Management & Leadership

Leadership lessons from Amazon: Jeff Bezos’ “Day 1” philosophy

Jul 04, 2018

Great leaders, like great companies, stay true to a ‘first-day’ mindset. Here’s how to apply Amazon’s ‘Day 1’ philosophy to enhance your own leadership skills.

Key takeaways

  • Amazon’s guiding principles, as encapsulated in its founder’s ‘Day 1’ philosophy, are founded upon the belief that great companies never abandon a start-up mentality.
  • Jeff Bezos’ ‘Day 1’ concept contains powerful lessons for all those either in, or striving for, positions of leadership.
  • Key pointers for leaders, based on those of Amazon, include the belief that results, not processes, are what’s important; that decisions should be made fast and trends embraced quickly; that the status quo should always be challenged; and that one’s own intuition should be deeply nurtured.

In a letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, the world’s largest online shopping retailer, shared his powerful ‘Day 1 Philosophy’.

The concept, which has become something of leadership lore, came about in the early days of Amazon, when Bezos occupied a building called ‘Day 1’, named as a reminder that that the company should always maintain the first-day mindset of a start-up.

Bezos’ philosophy contains universal lessons for all those in leadership positions – and for those striving to corner-office status. Here are five of them…

1. Results are more important than processes

According to Bezos, process – the way things are and have always done – is the enemy of creative thinking. He maintains that it pushes people into ‘Day 2’, where habitual thinking results in stasis and, ultimately, irrelevance and decline. Agility, which is often lost when companies become big and systems take over, is the key to future-proofing oneself.

Leadership lesson: Only by being able to move fast and to quickly embrace trends is progress possible. Systems throttle growth.

2. Move fast

Speed matters in business, says Bezos, who credits the success of his former start-up to its continued ability to keep ‘decision-making velocity high’. At Amazon, employees have a ‘disagree and commit’ system, the idea being that, even if they do not agree with a decision taken, they still commit to making it work. Needless to say, this speeds up the decision-making process considerably.

Leadership lesson: Bypassing what can often be lengthy persuasion tactics by simply getting commitment allows leaders to make decisions fast and keep constantly on their toes.

3. Look outside

‘The world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly,’ says Bezos. ‘If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.’ He points out that big trends are not all that difficult to spot but looking only inward blinds us to seeing them. And, as the saying goes, if you’re standing still, you’re actually moving backwards.

Leadership lesson: Insular thinking is leadership suicide. Don’t resist trends in the belief that they are passing fads. Spot them early, embrace them eagerly, and adapt to them quickly.

4. Complacency kills

Amazon’s customer-centric obsession is, says Bezos, its most protective ‘Day 1’ safeguard. Why? Because customers are always on the search for something better. Even when they say they’re satisfied, they’re not. And this keeps the company’s creative juices flowing.

Leadership lesson: Don’t ever accept the status quo – especially when things are going well. Complacency sounds the death knell on continued success. Keep experimenting with new things, and nurture those who do the same. Strive always for that Next Big Thing.  

5. Don’t make decisions by proxy

Bezos, like Steve Jobs before him, is wary of market research and customer surveys, calling them ‘dangerous when you’re inventing and designing products’. Don’t assume that the views of a few represent those of everyone. In fact, canvassing the opinions of a sample group can be misleading and hard to interpret. Instead, understand the customer, have a vision and love the offering. Then, use market research to help identify your blind spots.

Leadership lesson: Understand and study all the research rather than the averages you’ll find on surveys. But, above all, develop your own intuition, curiosity and taste – all the things you won’t find on any survey.

The rise of the business coach

Entrepreneurs and business executives are just some of the people who could benefit from the services of a professional coach. More and more companies are enlisting coaches so that they, too, can develop methods and philosophies that facilitate business success.

If this sounds like an area you’d like to be involved in, you should consider studying a coaching course. SACAP utilises the principles of applied psychology to train students in coaching, and their range of coaching qualifications are both nationally (COMENSA) and internationally (ICF) accredited. For more information, enquire now.

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