has a lot of money goes broke, it's because of leverage... It's almost impossible to go broke without borrowed money being in the equation. We should never risk something we have and need for something we don't need. You only have to get rich once."
Edit: Sorry, I am completely wrong. That sounds reasonable in an equal society but what happens in an unequal society where the odds are stacked against you and you can't even save with a full-time job? What happens when you can't afford an education? What happens when you're run over by a car and can't afford your medical bills? When your job is outsourced to a third-world country? I unfortunately don't know the answer to that. I wish I knew.
Yes, as a rule they were white males living in or moving to Western (capitalist) countries. Bonus points for being born into a rich family.
I know of only very few exceptions to that rule: Jack Ma and Anousheh Ansari
The story that stuck out the most to me was a man whose highest education was grade school. Got a job making shoes in one of the first Chinese factories, worked his way up, and now owns a huge factory in Nigeria.
Also according to this article, Zhou Qunfei, is the world's richest self-made woman with a net worth of $7.4 billion.
There's absolutely value in looking at these people/companies, but we need to contrast to less successful ones AND we need to stop acting like we have a clue why Jobs can be a jerk and succeed ("he won't let anyone interfere with his vision") but the jerk boss we had is a miserable failure ("he thinks he knows best and drives all the talented people away, of course he will fail").
Once people stop concluding easily disproven "lessons", I'll respect their efforts to search much more.
Leaders who can't write well are also interesting. There is almost a cliche about dyslexic type-A personalities, where the adapted skill of misdirecting people from your reading and writing ability as a kid manifests as a glad handing sales and dealmaker personality later on.
Just as someone who doesn't write well probably doesn't reason too abstractly either, someone who writes exceptionally well can often be considered too intellectual and theoretical to lead, or lacking in the required adaptability and spontaneity.
It's great that this super-CEO can write, but it's also a signal that the company is still run by a technocrat, and that it is not mature and autonomous enough as a business to be operated by a mere chief dealmaker.
Definitely. And maybe he's both, but Bezos seems like more of a "mandate" guy than a "story" guy, per Steve Yegge's infamous Google platforms post and other anecdotes by people who know him.
> So one day Jeff Bezos issued a mandate. He's doing that all the time, of course, and people scramble like ants being pounded with a rubber mallet whenever it happens. But on one occasion -- back around 2002 I think, plus or minus a year -- he issued a mandate that was so out there, so huge and eye-bulgingly ponderous, that it made all of his other mandates look like unsolicited peer bonuses.
> His Big Mandate went something along these lines:
> 1) All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.
> 2) Teams must communicate with each other through these interfaces.
> 3) There will be no other form of interprocess communication allowed: no direct linking, no direct reads of another team's data store, no shared-memory model, no back-doors whatsoever. The only communication allowed is via service interface calls over the network.
> 4) It doesn't matter what technology they use. HTTP, Corba, Pubsub, custom protocols -- doesn't matter. Bezos doesn't care.
> 5) All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.
> 6) Anyone who doesn't do this will be fired.
> 7) Thank you; have a nice day!
> Ha, ha! You 150-odd ex-Amazon folks here will of course realize immediately that #7 was a little joke I threw in, because Bezos most definitely does not give a shit about your day.
Further, such people also have more attention to philosophy. And have more grandiose visions of the world.
But I find it surprising he was able to succeed so well, compared to your typical bookseller.
In closing, consider this most important point: the current online shopping experience is the worst it will ever be. It’s good enough today to attract 17 million customers, but it will get so much better. Increased bandwidth will result in faster page views and richer content. Further improvements will lead to “always-on access” (which I expect will be a strong boost to online shopping at home, as opposed to the office) and
we’ll see significant growth in non-PC devices and wireless access.
Moreover, it’s great to be participating in what is a multi-trillion dollar global market, in which we are so very, very tiny. We are doubly-blessed. We have a market-size unconstrained opportunity in an area where the underlying oundational technology we employ improves every day. That is not normal.
Speaking of making assumptions:
As someone who is known to optimize company time, [Bezos] would probably write a draft and then have correspondence with an English-phd type for help.
Being so busy running a company that one has no time to write, is like being so busy programming that ones has no time to type.
Running a company – especially a large one – is all about communication. In most companies, much of that communication is verbal, in various meetings. Amazon is different from most companies in the high value they place in written communication, and the low value they place in ephemeral verbal communication. It would be very surprising if the CEO didn’t exemplify this ethos.
Follow a bunch of them on Twitter and you can see the think-piece triggering play out in real-time.
Why can he write? It is not clear.
How does the author know that this letter is not edited/approved by PR and legal?
The culture of worshipping CEO sets very low bar on human ambition.
The samples of writing are entirely unremarkable too. Thousands of CEOs or CEOs' PR teams writing shareholder letters or microbusiness blogs achieve a similar fairly informal style using formal language, deploy anecdotes and vanity metrics and make aspirational statements about the future. Some of those businesses succeed at different scales, some fail, few even attempt what Bezos did.
"Divinely discontent" is a nice phrase, and props for giving the illusion of specificity by saying "trained random forests of decision trees" rather than the more buzzwordy "processing Big Data using Machine Learning". But that isn't even necessarily Bezos' personal stamp, never mind one of the qualities that actually made him one of the most successful business leaders of the internet era.
They can and do, typically working closely with the credited author. It's common.
I don't understand the notion that these kinds of work can never be the product of a PR.
Sure, I very much doubt Bezos outsourced writing in the late nineties, and he might write every single word now. My point was more that writing is probably the most replaceable part of his skillset, and he probably didn't even need to write well (or without assistance) at all to succeed. And many business bloggers who are not even trying to emulate what Bezos does or not succeeding can communicate about markets and business principles
"We must always give our users pure sex. It's like a rendezvous in the back seat of an automobile with a beautiful girl. One's experience with the personal computer should be better than the greatest orgasm you could have."
That is a straight up terrible quote. First of all, hearing about some old dude's sex fantasy is a bit gross. Second of all, computer experiences should be predictable and efficient. I don't know many people who associate either of those qualities with (good) sex.
Admittedly I sympathize with the 501 programmer sentiment, nevertheless these corporate manifestos, principles, credos etc. make me gag a little. But probably that's their purpose anyway, so great writing there.
It's also important to be aware we give more slack to those we admire.
I'd love to see a similarly graceful and well-penned tribute from Bezos to the workers who routinely collapse from exhaustion in his fulfilment warehouses (1), before they are swiftly replaced by another Oompa Loompa who will scrape just above minimum wage if they make their hourly dispatch target.
OK, I know there have been other complaints, but Business Insider is hardly the news source of record I'd base an opinion on.
So, no, this isn't some yellow journalism hit piece.
Even if 500 warehouse workers (one in a thousand) passed out in a given year from exhaustion, given the numbers we're talking about, that wouldn't imply anything. In an office setting, one in a thousand employees will pass out randomly in a given year from a problem derived from their own health.
It takes a pretty epic data set and study to demonstrate a meaningful frequency when you're talking about hundreds of thousands of employees. I've seen no evidence in any of the articles spit out by the media that workers are regularly being worked to exhaustion. Skepticism is warranted, given there's a lot more money to be made by sensationalism, in selling books or driving clicks.
The way to a billionare's heart is through their profits, and in Bezos' case maybe that is his customers. If enough customers become unhappy, perhaps we would direct some focus onto the lowest tiers of his empire.
And this kind of exploitation directly causes a race to the bottom as competitors cannot be competitive without it. Bezos is rich, difficult to understand what he gains by treating workers this way. It's seems more and more like an ideology, a culture.
The only way this gets fixed is strong regulation, a social culture that abhors exploitation and consumer choice.
For consumer choice to be effective you need to start an intense awareness campaign that will compel people to think twice before buying from Amazon. But its a long term and expensive process with uncertain results.
It's incredibly difficult building something like Amazon, and Bezos deserves all the success and money, but a few billions less for him so we have a healthier treatment of workers and healthier society should be not require a debate and reveals something fundamentally broken in our society.
Why? Did they do anything noteworthy or exceptional?
Yes, they are collapsing due to being overworked in one of the most valuable corporations in 21st century. The fact that a lot of people seems to be so dismissive about this fact is a very scary thought, and I happen to be pretty liberal when it comes to economics. This is an anomaly that should be addressed with a lot more attention.
What I was getting at is what relevance the quality of a CEO's internal communication prowess has when his company perpetuates toxic practices and processes from the top down.