Lessons learned through a discussion of the Amazon-Zappos deal

Last week as we heard the news of the Amazon-Zappos deal an on-line discussion started between a few of my fellow students at the AGSM MBA. We discussed whether it was a good idea, what will the effect of it on the culture of the two companies, etc.

Amazon has always been a company I admired (and had some very good customer service experience with), so I was glad that as part of the discussion and even more glad to come by this movie clip of Amazon CEO and founder (Thanks Amit). You never know how much of what the CEO is actually saying is happening in real life. But, there is no doubt that Amazon is a success story. And I think that the principals they stand for and Jeff Bezos is presenting in the video are very similar to things I write about a lot in this blog.

Obsess over customers (not over competitors) – I love this approach. First, because it takes the company out of the regular We (or I) culture. As humans we attribute to much importance to ourselves in the mind of others. And this translates to companies’ strategies and tactics that focus on the company and not on the customer. Nobody really cares about company X. People care about themselves. But the second part of this concept is even more important. We spend so much of our lives comparing ourselves to others, using benchmarks, thinking – I want to be like him/her. We forget to be ourselves. We forget to excel at what we do. We forget to exploit our comparative advantage. Instead of focusing on them, we should focus on us. And I know what you are thinking. Isn’t that a contradiction? You just said that we should stop with the culture of we. Well it isn’t. They can co-exist. And anyway, F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time”.

Invent – There is no doubt in my mind that the need (and ability) to invent is and will be the hallmark of successful people and companies in our changing world. Not only invention of new products but also of process, of business models, of ideas and of sharing mechanisms. A company that puts invention as its core belief represent, in my mind, a great manifestation of everything that is good in the capitalistic system.

Think long term for customers not according to customers – Again, two very strong ideas. Long term. The financial crisis has proved, if any more proof was needed, how important the idea of long term thinking is. Again, it is a manifestation of a very basic human trait that is discussed a lot these days. The need for immediate gratification. I hear about the Gen Y phenomena and the fact that people today are looking for immediate gratification and I involuntary cringe. This is not something we should celebrate. This something we should avoid. I think mentioning the famous marshmallow experiment is enough to make my point. Patience and perseverance, in the business world are essential. The second part of this concept is about customers and that they don’t always know what they want. Listen to your customers, but don’t be entrapped by them.

And not less important: “it’s always day one”. There is always more to learn, discuss, improve and question.


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