Lessons Learned – “The Everything Store” by Brad Stone

51n7s0z8kxl-_sx321_bo1204203200_

I recently finished the audiobook version of Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.” Not only is the story of Jeff Bezos and Amazon an exceptional one, Brad Stone proves to be an engaging storyteller as well.

Jeff Bezos is undoubtedly a controversial individual. His aggressive leadership style, while obviously effective for him, probably isn’t something the average person should model, and his success seems to be the result of his ferocious nature combined with his brilliance. The same could be said for famous entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. Without their genius, their temperaments likely would have resulted in disaster (and they sometimes did).

The Lessons

I’ll admit, reading books like this can be a bit discouraging. Most of us aren’t blessed with the genius of a Bezos or a Musk, nor do we want to emulate their aggressive personalities in order to achieve success. Even so, I think this book contains several powerful lessons that can benefit all of our lives, genius or not.

1. Long-term vs. Short-term Thinking

A common thread throughout the book was Bezos’ aversion to short-term thinking. Almost from the start, he was determined to build Amazon into the world’s foremost online retailer. This might seem like a reasonable idea today (since we are deep into the “age of Amazon”), but the boldness of that goal was pretty spectacular back in the 1990s. The internet was just blooming and the world had yet to embrace purchasing things online.

Bezos consistently showed his commitment to that long-term vision by not letting Amazon’s numerous setbacks discourage him. While other people were freaking out about profit losses and failed product launches, he viewed every one of Amazon’s “losses” as a valuable lesson for the future.

He also committed to long-term thinking in Amazon’s business strategy and product development. While others were concerned about short-term gains, he was thinking years and even decades in the future. This allowed Amazon to outlast its competitors and become the giant it is today.

I think this mindset can be readily applied to our personal lives. Specifically, we should commit to a long-term vision for the future, even if we aren’t completely sure how to achieve it. This allows us to look past all the trivial problems that usually distract us, and instead focus on the big picture. No matter how slow our progress is, we can find joy in the fact that we are moving towards our larger vision.

2. Disrupt Yourself

Here is a quote from one of Bezos’ colleagues that really sums up this lesson:

“It is far better to cannibalize yourself than have someone else do it.”

One thing Bezos constantly did with Amazon was force it to change before the environment made it necessary, even if it caused short-term pain. He saw that many large companies were devastated by the constantly evolving business and technology landscapes. They made important changes only when it was absolutely necessary, which either put them out of business or left them far behind more prescient competitors.

How can this business-based concept be applied to our personal lives?

It’s simply a matter of being proactive instead of reactive. We may not be competing against other businesses, but our lives are changing at a faster rate than ever before. By constantly putting evolutionary pressure on ourselves, we can be better prepared for whatever changes come our way, whether they be in our jobs, our relationships, or our physical health.

For me personally, this means constantly reading new books, exploring new subjects, and pushing myself to attempt new creative endeavors. It’s a philosophy of constant, never-ending growth (something Tony Robbins talks about a lot).

Note: If you’re interested in this idea, check out “Disrupt You!” by Jay Samit. 

3. Only Be Bound by the Laws of Physics

In reference to Bezos’ disregard for doing things in the traditional way, someone who worked closely with him said:

“…he is not tethered by conventional thinking. What is amazing to me is that he is bound only by the laws of physics. He can’t change those. Everything else he views as open to discussion.”

All of the innovations that Bezos spearheaded, many of which we all benefit from today, would never have happened if he followed the “rules.”

Nobody thought there could be a successful online bookstore 20 years ago. Now we can buy books for ten dollars a piece and read them on an electronic screen that looks like paper. No one thought amazon could be profitable if they constantly lowered prices and made shipping as fast as possible. Now, people around the world shop at Amazon because of low prices and speedy delivery.

When considering our own hopes and dreams, there are probably years of conventional thinking that tell us what we can and cannot do. Voices, both in and outside of our heads, tell us not to try new things, not to deviate from the norm. But if the success of Bezos and Amazon is any indication, deviation is exactly what is needed to accomplish great things.

This leads me to the last lesson…

4. Be Willing to Try Everything…and Fail

The story of Jeff Bezos and Amazon is not just one of massive success. At times, it seemed like the book was chronicling the downfall of a brilliant but misguided entrepreneur. But this story of trial and tribulation demonstrated an ageless truth: in order to succeed we have to be willing to repeatedly fail in pursuit of our goals.

This is a lesson everyone can benefit from. By embracing failure, we can transform even the greatest of setbacks into opportunities for growth. Our failures then become the foundation for our future success.

Thanks for reading! I hope these lessons can benefit you in some way. And if you enjoy stories about innovation and entrepreneurship, I definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book. 

Vlog: Lessons Learned From “Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It”

If you’re feeling a little down on yourself or just lacking motivation, I definitely recommend “Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It” by Kamal Ravikant. In this video, I talk about the two most important lessons I gained from this short but inspirational book.

Lessons Learned – “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life” by John Kabat-Zinn

20160627_182002

I recently finished my second reading of “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I should note that, had I brought this book with me when I was abroad this past year, this probably would have been my third or fourth reading. As its title says, this book is about the difficult yet rewarding practice of mindfulness meditation. Simply put, mindfulness meditation is the practice of bringing one’s attention to the present moment. You can do this in many ways, though my favorite – and the way most talked about in this book – is by simply focusing on your breath.

As anyone who has tried mindfulness meditation (or any other form of meditation, for that matter) knows, this is much easier said than done. The author does a great job of not just breaking down mindfulness in an easy to understand way, but also giving a context for why you would even want to practice it. What I like most though, is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the subject. He explains that mindfulness meditation isn’t some instant fix for all of life’s problems. It’s an intensive, lifelong quest for more clarity and truth in your life; and the truth can often be deeply uncomfortable to face.

Instead of writing a traditional book review, I’m just going to offer three of my biggest takeaways from this book.

1)  There is no “End Goal” in Mindfulness  Meditation

When I first started meditating I viewed it just like any other skill you might try to develop. Having experimented with it, and experiencing a little of what some would call “presence,” I assumed that the goal of meditation was to reach a relaxed and focused state. But this goal-oriented mindset actually made meditation a somewhat grueling practice because I was often disappointed when I couldn’t reach that desired state. I started to view any meditation session that didn’t have a “good” result as a failure.

From what I’ve heard, this is one of the most common struggles “Westerners” face when it comes to meditation, and it’s completely understandable. I can’t think of anything I’ve done in my life that wasn’t meant to achieve some kind of result. In fact, the idea of doing something with no goal in mind almost seems insane, or at the very least a waste of time.

Yet, as this book repeatedly emphasizes, the whole purpose of meditation is to just BE in the moment. There is no ideal state to reach, no feeling that is supposed to be felt. Meditation, Kabat-Zinn writes, “is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at the bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.” He then goes on to say that meditation may be better described as “being” rather than “doing.”

So why meditate then? Well I can personally attest that meditation, while not meant to achieve anything, can provide plenty of benefits, such as a clearer state of mind, increased self-awareness, better moods, and improved concentration. But more important than any of that, meditation allows you to experience life in the most authentic way possible: in the present moment. Grounding yourself in the present moment may not be easy or pleasant all of the time, but I would argue that it’s the only way to truly live.

2) Staying with Uncomfortable or Even Painful Feelings/Moments

When most people think of meditation, they probably associate it with feelings of peace and happiness. These feelings can definitely be experienced with continued practice, but they are only superficial benefits. Using the analogy of our minds being like oceans and our thoughts waves, the author says, “People who don’t understand meditation think that it is some kind of special inner manipulation which will magically shut off these waves so that the mind’s surface will be flat, peaceful, and tranquil. But just as you can’t put a glass plate on the water to calm the waves, so you can’t artificially suppress the waves of your mind…”

He further emphasizes that meditation is not some quick fix for your problems in life. It’s a practice that requires you to fully face each moment, the good ones and the bad ones. This means not running away from painful emotions like sadness or anger. Meditation requires that you stay with those emotions, not reacting to them, but observing them instead.

One of the amazing benefits of this practice is that those “negative” feelings will often dissipate after a while. It’s like a paradox: by not trying to get rid of the feelings, they tend to get rid of themselves. Of course, this isn’t always true, and that’s part of what makes meditation such a challenge.

3) Non-Harming (Ahimsa)

I thought this part of the book was a nice break from all the talk about meditation and its challenges/benefits. It explains that ahimsa is a Sanskrit term which essentially means “not to injure.” We all know that it’s important to be kind to others. We also know that this is usually easier said than done. What I love about this idea of “non-harming”  is that it frames kindness in a way that requires less effort from us. Instead of forcing yourself to be kind to someone, it’s a lot easier to ask yourself, “Am I doing someone harm right now?” If the answer is yes, then just stop what you’re doing. Of course, proactive kindness is always preferable. But I’ve found that trying to force yourself into action can create a lot of internal resistance.

Not doing harm to others or yourself may seem like an obvious idea – though often difficult to put into action – but this chapter also emphasizes that ahimsa applies just as much to how we treat ourselves. Starting from the awareness involved in mindfulness meditation, we can start to see that the thoughts in our heads often do even more harm to ourselves than to others. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this is something I’ve always struggled with. Keeping ahimsa in mind has already helped me curb this tendency quite a bit.

 

If you resonated with any of these lessons, or are simply curious about mindfulness meditation in general, I definitely recommend you check out this book. There are plenty of other great lessons to be found in it as well.