Landing in Brazil this week, I peered out the window at the world’s largest river—the Amazon. It’s home to the planet’s most diverse ecosystem and the greatest single source of oxygen and fresh water known to mankind. As I thought about my upcoming keynote at the International Forum of Management Strategy and Innovation, I remembered my late night interview with Jeff Bezos as snow fell outside in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum. Bezos wanted to create the world’s biggest and best supermarket, and the massive Amazon River was the only word that could even start to embody the size and scope of his ambitions to re-invent the retail world as we know it.
You’re a Cause AND a Company
“You can’t ‘persuade’ people to believe in you. You have to prove it with actual results. Sounds obvious, perhaps, but too often brands because they think they can just market your way to a real reputation. It’s steak AND sizzle, isn’t it!” Bezos let out his trademark laugh/guffaw, and slapped his hand on the table.
That’s why Amazon was unprofitable for the first 5 years, and even though the investors were screaming for an exit, Bezos stayed the course and remained devoted to his vision. “It took us awhile to figure out how to get every detail right, and once you think you’re good at it, check again! You’re dead if you think others around you aren’t getting better at it too! We’re still figuring that out now with fresh groceries.”
This practice is a mix of “Fanatic Discipline” and “Productive Paranoia”. I’d never suggest becoming so paranoid as to abandon your ambitions, but what our research showed about the most Admired, fastest growing companies is that they never took success for granted–their paranoia led them to be productive with daily improvements in a fanatically disciplined way.
As Bezos told me, “Amazon had to invent our brand for the first time. (And we’ve never stopped reinventing it!) In the beginning, we had to demonstrate we could actually beat (or match) conventional stores in three ways that you can’t fake.”
“Think about it, this was a time when people still doubted the safety of online purchases,” Bezos giggled. “Can you imagine a day when customers said, you do NOT have to provide these 3 essentials for long term success?
1) higher quality AND selection
2) faster delivery
3) greater value as the customer defines it — which is not always the cheapest product — but the one that meets or exceeds your expectations.”
“People don’t say: I wish you’d deliver slower and charge more!” Bezos smiled.
I celebrated Jeff Bezos’ never-ending ambitions — from Amazon’s start as an online bookstore to becoming the world’s largest retailer — during my keynote at an Expo2020 Innovation event in Dubai this week. I was honored to be there with my clients from Schwab, Coca Cola, Cisco, Hershey’s, Virgin, Rolls Royce and others.
One of the most critical distinctions between growth companies like these and other companies is the difference that their leaders make in creating and sustaining a growth culture. Jeff Bezos did it with humor, consistency and an undying devotion to learning from customers that continues to drive Amazon’s growth today. In contrast, Steve Jobs lead with the inspiring brilliance of an inventor and the intimidating emotional demeanor of a mad scientist! No two organizations or leaders will have exactly the same recipe for success, but those who encourage productive paranoia and build a culture of listening to and learning from customers are able to sustain growth and achieve lasting success.
For more insights, tune in to the podcast of Mark’s Oct. 22nd interview on the Dubai Eye “Business Breakfast” radio news show. http://www.dubaieye1038.com/business-breakfast-podcasts/