When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spoke today at the Air Force Association’s 2018 Air, Space and Cyber Conference, his head wasn’t just up in the clouds.
To be sure, he devoted a lot of attention to his Blue Origin space venture and what it could offer for U.S. space dominance. But Bezos also talked about two-way vs. one-way doors in decision making; experimentation vs. operational excellence, and other strategies from Amazon’s management playbook. There were even references to Amazon’s HQ2 search, and the value of putting square pegs in round holes.
Here’s a lightly edited transcript of Bezos’ 50-minute talk with retired Gen. Larry Spencer at the conference in National Harbor, Md., in front of an Air Force audience:
Spencer: So, I have a wife who spends a lot of money, and I live in the D.C. area, and I could be looking for a job soon. So, any announcement you want to make about the headquarters?
Bezos (laughing): We’ll make a decision before the end of the year. That’s all I can say on that topic. We’re excited to make that decision. And I hope your wife is spending some of that money on Amazon. …
Spencer (laughing): Oh, absolutely. One of the reasons we’re happy to have you is that you are right in the wheelhouse of everything that’s been going on here in the last few days, especially as we talk about innovation. If anyone epitomizes innovation, it’s you and your companies. How do you encourage employees to be innovative? We’ve talked a lot here about the “frozen middle,” how folks will have ideas and they can’t get them through. A lot of folks worry about the risk: “What’s going to happen if I make a mistake?” How do you encourage your employees to be innovative?
Bezos: This is fantastic and important question. To be innovative you have to experiment. If you want to have more invention, you need to do more experiments per week, per month, per year, per decade. It’s that simple. You cannot invent without experimenting. And here’s the other thing about experiments: Lots of them fail. If you know it’s going to work in advance, it is not an experiment.
What happens in big organizations — and Amazon’s a big organization now, the Air Force is a big organization — is that we start to confuse experimentation with operational excellence. Operational excellence is one of our four key principles at Amazon. We’ve built over 150 large fulfillment centers around the world now. We know how to do that. That is not an experiment. If we build the 151st fulfillment center and screw it up, that’s just a failure.
That’s not the kind of failure we’re seeking. We want failures where we’re trying to do something new, untested, never proven. That’s a real experiment. And they come at all scale sizes. So you need to teach people that those two kinds of failure are different.
You said something about that “hard middle,” where ideas don’t go up. I think this is such an important thing. At Amazon, one of the things we try to do is have multiple paths to “yes.”
Here’s a little thought experiment for you. If you are a junior executive at Amazon, and if Amazon did this in the typical kind of corporate hierarchy way, let’s say you have an idea: You need to get your boss to greenlight that idea, and then your boss’s boss needs to greenlight that idea. And then your boss’s boss’s boss needs to greenlight that idea. There are probably five levels or more before that idea gets the go-ahead.
Assume instead that you’re an entrepreneur with a startup company idea, and you need venture capital. You go to Sand Hill Road [in Silicon Valley], and you go to the first venture capitalist and they tell you “no.” You go to the second one, and they tell you “no.” Maybe your 20th one tells you yes. You’ve got 19 no’s and one yes, and you’re still good to go.
In that venture capital model, there are multiple paths to yes. There were 20 people who could give you a yes, and it didn’t matter how many gave you a no. So if you want innovative thinking, hire a large number of high judgment people empowered to greenlight ideas. You want multiple paths to yes. You want a system where, as a junior Air Force officer with a good idea, the first five people tell me no, but somehow I can still go pursue that idea.
That’s a challenge that big organizations have to figure out. And by the way, this happens all the time: I’ll say, “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” but somebody else will greenlight it. I’m fine with that, because usually the cost of the experiments is pretty small.
Things only get expensive when they work, right? Once something works, you’re like, “Whoa, we need to double down on that.” Then the spending can get heavy, and then those can become big, consequential decisions. That’s where the hierarchy and using the judgment of the most senior people really helps.
You also have to select people who like to invent, When you’re in your hiring and your promotions process, you need to say, “Does this person like to be innovative? Do they have a bit of the pioneering spirit?” Maybe they’re also a little bit annoying because they might be, you know, a little bit radical or a bit of a rebel. They’re not always the easiest people to get along with, but you want them in your organization.
They’re a spice. I wouldn’t recommend having 90 percent mavericks.
Spencer: What I found, at least in my military career, is that often mavericks, as you mentioned, are not welcomed. One of the phrases I really didn’t like when I came up in the Air Force was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it better.
Bezos: Yeah. And by the way, your adversaries may be making it better.
Spencer: Exactly. So how do you handle these mavericks, and how do you protect them from the institution destroying them?
Bezos: You have to teach the value that these people bring. But also I would push hard on the mavericks to say, you also have to be organized. You can’t just be a crazy person. It’s fine to be a maverick, but write your ideas down. Sell your ideas. Persuade. Create the conditions where the ideas can blossom. If you’re just purely a creative person with zero organizational skills, you’re probably not going to get much done. So I would push back on the organization and say, look, these people have an important role to play.
By the way, all of us are a little bit of a maverick. It’s not like there are these people who were born mavericks. We all have this inside of us. If you look at kids, they’re all inventive. They’re all doing crazy things.
I actually saw one of my kids put a square peg in a round hole, and as he was doing it, I would say “that’s never going to work.” And then it fit, and I was like, “Gosh, that’s amazing.”
Little kids try things. We all do that when we’re little, and some of us lose it.
One of the great paradoxes of inventing at a high level is that you need to be an expert in your domain area, and you need to have a beginner’s mind. You absolutely need both of those things. The world is too complex to actually just be a beginner.
No matter how inventive I am, I can’t go invent a new kind of brain surgery. You have to be a neurosurgeon. You have to already know all there is to know about brain surgery, and then take it to the next level.
The problem is, for many people, by the time they become true experts, they’ve lost that ability to see things in a fresh way. They’ve lost the beginner’s mind. And so that’s another thing: If I’m an expert in launch vehicles or whatever it is, I need to step back and say, OK, if I were looking at this for the first time, what would I be seeing?
Spencer: For roughly 80 percent of my career in the Air Force, we would launch satellites and not think twice about it. Space was considered a sanctuary. Obviously that has changed. So what do you see as the biggest challenges or risks in operating in the space domain?
Bezos: Let’s start with a fundamental principle. You never want a fair fight. That’s for a boxing ring. Outside of a boxing ring, a fair fight is just bad strategy. It means you didn’t prepare properly. As you pointed out, this nation has enjoyed incredible space dominance for so long, but it’s changing because some of our potential adversaries are getting very sophisticated.
If I were in your shoes, the way I would think about this is, in this new era, how are we going to maintain space dominance? What does it really mean? You’re going to need some fundamental capabilities. You have to be able to go to space more frequently, with less lead time.
If you said, “Jeff, I have a mission for you. I need you to control this piece of terrain over here, but there are some constraints: You can only visit it once a month, with a lead time of two years,” I’ve just been given an impossible mission.
So it’s not surprising that it’s difficult to do that. One of Blue Origin’s missions is to make access to space more frequent, ready to go on a moment’s notice, lower cost — which requires reusability. All those things are going to be required, in my view, to move into a new era of U.S. space dominance. And believe me, I don’t have to tell you guys, you do not want to see that era end. That’s a big deal.
Spencer: We have a lot of industry partners here in the audience. … What are some of the benefits for your companies partnering with commercial industry?
Bezos: It’s so important for the DOD, for the Air Force, for every government institution, when they can, to use commercial solutions. What I find is that when the requirements get written, they’re not written necessarily taking that into account in all cases. And so you end up getting a custom-built system which meets the requirements, when a commercial system would have met a different set of requirements in a much better way for the capability that’s required.
That’s a big problem. It’s very costly. It slows you down. You want to reserve your custom requirements for things where you really need special sauce. Something where there really isn’t and shouldn’t be a commercial avenue.
On writing requirements, I tell our engineers at Blue Origin: “Good engineers build to requirements. Great engineers push back on requirements.” You need to say, “Is this requirement really needed? Because if we can waive this requirement, then we can use this commercial system.”
If you look at an example from my own world, which is Amazon Web Services, we’re now seeing fantastic growth from both companies and government institutions, the CIA, the DOD, using our compute cloud instead of building their own systems. And the reason these companies are doing that … is because the capabilities they get keep improving, kind of automagically, without any effort. Part of what’s going on there is, in a system like that, you want co-customers because the co-customers drive the product forward.
If you’re the only customer of a software system, you’re the only one driving it forward. If thousands customers share that system, then the other 999 that are not you are also driving it forward, and you get that as a tailwind.
The analogy I’ll give you is that of a personal physician. The last thing you want, Larry, is a personal physician who only services you, because that person … sure, they’d be available, they’d show up and do house calls, they’d be there anytime. But you want a doctor who’s seeing hundreds of sick people so that when you have a problem, that doctor has a bunch of data points.
How could a personal, private physician ever diagnose something? It would be so challenging. You don’t want a private doctor, you want a bunch of co-patients, because those patients are teaching that doctor every day. If you can use a commercial system, you effectively have a doctor who has lots of patients teaching,
Spencer: Let’s get specific about the Air Force. How would you recommend fostering innovation specifically with an organization like the Air Force, and with velocity?
Bezos: Velocity is so important, and in large organizations, it is about decision making. What you really want is scale and nimbleness, right? So if you take the U.S Air Force, one way to make it nimbler would be to make it much smaller, but that’s a really bad solution because the scale brings so many advantages.
I see the same thing at Amazon. Because of our scale, we can do things that we just couldn’t ever have done as a garage startup. There are some things that only big organizations can do. I love garage startups. I was a garage startup. But you can’t build a Boeing 787 in your garage. You need a big organization like Boeing to do that.
So we want scale, we love scale, and you would never trade the scale of the U.S, Air Force for anything. But the question becomes, “How do I keep the advantages of scale but still have the advantages of a nimble startup? How do I get the nimbleness, too? I want to be able to absorb a punch because of my scale, and I want to be able to dodge a punch because of my nimbleness.”
The way to stay nimble is by making decisions fast. In a 20-person startup company, the decision-making speed is so quick. That’s why they’re so nimble. In a big company or a big organization like the Air Force, that decision making has a tendency to lose speed.
You get high-quality decisions. I think sometimes people think the decisions are low-quality. You just get them slowly, which is a problem. This is what we do at Amazon: We acknowledge that there are two types of decisions. There are decisions that are “two-way doors.” If you make the decision, you walk through the door, and if it turns out you made the wrong decision, you turn around, come back, and the consequence of that misstep is small.
That’s a Type 2 decision. There’s a Type 1 decision, where it’s really hard to reverse course once you walk through that door. It’s going to be expensive or impossible and time-consuming to reverse that decision, so you have to get that right. That’s a high-consequence decision. Those decisions should be made deliberately, carefully, slowly.
At Amazon, I find myself on those decisions. I’m the chief slowdown officer. I slow those decisions down. I say, “No, I want to see this one more way,” and the team that’s working on it rolls their eyes. I’ve already seen it 18 ways, but I thought of a 19th way and I want to see it. That’s correct. For a high-consequence, irreversible decision, you owe it to your teammates to make those decisions.
The problem that comes in with large organizations is that junior executives — I’ll switch it to “officers” — junior officers see senior officers as their role models. So they’re looking around and watching, and it turns out — rightly — that senior officers are mostly making high-consequence, Type 1 decisions that require a slow, deliberate decision-making process. So then the junior officers are like, well, that must be how we should make all decisions.
So now even trivial decisions end up going through a lot of extra unnecessary process to be made. Really, many of those decisions should be made by very small teams, or even by single individuals with good judgment, knowing full well that they can be reversed.
Senior leadership can set the tone on that. They can say, “Why are so many people involved in this decision? I want Jill to make this decision, and whatever Jill decides is fine. And guess what, Jill, if you get it wrong, it’s OK. We’re just going to back up and do it again. I don’t want you to talk to anybody about this. Just go make the decision.”
Spencer: So I’ve been here since in the hotel since last Thursday, and I decided to run home quickly last night to change out some clothes. Typical of my wife, I walked in the door after being gone for several days, and she asked me to take out the trash.
Bezos: She saved it for you.
Spencer: She did, but I didn’t want to take out the trash. So I was considering … OK, she asked me to take out the trash. Now, what’s the risk to me by not taking it out?
Bezos (laughing): Over a beer, I want to hear how this ended up.
Spencer: The Air Force was birthed on innovation, so you have a generally innovative crowd here. However, there is a balance between innovation and risk. How do you balance those two?
Bezos: Well, here’s what I would say: When you’re doing these experiments, winners pay for thousands of losers. To put it in Amazon terms, we’ve had a few gigantic winners at Amazon. We’ve had Amazon Prime, our membership program. Amazon Web Services has been a gigantic winner. Our Marketplace business, where we let third-party sellers compete against us on our primary retail real estate. Those are huge winners for Amazon. Each of those winners has more than paid for thousands of experiments.
So when you’re talking about the kinds of experiments that you would be doing here at the Air Force, that I do at Amazon and Blue Origin, the positive outcome is very long tail. There’s an analogy in baseball. Everybody knows that if you swing for the fences, you’re going to hit more home runs, but you’re also going to strike out more. In baseball, the most runs you can score when you’re up at the plate is four. Your upside is capped. It’s not long-tailed. But in business, and I bet it’s true here at the Air Force as well, that upside isn’t really capped. Every once in a while, in business, you step up to the plate, you swing as hard as you can, and you get a thousand runs.
That long-tail distribution of those possible outcomes is what makes experimenting worthwhile. When you’re balancing the risks, you say, “The most I can lose is the cost of the experiment, and the value of the invention could be uncapped.”
Spencer: We obviously live in a very diverse world, a very diverse country and a very diverse Air Force. What role does diversity play in innovation? Not just race, ethnicity or gender, but also background?
Bezos: I think all of those types of diversity play a role in invention and innovation.The kind of invention that I see every day is team invention.
Amazon’s Echo speaker with Alexa is an example of an invention that no customer asked for. If we had gone to customers, six years ago or seven years ago, and we said, “Look, would you buy a black cylinder that you plug into the wall in your kitchen, and you can ask it what time it is, set timers, ask it what the weather is, ask it to play music for you,” they would have said, “No, I will not buy that.”
So, we invented that. But there was no single person who invented it. It was team invention. People come at these things because of their diverse backgrounds — which I think does include gender and race and everything else, but also certainly “Did you come from a wealthy family? Did you come from a broken home?” All these things lead people to think in slightly different ways. And so when you do that team invention, you want people in the room thinking very differently. You’re going to end up with a more robust invention.
Spencer: When you recruit folks for your company, and you mentor folks in your company, how are you recruiting and mentoring and raising the next Jeff Bezos?
Bezos: Well, it depends on the seniority of the person you’re talking about. I teach a senior leaders class at Amazon, which I enjoy, and there I teach a bunch of different things. One of the things that really resonates with the folks I teach there is stress management. I offer to people that it’s part of their job to make sure that they don’t get burned out. I’m a member of the Business Council, and I meet with lots of other Fortune 500 CEOs from time to time. And I often hear them talking about how stressed they are. There seems to be this idea that the more senior you are, the more stress you should have. I think that’s the opposite, because the more senior you are, the more control you have over your environment.
To a large degree, you get to pick who your senior staff is. To a large degree, you get to pick your schedule. To a large degree, you get to decide how you interact: Do you like to do lots of one-on-ones, or do you like to have small-group meetings? As a senior leader, you have a lot of control. And what I find is sometimes people forget that they have that control as a senior executive or as a senior officer. They forget that they can construct to a certain degree their work environment every day.
One of the things I try to do is preserve some time that’s unscheduled, because I realized several years ago that hard work never stresses me out, but being overscheduled does stress me out. So I started working on ways that I can be less scheduled. I want to have a series of meetings that are just on standby, that I can do whatever I want.
Most speaking engagements that I do, I say, “I can’t do it unless I can tell you the day before. If I can tell you the day before, there’s probably a 50 percent chance or better than I can do it, but I don’t want to let you down by canceling. And if I put this in my schedule, I know by the time the date arrives, I’m going to regret it either way.”
The weird thing that happens when I do that is, I find I’m really excited to say yes and to go do it. It’s just kind of human nature that you don’t want to be forced into things. You want to know that it’s your choice. And so, senior leaders have more choice.
The other thing that I try to teach in that regard is, I get asked by people in all age ranges, all levels of seniority, what do I think about work-life balance? My view on work-life balance is that I prefer the phrase “work-life harmony.” To me, “balance” implies a strict tradeoff. And I have seen situations where people have all the time in the world, maybe they’re out of work, and they’re so stressed that they’re actually terrible at home. Everybody at home is like, “Boy, I sure wish you’d get a job.”
My sister-in-law says, “For better, for worse, but not for lunch.”
So you really want harmony. They call it work for a reason. It’s not going to be fun all the time. That’s a pipe dream. None of us enjoys every minute of every day. And to have that kind of idea would just be naive. But there should be fun at work. You should be laughing. There should be moments of joy, and if you’re getting energy from work instead of your work draining your energy, then you’re going to come home and you’re going to be a better mother, a better father, a better wife, a better husband.
You’re going to want to take out the trash — even before being asked. That’s what’s going to happen, Larry, your wife is just going to say, “Who is this guy?”
So if you’re starting to get to the point where you are worried about work-life balance, I would challenge you to think it’s just something out of whack. It’s probably not the hours.
Look, if you’re working 120 hours a week, you’re also doing something wrong. That’s too much. It’s not sustainable. Maybe you can do that for a week or two, but that’s it. But if you’re working 60 hours a week, that’s completely sustainable for most people, and if you’re burned out by that, it’s not the number of hours. You’re doing something wrong. You need to figure out what it is, because you’re going to take that home and then your home life is going to be stressful. And then you’re bringing that back into the office, so it’s going to be a negative spiral. That spiral will also be a positive one as soon as you turn it around.
Spencer: Now, I’ve only known you for a few minutes, but just talking to you in the green room, it’s obvious that you like to have fun. So how do you create fun for your company, for folks who work for you?
Bezos: First of all, I think that the work itself should be fun. It’s also great to layer on fun. If I think about the people that I work with, we have dinners together, we have Super Bowl parties together, we have impromptu concerts together. We do a lot of fun things, but the real thing is, when you’re in a meeting and you’re going through the important topics of the day or the year or the decade, whatever you’re working on. Is that fun? You know, there are these people, when they walk in the room, they bring energy. That person walks in the meeting and everybody gets a little lift. Those people are worth their weight in gold.
And by the way, there is another kind of person who, when they walk into a meeting, you feel it. As soon as they walk in the room, it’s very deflating. Everybody is like, uhhh. Don’t be that guy. Figure out how to be the first guy, the person who when you enter the room, everybody is kind of excited. It’s not that hard.
Every meeting should start with some encouragement and end with some encouragement. You can tell people very candid truths in the middle of the meeting, things they don’t like and don’t want to hear, but you can end it on an up note. You can also just say, “Look, we screwed this up, and we all know it.” Even that can be fun, if you acknowledge it. We screwed this up, we all know it, let’s figure out how. Let’s find the root cause. I believe in root causes, finding root causes, fixing root causes. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Everything I’ve ever succeeded at in life is because of that philosophy.
Spencer: There are a couple of things that are certain in life. We’ve all heard about death and taxes, but there’s a third certainty that I’m pretty confident about, and that’s that your bank account is quite a bit larger than mine. Not much keeps me up at night, but what keeps you up at night?
Bezos: Well, I sleep extremely well. Even when I’m worrying over issues, it doesn’t stop me from sleeping. I’m a gifted sleeper. But I know the way in which you mean the question. Amazon is such a big company now. It’s grown so quickly.
I started the company in 1995. We opened our doors 23 years ago. I was delivering all the packages to the post office myself. I don’t know if you know anything about my personal background. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My mother was pregnant with me in high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico — and believe me, in 1964, it was not cool to be pregnant in high school. My grandfather went to bat for her. They tried to kick her out of high school, and my grandfather said, “You can’t do that. It’s a public school. She gets to finish high school.”
The principal finally capitulated, but he said his terms were that my mom could not do any extracurricular activities or have a locker. My grandfather said, “OK, done, we’ll take that deal.” So she finished school.
My dad is a Cuban immigrant, and like most immigrants, he loves this country even more than those of us who were born here. And so I started this company, and I’m driving the packages to the post office myself. My big dream was that we would one day be able to afford a forklift. It was a tiny, tiny company.
Today it’s almost 600,000 people. It’s a very large company. And so the answer to your question, you know, metaphorically what keeps me awake at night, I worry about somehow losing our way with respect to our culture. Our culture is four things: customer obsession instead of competitor obsession; willingness to think long term, with a longer investment horizon than most of our peers; eagerness to invent, which of course goes hand-in-hand with failure; and then, finally, taking professional pride in operational excellence.
The professional pride part is so important, because 90 percent of what all of you do, nobody ever sees. It’s something that’s inside the work. People see something finished, but they don’t see what’s inside it. Only you see that while you’re doing the work. Nobody’s going to be inspecting it. You’re not going to get any credit for it. The only thing that’s going to make you have high standards on that piece of the work that nobody’s ever going to see is your own professional pride in operational excellence.
Those are the four cultural attributes that are used at Amazon. We use the same ones at Blue Origin, we use the same ones at AWS. If those things start to erode at the edges, that would make me very nervous. So I spend a lot of time trying to inspect that, audit that, teach that. Teaching things like that is about repetition. Senior leaders need to be broken records on the things that are important to the organization. You have succeeded when you start to see people roll their eyes because of your repetition on certain important things.
Senior leaders don’t have to do a lot of things. They have to pick a few big ideas, and enforce tough execution against those big ideas. That requires a lot of repetition.
Bezos narrates a short video about Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket: New Glenn is our orbital vehicle. It has 3.85 million pounds of thrust. In terms of thrust, it’s about half the size of a Saturn V. There are six landing gears, so we have landing-gear-out capability. The booster is fully reusable. It lands down range on a ship. It’s powered by seven BE-4 engines. The BE-4’s each have 550,000 pounds of thrust, and they’re powered by liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen.
We switched the second stage to liquid hydrogen using our BE-3U engine. Now the booster is coming back in for a landing. We’ve designed the landing ship to be underway so we can stabilize it really well, because we want to be able to land that booster even in heavy sea state.
There’s a big team of people working very hard to make all of that come true in the very near future. Next year I will invest just over a billion dollars in that program.
Bezos narrates a video about the BE-4 rocket engine: It uses oxidizer-rich staged combustion. … The test program is going very well, the team’s doing a great job.
Bezos narrates a video recap of July’s uncrewed test flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship: This will be putting people in space this coming year. This was our third envelope test of the escape system. The system uses a solid rocket motor with 70,000 pounds of thrust that takes the crew capsule away from the booster. This particular test was the high-altitude escape test. We were basically already in space. Just before main engine cutoff is when this would happen in real life. It’s one of the more stressing cases. Watching this landing never gets old for me.
Bezos shows a drone’s-eye view of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket factory and launch facility in Florida: This is a 650,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. It’s up and operating now. As far as I know, we’re one of the only launch companies actually building a manufacturing facility right there on the Space Coast. We leased Launch Pad 36 at Cape Canaveral. … Between these two facilities, the manufacturing facility and Pad 36, we’ve already invested about a billion dollars in the Space Coast.
One of the reasons I like to talk about how much we’ve invested is, I do want people, especially this audience, to know how committed we are. We’re in.
Spencer: My final question is, at the end of the day, in the Air Force, we’re about leadership. Most people will never get to be CEO of a major company. You’re the CEO of multiple companies. So what two or three leadership principles have really helped you manage large organizations?
Bezos: There are a bunch of them. I mentioned one of them earlier, which I think is the most important thing. If you’re really talking about the most senior leader, the most senior leader has to know what the big ideas are for their organization. At Amazon, I know what the big ideas are: low prices, fast delivery, and vast huge selection. Those are the three big ideas, and those ideas are permanent. Because they’re never going to change, we can put energy into them, and the energy we put in today is going to be paying dividends later. It’s impossible to imagine,10 years from now, that somebody in this room will come to me and say, “Jeff, I love Amazon. I would just wish you charged slightly higher prices.” Or: “I love Amazon. I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.”
Same thing with Blue Origin. I know what customers want. The big ideas are so obvious: lower cost, higher availability, more reliability. It needs to work every time. It needs to fly. when you say you’re going to fly. And it needs to be way cheaper.
Once you identify those big things, then you can build strategies around each of them. What’s the strategy around low cost? It’s reusability. And by the way, it has to be real reasonability, like New Shepard. That vehicle is designed for actual operational reusability. We don’t take the thing apart and inspect it between flights. We fly it over and over. If you build a space vehicle that you have to inspect in an intense way and disassemble and refurbish between flights, that’s going to be more expensive than an expendable vehicle. It has to be real operational resilience.
So what’s the strategy for New Glenn on reliability? Well, one of them is one-fault operative. Our entire architecture uses a one-fault operative requirement. What about availability? There’s a bunch of things: I showed you the landing ship being stabilized underway, so that we don’t have to worry about the sea states downrange. There are others, too. We have a requirement in New Glenn that launch shall not be delayed by any one sensor being out. So if we have one sensor out, that should not affect availability.
Basically, once you identify the big ideas, you keep iterating on them and asking the team, “What more can we do for availability?” AWS has the same thing. Everybody who does cloud computing, what do they want? They want data security. Nobody’s going to say, “Well, I wish my data was just a little less secure.” They also want availability. They don’t want their service to be down.
The great thing about the big ideas is you don’t have to launch a research project to figure them out. You know what they are in your head already. That’s how big they are. All you have to do is talk about them a lot and make sure that the whole organization is putting energy into them.
Spencer: Great. Well, Jeff, thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you being here.
Bezos: I’d just like to make one more remark, which is: In life, you can have a job, you can have a career, or you can have a calling. And if you have a calling, you’ve really made it. And I believe most of the people in this room have really made it, because what you’re doing has meaning, and that matters. And I just want to thank you for that. I love it.
Update for 9:30 a.m. PT Sept. 20: This transcript has gone through additional editing based on a clearer recording of the talk.