July 16, 2021

What Amazon can teach us about the right mindset

Have you read Jeff Bezos’ writings about Amazon, “Invent and Wander”? In a book based on his annual letters to shareholders, interviews and other sources, he shares great insights about the mindsets at the world’s biggest e-commerce company. They are mindsets and ways of thinking that any organisation should consider now.

Everyone at Amazon sees customers as people. Amazon goes the extra mile to understand customers’ needs and how Amazon either contributes to or gets in the way of their success. The organisation has an outward thinking and working approach that ensures that what it builds serves these needs, not what Amazon wants to offer. Adopting this approach is key to understanding and transforming for the future at a time when the business landscape has never been so fluid.

What mindsets does Amazon talk about? For a start, the people there talk about their famous Day 1 thinking. This mindset keeps Amazon continuously experimenting, innovating, iterating — and even failing. It influences how Amazon operates internally to be as successful as it is. It is, unfortunately, not a natural thing for most organisations.

The second mindset Amazon talks about, and the secret to success in line with the founder’s “Invent and Wander” philosophy, is the beginner mindset. A beginner mindset means that even when we are experts, we stay fresh with a completely open mind. We see the way we do things as just the way we do things now. This helps us approach opportunities or challenges with a clean slate and no preconceptions about the people or the situation involved.

We know there is no single right way, and it is important to focus and understand the role we need to play. I think you can see how essential this is in a world where so much has changed and will continue to change so quickly.

These two mindsets, underpinned by a human-centric way of looking at things, ensure that Amazon puts the customer at the centre of everything it does. Amazon demonstrates that true customer-centricity is impossible to create without the right outward-facing mindset at the core. If you start with the wrong mindset, you are blind to others, what they need, and the best way to create collective results.

Without spoiling the book for you, let me share a few examples of what I think everyone can learn from Amazon, and how seeing customers as people, not dollars, will make the difference in these troubled times.

Be outward and have a mindset to get ahead of your customers: Amazon believes customers are always dissatisfied, even when they say they are happy. Even when they do not yet know it, customers want something better, and this drives Amazon to invent on their behalf.

In times of change like today, this is critical. Customers do not yet know what is possible, and if you are only looking and thinking inwardly, you miss the chance to develop something better for their current needs. If you can’t, someone else will, and you have lost an opportunity.

Be outward and understand your customers built your old business and will build your future business: Amazon reminds employees to be afraid of customers, not competitors. It was your customers who shaped your current business, and your customers who will transform it. Amazon follows customers, not competitors, to stay relevant and competitive. Today I think every business needs to be closer than ever to what is going on with customers, as their preferences and behaviours are changing so quickly.

Be outward and listen to the bad news: Amazon deliberately encourages and publishes bad news and reviews about its services. Some business leaders might think this is strange, but Amazon is committed to learning everything. The bad news shows them what to fix first.

Not everything you do now is going to work. It is much better to find out what is not working quickly. The more bad news you get (initially), the more opportunity you have to build something better that will make you stand apart from the others. But you must turn outward and listen and understand.

Successfully changing how you and your people see and do things in your organisation is not easy or guaranteed. It is how quickly you learn as you try, which will determine your success or failure.

I admire how Amazon commits to understanding failure. Its people are comfortable with experimental failure (when they do not know what is best). There is so much to gain by deconstructing failures in a positive, learning-oriented way. Many CEOs in Thailand now tell their staff it is safe to fail if we learn. Unfortunately, this cannot work if you do not approach it with the right outward mindset.