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).
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.
Today I sat down to meditate and…
The dog next door started howling.
Someone turned on a very loud vacuum.
Two of neighbors started screaming at each other.
My initial reaction to these distractions was frustration: How dare these neighbors interrupt my meditation practice with their bickering (at 7 in the morning, no less). Doesn’t that dog know I’m trying to find enlightenment? And really, who the hell vacuums this early????
Before getting caught up in the current of these disgruntled thoughts, I stopped and asked myself what I was trying to get out of this morning’s meditation. Was it inner peace? Self-realization? The opportunity to brag about how “zen” I am? Everything that came to mind didn’t align with what I know meditation is truly about: simply being in the present moment, regardless of what it holds.
So I reminded myself to just “be,” not judging the noises coming through my window, or seeking a specific feeling. I allowed the howling to wash over me. I breathed deeply into the hum of the vacuum. I listened to my arguing neighbors as though hearing a foreign language, not trying to interpret their words but noticing the ups and downs in each person’s tone.
It wasn’t perfect. Over and over I felt the frustration rise inside me. Over and over I brought my attention back to the source. Eventually, all of the noises stopped, and I was left with the peace and quiet I originally desired.
When my timer went off I felt rejuvenated. Like alchemy, my frustration had been transformed into peace, and I realized those distractions were just lessons in disguise.