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3 Powerful Success Secrets of Jeff Bezos


Taken by Mathieu Thouvenin during the Startup School 2008

What comes to mind when you think about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos?

Technological genius? Industry maverick? Disruptor? Innovator?

What about farmer? Probably not.

Jeff’s formative years were spent on his grandfather’s farm, where he learned at least one crucial lesson that helped propel him to the top: do whatever it takes to do the job.

As Bezos told the Wall Street Journal:

One of the things that you learn in a rural area like that is self-reliance,” Mr. Bezos said. “People do everything themselves. That kind of self-reliance is something you can learn, and my grandfather was a huge role model for me: If something is broken, let’s fix it. To get something new done you have to be stubborn and focused, to the point that others might find unreasonable.

Stubborn and focused. Do what others find unreasonable. Do whatever it takes to get the job done.

It was this no holds barred mentality that had Bezos and his early employees working 80+ hour weeks just to fulfill orders and has him continuing to push the envelope to this day. While some businesses are content to pursue small innovations, Bezos goes after drone delivery, dash buttons, and the now ubiquitous Amazon Prime.

The “do whatever” mentality has also led Bezos to pursue some unique success methods which have allowed him to achieve huge gains.

What methods specifically? Here are three.

#1 – Be Really Stubborn On Your Vision, Really Flexible On The Execution

Highway vision

The “do whatever it takes” attitude Bezos learned on the farm has translated directly into his philosophy at Amazon: “We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.”

Bezos has made it his mission to turn Amazon into the “everything store” – an online destination where you can purchase anything from wallets to groceries to the latest movies.

Bezos has remained firmly committed to this philosophy as he has purchased Whole Foods, Zappos, and the rights to various films. He is committed to making Amazon a one-stop destination for all things eCommerce.

However, the path Bezos has led Amazon on has varied widely and been incredibly flexible. He’s launched failed cellphones. He developed the massively popular Amazon Kindle. He is pushing for drone delivery and driverless vehicles. Bezos is relentlessly committed to vision while staying incredibly flexible on the details. The result is the most dominant eCommerce company in the world.

Like Bezos, we can stay committed to our overall vision while being flexible on the details.

You may have the goal of establishing a meditation morning ritual in your life. This is your big overall vision. However, how you execute that vision can vary dramatically.

Don’t assume that what works for one person will work for you. You can have the same goal as a high achiever while taking a completely different path to achieve that goal.

Stay true to your vision, stay flexible on the execution.

#2 – Be Patient In Achieving Your Goals

Hitting Goals

One of the biggest challenges to achieving great things is impatience. We want to see fast results, and when we don’t see those fast results we either abandon the goal altogether or shift tactics.

Bezos understands this challenge, which is why he states, “If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon.”

He has modeled this at Amazon repeatedly over the years. In discussing why he is still pursuing creating mobile phones even after the failure of the Amazon Fire, Steve Symington notes:

Bezos offered several examples to shed light on how Amazon has always done business. That notably includes Amazon Auctions, which he laments “didn’t work out very well.” But out of Auctions morphed zShops, which also failed. Then finally, out of zShops came Amazon Marketplace, which became its third-party seller business and now accounts for over 40% of the total units sold on What at first looked like a massive failure is now an enormous success.

Many of Amazon’s greatest successes have come out of what initially seemed like failures. If they hadn’t stuck with the experiments, they never would have achieved success.

This principle is especially applicable when it comes to building rituals. Rituals are notoriously hard to implement. They take time to become sticky. They take time to get ingrained in our brains. And they take a lot of hard work.

If we don’t see results right away (and we probably won’t), we’re strongly tempted to give up on the ritual.

But rituals are a compounding action. In other words, the results seem really small at first but over time balloon into huge successes. This is why it’s so essential to stick with them.

Darren Hardy puts it this way in his book The Compound Effect:

It’s not the big things that add up in the end; it’s the hundreds, thousands, or millions of little things that separate the ordinary from the extraordinary.

Rituals are cumulative. Initially, it can seem like they produce very little by way of results. Bezos-like stubbornness is the key. The more stubbornly we stick with the rituals, the greater results we’ll see over time.

Waking early is brutally hard, especially if you’re not used to it. But the more you do it, the more productive you become. Eating your frog won’t be fun at first, especially if you’re in the habit of checking email or scrolling through Twitter. But it’s the key to massive productivity. Rituals are powerful, so do whatever it takes to get them ingrained in your life.

By being relentlessly stubborn in pursuit of your rituals, you’ll reap oversized rewards.

#3 – Determine The Right Goal, Then Work Backwards

Potential Success

When Bezos purchased the Washington Post, he had a meeting with all the employees to discuss the future of the company. In this meeting, an employee asked him what his goals were for the headcount at the Post.

Bezos didn’t answer the question directly, but instead said, “There are no extra points in business for growing headcount. The goal is not to grow headcount; the goal is to serve readers, and then you work backward from there.”

This is massively insightful for several reasons.

First, when setting goals, it’s easy to become focused on the wrong goal, which then leads to the wrong actions. For example, you may realize that social media is hurting your productivity and thus set a goal to cut off all social media during the day. And while this may sound like a good idea, it’s not what you’re ultimately after.

Ultimately, your goal is to get more done, which probably means you need to do more deep work. Social media is just one of many things contributing to your lack of deep work, and only cutting off social media won’t solve the problem. You also need to evaluate email, texting, news apps, and every other possible distraction. If you only focus on the goal of no social media, you won’t really make progress.

To achieve big gains, you need to determine the right goal and then work backwards to determine how to get there.

This takes deep thought and a rigorous approach. You must be disciplined enough to determine what you’re really after. It’s not a enough to simply make a list of a bunch of good things you’d like to achieve. You need to determine your ultimate goal and then work backwards to where you currently are.

In his incredible book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown puts it this way:

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

When the Washington Post employee asked Bezos about headcount, he had the mistaken assumption that achieving a certain number of employees was a good goal. Bezos had thought long and hard and knew that the ultimate goal was not headcount but serving the readers. He had figured out what the Post’s highest point of contribution would be.

If achieving a certain headcount helped the Post achieve their ultimate goal, so be it, but he wasn’t focused primarily on that issue.

Productivity is about determining the greatest good goal and then working backwards until you know what you have to do.

Will You Do What It Takes?

Bezos learned his relentless, do what it takes mentality by working on a farm. He took what he learned and turned it into the world’s largest eCommerce company and billions of dollars.

You may not want to be the next Jeff Bezos, but you should certainly learn from him.

So here’s the question: will you do what it takes?

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