On April 18, Amazon published its 2017 Letter to Shareholders. In it, Amazon CEO Jess Bezos shares his thoughts on business, life and success. Jeff really pushes the envelope on the kind of tone and language we’d typically associate with a letter to shareholders. Here, we pick out just a few of our favourite lines.
Bezos begins with an anecdote about learning to do handstands (metaphor) so well you could share videos of yourself doing them on Instagram. As with the company’s name, this attempt at figurative imagery is less spectacular than the real thing.
A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good. She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach.
Sure, Jeff, but how are we going to turn a perfect handstand technique into fat stacks of Benjamins?
Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.
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Jeff moves onto what at first reads like a review of In Search of Lost Time, but which ends up a homily for the memo: arguably the third most boring form of written communication. Gold and silver go to Yelp reviews and family WhatsApp threads, respectively.
Some have the clarity of angels singing. They are brilliant and thoughtful … The great memos are written and re-written, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with a fresh mind. They simply can’t be done in a day or two. The key point here is that you can improve results through the simple act of teaching scope – that a great memo probably should take a week or more.
Jeff goes on:
[H]ow about skill? Surely to write a world class memo, you have to be an extremely skilled writer?
I have always thought the answer to this question is “yes” and often wonder who’s going to write all the memos once Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy die. But Jeff disabuses me of that preconception with another well-measured sporting metaphor (with a bonus art metaphor thrown in for the nerds):
In my view, not so much, at least not for the individual in the context of teams. The football coach doesn’t need to be able to throw, and a film director doesn’t need to be able to act. But they both do need to recognize high standards for those things and teach realistic expectations on scope.
The letter goes on like this for some time without ever mentioning how he plans to address Amazon warehouse workers being so overworked they’re forced to piss in bottles. Which is quite a skill (believe me). Maybe Jeff can use that as a metaphor in his 2018 letter to shareholders.