After posting this morning on begin with the end in mind at the end of a largely sleepless night, I stopped for some coffee on the way to work. While browsing through the current issue of The Economist, I happened on a short article, entitled Taking the Long View, about Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com. Worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a snippet that builds off today’s focus on begin with the end in mind:
“…Even so, in the 1990s he hesitated to leave a good job in the world of finance to set up Amazon after a colleague he respected advised him against it. But Mr Bezos applied what he calls a “regret minimisation framework”, imagining whether, as an 80-year-old looking back, he would regret the decision not to strike out on his own. He concluded that he would [emphasis added], and with encouragement from his wife he took the plunge as an entrepreneur. They moved from New York to Seattle and he founded the company, in time-honoured fashion for American technology start-ups, in his garage.”
Today Amazon.com is doing nearly $50B of business each year, and Mr. Bezos is worth nearly $20B. But his wealth is not what defines him. He has transformed the world and the way it does business (think e-retail and cloud-computing), and also the way we share information and learn (think Kindle and Kindle Fire…tributes to his Promethean temperament – which those of us in Earth observations, science, and services can channel).
The Economist article goes on… “This may explain why Mr Bezos is so keen to ensure that Amazon preserves its own appetite for risk-taking. As companies grow, there is a danger that novel ideas get snuffed out by managers’ desire to conform and play it safe. “You get social cohesion at the expense of truth,” he says. He believes that the best way to guard against this is for leaders to encourage their staff to work on big new ideas. [emphasis added]“It’s like exercising muscles,” he adds. “Either you use them or you lose them.”…”
Good advice for all of us, wherever our workplace. Sorely needed as we work to live safely and well on a real world that is at one and the same time a resource, a victim, and a threat.
Think big. Think what you want The Economist to say about you in twenty years.
“…As companies grow, there is a danger that novel ideas get snuffed out by managers’ desire to conform and play it safe…”
And not just companies. Speaking of a particular government bureaucracy (which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty – and almost all of them become guilty!), one of my mentors once told me, “They’ve forgotten what victory really looks like.” It is perhaps the best argument against Big Government – no matter how well intentioned the agency, at some point, its focus changes from doing something good (victory) to doing things that will ensure the agency’s continued existence.
Companies, at least, are subject to creative destruction (even though our government seems to feel it can somehow protect the financial sector from this force). At some point, Tom Peters’ National Buggywhip Corporation (motto: “We’re No Worse than Anyone Else”) gets driven out of business. Unfortunately, we don’t have that sort of corrective mechanism for government.