Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, started his company 18 years ago in his garage in Seattle, and in 2012 was named Fortune magazine’s Business Person of the Year. Bezos started by inventing a new way to sell books. Then he invented ways to sell just about everything else, to the tune of $100 billion annually. In recent published interviews, Bezos spoke of how he has pushed leaders to invent and inspire innovation along the way.
Be willing to invent: In his interview with Fortune, Bezos cited inventing as one of three defining elements of Amazon’s success. Inventing is a great reframe of innovation. These days when anyone bangs the drum “Be innovative!” it sounds like a parent telling us to clean our room. Yes, we know we should, but we have other stuff that’s more important right now.
But inventing sounds pretty good. It’s something we can actually sit down and do. Bezos went on to say invention isn’t easy and requires willingness: “Willingness to be misunderstood. Willingness to fail.” How many of us are up for that? He says, whatever it takes, “Invention is really important.”
Invent better memos: Every idea proffered to Amazon executives must be in the form of a six-page, prose style analysis of the issue. No bullet points. No PowerPoint presentation. “When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking,” Bezos said. It also allows the entire argument to be presented prior to rebuttal.
Invent better meetings: Amazon executives spend the first 30 minutes of meetings reading those memos. Each item to be reviewed is in the aforementioned written format and distributed at the start of the meeting. Not emailed ahead of time. This way everyone has the time to read it, and everyone gets it done.
Hack your work: This hacking is different — it is benevolent hacking to benefit the company. It is getting what you need to do great work by exploiting loopholes and creating workarounds. In the book Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results, Bill Jensen and Josh Klein advocate get-it-done, inventive, disruptive, even unauthorized bypassing of norms and casual rules in organizations. They say it already happens, and managers should allow and encourage it. They cite as an example a team that needed software which was blocked by the company’s firewall, so the team tunneled past IT to access it for their project. They describe a manager with items destined for the company trash heap who instead sold them on eBay to raise money for his team’s project.
Loosen the rules and trust your people. As a general reportedly said after allowing soldiers to use social media, “We trust them with weapons; I guess we can trust them with Facebook.”
Consider it your turn to invent: What would you invent if you could? Sure, it is easy for Amazon to invent. Look at how big the company is, and how its leaders encourage the practice. Or Google, where engineers are encouraged to take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally. The rest of us might not have that luxury. Most of us have to figure out how to allot time to invent for ourselves and for our team.
What will you invent next? How important is inventing to you? Is it as important to you as it is to Bezos?
I have an idea. I am willing to give you $30 if you spend 30 minutes inventing during each of the next four weeks — as long as you’re one of the first 10 people to contact me. No, it does not need to be patent-worthy, but all of your information will be strictly confidential. I’ll be there right along with you, calendaring it, taking time to invent better, faster, easier ways of producing more. Email me, let me know how you do, and claim your $30.