Jeff Bezos: People who are Right a Lot, Listen a Lot


Jeff-bezos-princeton-university-2010

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos shares tips about his management style and philosophy with a crowd at the 2016 Pathfinder Awards at the Museum of Flight in Seattle#. The interview is by Steve Taylor, chief pilot for Boeing Flight Services.

During the conversation, Bezos says that based on his observations, people who are right a lot, listen a lot. And they are also open to changing their mind. He says:

They seek to disconfirm their most profoundly-held convictions, which is very unnatural for humans. Humans, as we go about life, we are mostly very selective in the evidence we let seep into us. We like to observe the evidence that confirms our pre-existing beliefs. People who are right a lot work very hard to do that unnatural thing of trying to disconfirm their beliefs.

[…]

the world is complicated. Sometimes you get new data, and when you get new data, you have to change your mind. But sometimes you also don’t get new data and you just re-analyze the situation, and you realize it was more complicated than you initially thought it was, and you change your mind.

[…]

Anybody who doesn’t change their mind a lot is dramatically underestimating the complexity of the world we live in.

Given the nature of business innovation, experimenting needs to be part of it. We don't know exactly where we'll net out, but we need to be willing to engage with trial and error. As children, we have no problem learning that way, stay open to opportunities, but as adults we get attached to our expertise.

To share ideas, we should explain them in essay format. Amazon is known for its memo writing practice. Says Bezos:

The great thing about English language memos is they have verbs and sentences and topic sentences and complete paragraphs — this is harder for the author [to put together], but it also forces the author to clarify their own thinking. It totally revolutionized the way we do meetings at Amazon and it’s been very, very helpful to us. I would recommend it to anyone.

Internal meetings at Amazon start with everyone in the room spending up to 45 minutes reading in silence as they digest detailed documents known as “narratives.” The practice of internalizing narrated information helps individuals make mental summaries of the topics, and discourages listening only for facts.