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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos spoke about qualities of successful innovators on Friday.

A willingness to fail. A willingness to be misunderstood. And maintaining a childlike wonder in the world.

lightbulbWhether you’re a 25-year veteran in the tech industry or a sixth grader, these are are the traits Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos thinks are necessary for a successful innovator.

Bezos, speaking to a group of students and museum members at the newly-minted Bezos Center for Innovation, dished out some sound advice for those wanting to know about being innovative.

First and foremost, you need to be willing to fail. Bezos, the founder of one of the world’s most forward-thinking companies, said this is the most important quality of innovators.

“Without a willingness to fail, you cannot innovate because most innovations won’t work,” he said.

Bezos noted two types of innovation: incremental innovation and clean sheet, big innovation. At Amazon, Bezos said 70 percent of the value the company has created for customers is from daily incremental innovation. That means making every process a little bit better, like finding defects and eliminating them.

“I cannot overstate how important that incremental innovation is,” he said. “But for the big innovation, you have to be willing to fail. Every startup company faces that. Even big companies, like Boeing building the 787, face this.”

At first, publishers criticized Amazon for including negative reviews.
At first, publishers criticized Amazon for including negative reviews.

Going along with that thought, Bezos said innovators must also be willing to be misunderstood. It’s a “profoundly powerful tool,” said Bezos, and a philosophy that Amazon is built off.

For example, when Amazon first implemented its customer review mechanism, publishers sent letters to Bezos asking why he was including negative reviews for their books.

“Maybe you don’t understand your business,” they told Bezos. “You make money when you sell things.”

“We don’t make money when we sell things,” Bezos would respond. “We make money when we help people make purchase decisions.”

The new Bezos Center for Innovation at MOHAI celebrates Seattle as an innovation hub and inspires youth to think creatively.
The new Bezos Center for Innovation at MOHAI celebrates Seattle as an innovation hub and inspires youth to think creatively.

Back then, that was certainly a different frame of mind for the purpose of customer reviews. But fast forward years later, and the idea of a customer review — both good and bad — is now completely accepted for millions of consumer products online and formed the backbone of companies like Yelp and Zagat.

Bezos said that anytime you’re doing something new and are criticized, you must figure out if those critics have validity.

“Use the critics as a mirror and ask if they are right,” he said. “If they are right, then you change. If you think you don’t agree, then you should be stubborn on your vision. Part of being an inventor is that you have to have stubborn enough visions that many will think are wrong.”

Finally, every inventor must be creative with how they think and “maintain a child-like wonder about the world.” Even if you’ve done something 1,000 times the same way and are accustomed to it, innovative people always think outside of the box.

“You have to say, ‘Wait a second. Why are we doing it this way? Could it be better? Could it be different?'” Bezos explained. “That kind of curiosity, that explorer’s mind, that child-like wonder — that’s what makes an inventor.”

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/chrisamccoy Chris McCoy

    So true: “Part of being an inventor is that you have to have stubborn enough visions that many will think are wrong.”

  • Davis Johnson

    The first sentences says everything. “A willingness to fail.”

    This is not taught in school today and so it is part of the downward spiral we are seeing in American innovation.

    We are no longer rewarding the risk takers.

    In fact we are sending a message that you don’t even have to try. Big Government will give you free healthcare, housing, food and a phone.

    Why bother?

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