Invent and Wander Book Review
This newsletter issue is part of the Return on Risk LinkedIn Newsletter Series, designed to help you to better understand the exquisite tension between risk and growth.
Here is the video review I posted on Amazon. The edited transcript is below.
Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to do a deep dive research into Amazon to ask how did Jeff Bezos grow Amazon to the size it is today?
And I’m excited to share with you this new book, Invent & Wander, the collected writings of Jeff Bezos. It includes an introduction by Walter Isaacson. This book is a compilation of all of the Letters to Shareholder Jeff Bezos has written over the last 22 years. Part 2 includes additional information and transcripts from interviews Bezos has given over the years.
The Amazon.com website went live in July of 1994. Bezos began by selling books online, something that hadn’t been contemplated before using this new thing at the time, called the internet. After great initial success, in May of 1997, Amazon filed for an initial public offering (IPO) to raise additional capital to support their already fast growth. The initial stock price was $18 per share, and they raised about $54 million Amazon would use to fund their continued growth. If you had invested $10,000 in 1997, it would be worth about $12 million – a phenomenal 120,000% growth.
Jeff Bezos wrote his first 1997 letter to shareholders published in April of 1998. Bezos wrote a new letter every year for the last 22. He renamed shareholders to shareowners in a subsequent letter.
Bezos shared his secret sauce for growing Amazon – hidden in plain sight – in each of these letters. The best way to highlight what you will get out of reading these letters is to highlight what Isaacson said in his introduction. “Here are the five that I think are most important:”
1) Focus on the long term. Bezos talked about this in the 1997 letter. It’s what I call, Apply Long Term thinking. At Amazon, we will make decisions based on long term investment. Meaning we’re not going to do short term Wall Street quarterly earnings thing we look to the future and are planning and investing for the future, number one number two.
2) Focus relentlessly and passionately on the customer. Bezos calls this Obsess over customers and invent on their behalf.
3) Avoid PowerPoint and slide presentations. It is interesting Isaacson included this as a key point. I believe this is one of the keys to Amazon’s ability to continue to invent. This process has come to be called the 6-Page Narrative, which is described in the 2017 Letter. In 2004 Bezos send an email to his senior leadership team called the S-team, and said, No longer will PowerPoint presentations be allowed in our senior leadership team meetings. Instead, people will write a narrative and hand it out at the document at the beginning of the meeting. I believe it is one of those critical components to Amazon’s invention toolkit they continue to use today.
4) Focus on big decisions. Or, what I call, generate high-velocity decisions. Bezos goes into detail in the 2005 Letter. As an organization grows, it tends to slow down decision making to the point that it negatively impacts growth. So to continue growing, you need to be making decisions quickly. He identifies two types of decisions, Type one and Type two. Type one decisions are big bet the farm decisions, and they should be made slowly deliberately with lots of data. Most decisions in large companies are not Type one decision. They are Type two. Type two decisions are easier to change. You can change your mind and decide to change directions. You can turn around and go back through that door, make another decision, change direction.
5) Hire the right people. In the 1998 Letter, Bezos describes three questions to ask about anyone interviewing for a job. 1) Do you admire this person? 2) Will they raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they are entering? 3) What other dimension do they bring to the job besides skills and experience?
So this is just a small synopsis of the book. I recommend you read the shareowners Letters (Part 1), like a book. Then start reading through Part 2 and listen as Bezos adds depth and dimension to the principle he shares in the Letters. Be sure to take notes along the way. There is a lot to learn.