In a ‘fireside chat’ with Amazon’s CTO, Werner Vogels, at the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas the company’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos offered his thoughts on the key to innovation.
Bezos said that businesses that want to be innovators need to attract people with a pioneer mentality, and that they have to be willing to fail. “I think innovation is a point of view,” Bezos said. “You have to actually select people who are part of the company who want to innovate and explore. Being a pioneering company, an explorer company isn’t for everybody.
“Some people wake up in the morning, they get their energy, the thing they think about in the shower is ‘Who are the three companies we’re going to kill this year?’ That’s the conqueror mentality and it’s a competitor focused mentality instead of a customer-focused mentality...
"When you attract people who have the DNA of pioneers, the DNA of explorers, you build a company of like-minded people who want to invent. And that’s what they think about when they get up in the morning; ‘how are we going to work back from customers and build a great service or a great product.?’”
It’s a “key element” to invention, Bezos said.
Innovators also need to to have a “willingness to fail” and to “be misunderstood for long periods of time”. “If you do something in a new way, I don’t care what it is, people are initially going to misunderstand it relative to the traditional way. And there will be well-meaning critics who genuinely want the best outcome but they’re worried about this new way.
“And there will also be of course self-interested critics who have a vested interest in the traditional. They have some profit stream tied to the traditional way... If you never want to be criticised for goodness sake don’t do anything new.”
A willingness to fail and to be misunderstood “then what you can do is you can ramp up your rate of experimentation”. “So successful inventions [are] inventions that customers care about. It’s actually relatively easy to invent things that customers don’t care about, but successful invention, if you want to do a lot of that, you basically have to increase your rate of experimentation.
"And that you can think of as a process: how do you go about organising your systems, your people, all of your assets, your own daily life and how you spend time, how do you organise those things to increase your rate of experimentation because not all of your experiments are going to work.”
Bezos advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is “never chase the hot thing”. “That’s like trying to catch the wave, and you’ll never catch it. You need to position yourself and wait for the wave.”
The way to do that is to “pick something you’re passionate about”. “So that’s the number one piece of advice that I’d give to someone that wants to start a company or start a new endeavor inside of a bigger company: make sure it’s something you’re interested in, something you’re passionate about.
“Missionaries build better products and so I would take a missionary over a mercenary any day. Mercenaries want to flip the company and get rich; missionaries want to build a great product or service... So that’s one [piece of advice], pick something you’re passionate about. And the second is start with the customer and work backwards.
“Those two things, passion and customer centricity, will take you an awful long way.”
Rohan Pearce travelled to AWS re:Invent as a guest of Amazon.
Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p