Articles: Wisdom Collected from Interviews, Books, and More

This page shares my best articles to read on topics like creativity, decision making, strategy, and more. The central questions I explore are, “How can we learn the best of what others have mastered? And how can we become the best possible version of ourselves?”

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Daniel Scrivner

Who is Jeff Bezos? Lessons on Invention and Free Cash Flow from the Founder of Amazon and Blue Origin

This is part of my profiles on history's greatest innovators, founders, and investors. Check out the profiles of Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Bernard Arnault, Steve Jobs, Rick Rubin, or browse them all. You can also browse my collection of the greatest speeches, interviews, and letters of all-time.

Jeffrey Preston Bezos is an American businessman, media proprietor and investor. He is the founder, executive chairman, and former president and CEO of Amazon, the world's largest e-commerce and cloud computing company. He is the wealthiest person in the world.

On this page:

Jeff Bezos' Leadership Style

Bezos used what he called a "regret-minimization framework" while he worked at D.E. Shaw and again during the early years of Amazon. He described this life philosophy by stating: "When I'm 80, am I going to regret leaving Wall Street? No. Will I regret missing the beginning of the Internet? Yes." During the 1990s and early 2000s at Amazon, he was characterized as trying to quantify all aspects of running the company, often listing employees on spreadsheets and basing executive decisions on data. To push Amazon forward, Bezos developed the mantra "Get Big Fast", establishing the company's need to scale its operations to produce market dominance. He favored diverting Amazon profits back into the company in lieu of allocating it amongst shareholders in the form of dividends.

Bezos uses the term "work–life harmony" instead of the more standard "work–life balance" because he believes that balance implies that you can only have one and not the other. He believes that work and home life are interconnected, informing and calibrating each other. Journalist Walt Mossberg dubbed the idea that someone who cannot tolerate criticism or critique should not do anything new or interesting "The Bezos Principle". Bezos does not schedule early morning meetings and enforces a two-pizza rule—a preference that meetings are small enough for two pizzas to feed everyone in the boardroom. When interviewing candidates for jobs at Amazon, he has stated he considers three inquiries: can he admire the person, can the person raise the common standard, and under what circumstances could the person become exemplary.

In 2018, it was reported that he met with Amazon investors for just six hours a year. Instead of using presentation slides, Bezos requires high-level employees to present information with six-page narratives. Since 1998, Bezos has published an annual letter for Amazon shareholders wherein he frequently refers to five principles: focus on customers, not competitors; take risks for market leadership; facilitate staff morale; build a company culture; and empower people. Bezos maintains the email address as an outlet for customers to reach out to him and the company. Although he does not respond to the emails, he forwards some of them with a question mark in the subject line to executives, who then attempt to address the issues. Bezos has cited Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, and Bob Iger of The Walt Disney Company as major influences on his leadership style.

Quotes and Ideas from Jeff Bezos

I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a 100-plus years. We have to try and delay that for as long as possible.

Our approach remains the same as it was on Amazon’s very first day. To make smart, fast decisions, stay nimble, innovate and invent and focus on delighting customers.

In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.

If you're competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.

Responding to a rambling colleague:
Which do you think you are exhibiting—gross stupidity or sheer incompetence?

From Amazon’s 2015 Shareholder Letter:
One area where I think we are especially distinctive is failure. I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it's going to work, it's not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.

Jeff Bezos answer to Business Insider’s Henry Blodget, who asked “What the hell happened with the Fire Phone?”:
"The Fire Phone, like all of Amazon’s projects, was an experiment. What really matters is, companies that don't continue to experiment, companies that don't embrace failure, they eventually get in a desperate position where the only thing they can do is a Hail Mary bet at the very end of their corporate existence. Whereas companies that are making bets all along even big bets, but not bet-the-company bets, prevail. I don't believe in bet-the-company bets. That's when you're desperate. That's the last thing you can do."

Good process is absolutely essential. Without defined processes, you can't scale, you can't put metrics and instrumentation in place, you can't manage. But avoiding bureaucracy is essential. Bureaucracy is process run amok.

Inventors have this paradoxical ability to have that 10,000 hours of practice and be a real domain expert and have that beginner's mind, have that look at it freshly even though they know so much about the domain and that's the key to inventing. You have to have both. I'm going to become an expert and I'm going to keep my beginner's mind.

On continually raising the bar on hiring:
Jeff famously put the philosophy this way, "Five years after an employee is hired, that employee should think, I'm glad I got hired when I did because I wouldn't get hired now."

Jeff Bezos recommends that people "think about the great expanse of time ahead of you and try to make sure that you're planning for that in a way that's going to leave you ultimately satisfied."

Percentage margins are not one of the things we are seeking to optimize. It's the absolute dollar free cash flow per share that you want to maximize. If you can do that by lowering margins, we would do that. Free cash flow, that's something investors can spend.

On using heart and intuition when making decisions:
Our finance team modeled Prime. It was horrible. Had to use heart and intuition. Getting it wrong is not that bad. Don't have enough time to list all our failures. But a couple of big ideas pay for all the failed experiments.

Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.

If you double the number of experiments you do per year, you're going to double your inventiveness.

Don’t let simple things be hard.

One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out. Every dollar saved is another opportunity to invest in the business.

All of our senior executives operate the same way I do. They work in the future. They live in the future.

As Bezos noted in a 2012 interview with Charlie Rose:
When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs. it forces a deeper clarity of thinking.

If you're not stubborn, you'll give up on experiments too soon. And if you're not flexible, you'll pound your head against the wall, and you won't see a different solution to a problem you're trying to solve.

Part of company culture is path-dependent—it's the lessons you learn along the way.

Senior leaders that are new to Amazon are often surprised by how little time we spend discussing actual financial results or debating projected financial outputs. To be clear, we take these financial outputs seriously, but we believe that focusing our energy on be controllable inputs to our business is the most effective way to maximize financial outputs over time.

In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos would bring an empty chair into meetings as a constant reminder to his team that the customer, even though she might not be physically present in the room, still needed to be constantly acknowledged and heard.

Books on Amazon and Jeff Bezos

The Amazon Way: Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles

The Amazon Way translates Amazon's unique culture and management practices into insights and opportunities, as only an Amazon executive and expert advisor could do for the Amazon Leadership Principles giving listeners one of the essential business leadership books for the digital era. This book summary includes my favorite quotes, excerpts, stories, notes, and ideas from the book.

Read my book summary and takeaways →

Speeches and Lectures by Jeff Bezos

“What Matters More Than Your Talents“ Speech by Jeff Bezos

This speech was originally delivered as the baccalaureate remarks to graduates from Princeton University on May 30, 2010.

Read my speech transcript →

“Statement to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary“ by Jeff Bezos

This speech was made by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law on July 29, 2020.

Read my speech transcript →

See Also

For more explore lectures, profiles, interviews, and books related to Jeff Bezos:

Related Collections

For more, check out my collections of interviews, speeches and lectures, letters and memos, and profiles:

About the author

Daniel Scrivner is an award-winner designer and angel investor. He's led design work at Apple, Square, and now ClassDojo. He's an early investor in Notion,, and Anduril. He founded Ligature: The Design VC and Outlier Academy. Daniel has interviewed the world’s leading founders and investors including Scott Belsky, Luke Gromen, Kevin Kelly, Gokul Rajaram, and Brian Scudamore.

Last updated
Apr 30, 2024

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