Lessons from Jeff Bezos: Why you need to be willing to change your mind

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos

Here’s some interesting advice from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: People that are right a lot of the time often change their minds.

Bezos chatted with 37signals, a web-based software developer for individual and small businesses, and took random questions for 45 minutes from the employees.

He brought up some intriguing ideas about people who make the right decisions, and it might surprise you.

Consistent decision-making is often perceived to be a strong trait in leaders who don’t seesaw with their thought paths. People who change their views all the time might be looked at as weak and as someone who you can’t really trust.

But Bezos says that it’s encouraged to have ideas and opinions that contradict what you said yesterday.

From the blog post at 37signals’ site:

He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a well formed point of view, but it means you should consider your point of view as temporary.

What trait signified someone who was wrong a lot of the time? Someone obsessed with details that only support one point of view. If someone can’t climb out of the details, and see the bigger picture from multiple angles, they’re often wrong most of the time.

Great advice.

So what do you think? Is it good for people to constantly change their minds, or would you be frustrated with a leader that you can’t expect consistency from…

Previously on GeekWire: Jeff Bezos says patent fight may ‘stifle innovation’

 

  • Adam Kramer

    And there in lies the rub… If you want a large organization, a growing organization, how can you have leaders that change their minds every few months?

    The challenge for Bezos and most of his execs is how can they consistently communicate their vision so that when they do change their minds, the top-thinkers in their organizations already saw it coming or can quickly rationalize it.

    I completely agree: smart people change their mind all the time. But leaders change their mind and have a bunch of people say “oh yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”

    • http://twitter.com/metapgmr Jean-Jacques Dubray

      I think we have entered the era continuous strategy. Ventak Rao was asking on his blog this week, what could be the third function of the enterprise beyond innovation and marketing: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2012/10/15/economies-of-scale-economies-of-scope/

      Amazon’s Strategy has been quite incredible over the last ten years, but is it still on the right track? In 2012 Amazon has successfully assembled a coalition of competitors that spans from Apple, Google to Walmart to B&N . Is that reasonable for a company has somewhat limited resources?

      IMHO, it seems that (beyond wages issue), Amazon has not taken the measure that the very platform they pioneered (with Apple) over the last ten years is about to redefine retail and “etail”. Look at Apple, isn’t the future of retail a combination of apps, showrooms and logistics? perhaps with services and education as value add. Isn’t relationship-commerce (rCommerce) going to dominate?

      In a time where customers tell you what they like or don’t like within second, do you think it is reasonable to “stay the course” regardless of unfolding technology, operations and business innovations?

      I would argue that in such a moving landscape, without a continuous strategy function that complements and orient innovation and marketing, you have no chance. Call it “change your mind” or anything you want, but companies like Amazon need to adjust their strategy daily.

      • Adam K

        “… but companies like Amazon need to adjust their strategy daily.”

        If any one business at Amazon (whether that’s Video On Demand, or Fulfillment by Amazon, Amazon Web Services, etc…) changed it strategy daily it wouldn’t have any employees left after a few months. Strategies don’t have to change often, missions don’t have to change ever. They can change but if you have a great vision and are a great communicator, everyone will follow along and be in awe of how damn smart you are. Bezo’s is a good example of this. But let me reiterate, this company is growing with no sign of slowing down, so the challenge remains.

        Also, as another response, if you’re not willing to stay the course long enough to collect enough data to be at least a smidgen quantitatively comparative you might as well throw in the towel to the people that are willing to stay the course long enough to create a true experiment. I’m not actually saying that Amazon doesn’t do these things but my statement about the challenge at hand stands.

  • Fred

    I’m thrilled to hear this from Mr. Bezos. Perhaps he can change his mind about paying Amazon’s warehouse workers a living wage and giving them a decent environment to work in?

    I used to buy a fair amount of stuff from Amazon, from their earliest days, but stopped a year ago after reading in Pennsylvania papers that Amazon outsources its warehouse capability to at least one third party who, in turn, pays as little as possible, overworks their employees, and literally had an ambulance outside the warehouse to take people to the hospital in summer for heat stroke. I choose not to do business with that sort of company. And I’ve made a point to educate people when they do buy from Amazon, what their money supports.

    Instead, I’d like to see Amazon pay whatever the going union wage is for the area where the warehouse is located. Or whatever the average local wage is required for people to live in a given area. Unionization would be great but, at the least, people have a right, in their lifetimes, to earn enough to live with minimal dignity.

    I realize lots of technology companies and founders are very libertarian, or worse, and into the “dog eat dog” mentality. However, you can’t have chiefs without a lot of tribes people, which is the life most people want, a decent job with paid time off a few weeks a year, with the ability to raise a family (if that’s what they want), with work they can handle.

    So, Mr. Bezos, please by all means rethink what and how you pay your warehouse workers. I’d be happy to buy from Amazon again. But I won’t until I read in Pro Publica or similar fact-based neutral media that Amazon is doing the right thing. Otherwise, I have to assume Mr. Bezos is another tech gazillionaire who doesn’t care much for working people who make his company a success.

    • Ned

      Fred, I applaud you for living off the grid, growing/killing your own food, and not buying *anything* from *anybody*. If this is not your situation, it’s time to re-evaluate.

      In the real world, employers strive to “pay as little as possible” and sometimes “overwork their employees”. In the case of warehouse workers, in case you didn’t know this, a large number of them actually like being “overworked”. This means they make more money, because they are paid hourly.

      The ambulance part actually makes it sound like they care more for their employees than you think. I suggest you head to Pennsylvania, Kentucky, or wherever this next summer when it’s 100+ and try to do a job, any job, where it is not air conditioned. You’ll wish their was an ambulance waiting for you.

  • RobertinSeattle

    For me, this has always been Management 101. In leading companies especially in this day and age of constant change, it’s critical to have strong and clear leadership. I’ve often half-jokingly described it as a “friendly dictatorship” to my management and employees. As the head of an organization, it’s important to take in the best advice and opinions from your management in order to make the best possible decision. But once that final decision is made, then everyone needs to fall in line and follow. Otherwise, the door’s over there. Unfortunately, these days all too many people feel that they still have the right to dissent and object ad nauseum even after the train’s left the station.

    But I’ve also reserved the right to change direction as things change on the ground. Not because it’s a right but because it’s up to a leader to make adjustments and changes based on their unique perspective of what they see from the front lines. Being strong but flexible is the only way to survive in these fast times.

    So here’s the other point I want to bring up with the theme of this article on Jeff Bezos’ leadership style: Politics. Especially right at this intensifying moment heading into the election. Why do so many people on both sides hold candidates so rigidly to their positions, even from as far back as 40 years ago? “But.. But… But… didn’t you say this or than 30 years ago, ? You, sir, are a flip-flopper!”

    I personally find this to be truly the most annoying and ignorant line of attack that no one should tolerate. I would hope that if we find a great leader, we’d want someone who has good principles and integrity with the ability to be able to adapt and change with what’s happening right now. And people would understand and appreciate them because they trust them to have made the best decision based on all the details that they have access to at that given moment. I for one want leaders who strive to stay current with what’s going on around them and then respond with the best possible decision they can make at that moment. That’s real leadership. Management 101.

    • Adam K

      Regarding politics, much of politics about beholding principles, not strategy. So yes, when someone says they’re about one principled stance and then they change it, people are going to blink. It’s like Bezos one day was like, ‘I am not for the customer for the shareholder.’ That would be a principled change and everyone would think he’s crazy for it.

      Also, leaders are often not on the front lines, in fact, they don’t call managers front line workers. Individual contributors are on the front lines. Managers would tend to be somewhere on the hillside.

  • Name

    Does Jeff Bezos pay Amazon staff a living wage ( > $16/hr)?