BusinessWeek Online recently published an interview with Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, in which he reflects on the innovative nature of the company’s culture, his plans for accelerating innovation at Amazon.com and the worldwide climate for innovation. Here are some of the more notable quotes from this fascinating conversation with one of the world’s most creative businesspeople:
The nature of innovation: “Innovation is part and parcel with going down blind alleys (exploring ideas that may or may not be commercially successful). You can’t have one without the other.”
Amazon.com’s pioneering culture: “I believe that pioneering cultures tend to be more heads-down focused on customers. If you’re watching your competitors, you’re unlikely to invent a bunch of stuff on your own. There’s nothing wrong with being a close follower. I don’t think it’s as satisfying. I actually think that in any fast-moving industry, it’s also not as successful for shareholders.”
Nurturing continuous innovation as the company grows: “If you want to have an innovative organization, you need to do at least a couple of things. One is it’s a lot about selection of people. Some people love a rapid rate of change. They love going down alleys, many of which turn out to be dead ends. They like inventing. And other people like a more stable environment where you know more what tomorrow’s going to be like. Those people, of course, flee Amazon.com in hordes.”
Keeping the ideas percolating: “You need to… organize so that you can do as many experiments per unit of time as possible. If…you can organize in small, lightweight teams that have certain tools so they can do a lot of experiments per week or per month or what ever the right unit of time is, that you’ll get a lot more invention from that.”
The rate of future innovation: “Basically, since we’ve been recording history, the rate of innovation has been accelerating. I see no reason why that acceleration should change. You got much larger numbers of educated people. You’ve got great information flow. You’ve got these technologies that are very mutable and allow a lot of innovation.”
Does Bezos view himself as an innovator? “I absolutely think of myself as an innovator. I actually think most people, unleashed, are innovators. I think we get hamstrung, and we learn helplessness, and we learn that we can’t improve things. But natively, we’re all innovators. We’re this great species of tool-using animal who likes to make our world better.”
I really like this last quote about people being “tool-using animals,” focused on constant improvement of our world. That’s part of my worldview — that we use tools (innovation tools, naturally) to extend our capabilities to do things and invent things. I’d love to meet Jeff Bezos some day!