Amazon takes pride in its ruthless efficiency: fast delivery, a gigantic variety of products, and demanding work culture.
But efficiency isn’t the key to Amazon’s success.
During an interview at the Economic Club of Washington, Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said: “I believe in the power of wandering. All of my best decisions in business and in life have been made with heart, intuition, guts… not analysis.”
In his 2018 annual letter to shareholders, Bezos elaborates on this ‘power of wandering’ and explains why his best decisions have been based on intuition, not analysis.
Here are five of his key ideas.
Take risks based on intuition
Amazon’s Prime membership and the Fulfillment by Amazon have been highly successful programs. But at the time of their launch, both programs were radical ideas that had a high probability of failure. As Bezos noted:
“We invested in both of these programs at significant financial risk and after much internal debate. We had to continue investing significantly over time as we experimented with different ideas and iterations. We could not foresee with certainty what those programs would eventually look like, let alone whether they would succeed, but they were pushed forward with intuition and heart, and nourished with optimism.”
Develop a builder’s mentality
According to Bezos, a builder’s mentality is the key to Amazon’s extraordinary innovations:
“From very early on in Amazon’s life, we knew we wanted to create a culture of builders – people who are curious, explorers. They like to invent. Even when they’re experts, they are “fresh” with a beginner’s mind. They see the way we do things as just the way we do things now. A builder’s mentality helps us approach big, hard-to-solve opportunities with a humble conviction that success can come through iteration: invent, launch, reinvent, relaunch, start over, rinse, repeat, again and again. They know the path to success is anything but straight.”
The success of Amazon’s AWS cloud service is a testament to the power of a builder’s mentality. “None of this would be possible without a culture of curiosity and a willingness to try totally new things on behalf of customers…AWS is now a $30 billion annual run rate business and growing fast.”
Embrace the inefficient process of wandering
Whilst efficiency is important, it often cripples creativity and hinders innovation. Bezos argues that wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency.
“[W]andering in business is not efficient … but it’s also not random. It’s guided – by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity…that it’s worth being a little messy and tangential to find our way there…The outsized discoveries – the “non-linear” ones – are highly likely to require wandering.”
Imagine the impossible
Bezos suggests that imagination, curiosity, and gut feeling are the key drivers behind the invention of new solutions to familiar problems.
“With Amazon Go, we had a clear vision. Get rid of the worst thing about physical retail: checkout lines…we imagined a store where you could walk in, pick up what you wanted, and leave…The biggest needle movers will be things that customers don’t know to ask for. We must invent on their behalf. We have to tap into our own inner imagination about what’s possible.”
Scale your failures
The power of wandering is the sheer volume of failures that lead to extraordinary success.
“As a company grows, everything needs to scale, including the size of your failed experiments. If the size of your failures isn’t growing, you’re not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle. Amazon will be experimenting at the right scale for a company of our size if we occasionally have multibillion-dollar failures.
One of Amazon’s major failures was the Fire phone. But this doesn’t stop Bezos and his team from using intuition to make important decisions.
“[W]e were able to take our learnings (as well as the developers) and accelerate our efforts building Echo and Alexa…No customer was asking for Echo. This was definitely us wandering. Market research doesn’t help…Since that first-generation Echo, customers have purchased more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices.”
At the heart of innovation is the intangible combination of imagination, intuition, and irrational optimism.
Whilst analysis is useful, the mind is limited to information from your past to predict the future. But the path to success is non-linear, random, and unpredictable.
By integrating your intuition with experience and analysis, you’ll make better decisions, generate new ideas, and tap into an abundance of opportunities no one else can see.