Invent & Wander: Jeff Bezos on his passion for people management

a year ago   •   4 min read

By Walter Isaacson

In Invent & Wander, Jeff Bezos focuses on his passion for people management, detailing his decision-making process and leadership skills.

 

‘All my best decisions in business and in life have been made with heart, intuition, and guts, not analysis’ explains Jeff Bezos in his Bezos Day One anecdote that focuses on how people have always been at the heart of his strategy. This excerpt from Invent & Wander focuses on Bezos’ passion for people management.

The Bezos Day One Fund launched in 2018 with a $2 billion commitment to focus on making meaningful and lasting impacts in two areas: funding existing nonprofits that help families experiencing homelessness and creating a network of new, nonprofit tier-one preschools in low-income communities.

The Day 1 Families Fund issues annual leadership awards to organisations and civic groups doing compassionate, needle-moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the immediate needs of young families. The vision statement comes from the inspiring Mary’s Place in Seattle: no child sleeps outside.

The Day 1 Academies Fund is building an organisation to launch and operate a network of high-quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities. We will have the opportunity to learn, invent and improve. And we’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon. Most important among those will be genuine, intense customer obsession. The customer set that this team of missionaries will serve is simple: children in underserved communities across the country.

(The remarks below were made at the  Economic Club of Washington on September 13, 2018, in a conversation with club president David Rubenstein)

The process I used to create the Day One Fund was very helpful. I solicited ideas, kind of outsourced them, and literally received something like forty-seven thousand responses, maybe even a little more. Some came to my inbox. Most came on social media, and I read through thousands and thousands of them. My office correlated them all and put them into buckets, and some themes emerged. A fascinating thing about crowdsourcing is just how longtailed it is. People are interested in trying to help the world in so many different ways- all involving what you would expect. Some people are very interested in the arts and opera and think they’re underfunded. A lot of people are interested in medicine and particular diseases and think that those deserve more R&D dollars. All are correct. A lot of people are very interested in homelessness, including me. A lot of people are very interested in the education of all kinds, both college scholarships but also apprenticeship programs.

I’m very interested in early education, and here the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My mother, in running the Bezos Family Foundation, has become an expert in early education. I’m a product of Montessori schools. I started at Montessori when I was two years old, and the teacher complained to my mother that I was too task-focused and that she couldn’t get me to switch tasks; she would have to pick up my chair and move me. And by the way, if you ask the people who work with me, that’s probably still true today.

There will also be more traditional grantmaking philanthropy. I’m going to hire a full-time team to identify and fund family homeless shelters.

Our schools will be free-tuition, Montessori-inspired preschool. We are going to be an operating nonprofit. I’ve hired an executive team. There’s a leadership team. We’re going to operate these schools, and we’re going to put them in low-income neighbourhoods. We know for a fact that a kid who falls behind has a really, really hard time catching up, and if you can give somebody a leg up when they’re two, three, or four years old, by the time they get to kindergarten or first grade, they’re much less likely to fall behind. It can still happen, but you’ve really improved their odds.

Most people are very mindful about making sure their kids get a very good preschool education and that kind of head start. That head start builds on itself fantastically. If you can get that starting at age two, three, four, there’s a powerful compounding effect there. So it’s highly levered. That’s all that really means. The money spent there is going to pay gigantic dividends for decades.

There will also be more traditional grantmaking philanthropy. I’m going to hire a full-time team to identify and fund family homeless shelters.

The customer is going to be the child. This is so important because that is the secret sauce of Amazon.

It’s Day 1. Everything I have ever done has started small. Amazon started with a couple of people. Blue Origin started with five people and a very, very small budget. Now the budget of Blue Origin is over $1 billion a year. Amazon literally started with 10 people; today it is over 750,000. That’s hard to remember for others, but for me, it’s like yesterday. I was driving the packages to the post office myself and hoping one day we could afford a forklift. So for me, I’ve seen small things get big, and it’s part of this Day 1 mentality.  I like treating things as if they’re small. Even though Amazon is a large company, I want it to have the heart and spirit of a small one. The Day One Fund is going to be like that. We’ll wander a little bit too. We have some very specific ideas about what we want to do, but I believe in the power of wandering. All my best decisions in business and in life have been made with heart, intuition, and guts, not analysis.

When you can make a decision with analysis, you should do so, but it turns out in life that your most important decisions are always made with instinct, intuition, taste, and heart, and that’s what we’ll do with this Day One fund too. It’s part of the Day 1 mentality. As we go about building out this network of nonprofit schools, we will learn new things, and we’ll figure out how to make it better.

The customer is going to be the child. This is so important because that is the secret sauce of Amazon. Several principles are the foundation of Amazon, but the number one thing by far that has made us successful is obsessive, compulsive focus on the consumer as opposed to the competitor. 

Extracted from ‘Invent & Wander’ – the collected writings of Jeff Bezos – with an introduction by Walter Isaacson – published by Harvard Business Review Press

Spread the word

Keep reading