High Standards and Curiosity Lead To Innovations

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Almost every April in the 2010s, I enjoyed reading the annual letters to shareholders by Jeff Bezos, the Founder and CEO of Amazon. They always seemed to contain a treasure of useful information.

When Bezos started Amazon on “Day 1,” the Seattle startup was mostly selling books online and building out its infrastructure. On that first day, he wrote a letter to early shareholders on his aspirations for the company, one he continued to attach to his annual letter until he resigned as CEO.  That was Day 1 for both Amazon and the Internet.

Bezos emphasized that the company was relentlessly focused on the long term and its customers.It would not let the pressures of being a public company deter it from its mission.

Revenue in 1997, the year the company went public, was $147 million, an 838% increase from1996. In 2021, the year Bezos resigned as CEO of Amazon, the company’s revenue topped $469 billion. 

Consider these milestones the company has achieved since it began:

  • Amazon Prime has more than 200 million members globally. They pay $139 per year. That’s $27.8 billion amazon uses to build his company’s infrastructure.
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) has not only brought in $80 billion in revenue, but has also accelerated innovation in the fields of machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and serverless computing.
  • Amazon employs 1.5 million people around the world. It hired 80,000 people in 2023, not including employees added through acquisitions.  

These accomplishments are incredible.  How did this online bookseller transform itself into this Dynasty?

A key Bezos mentions in his2017 letter is customer experience and how to deliver it.

“One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for abetter way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary.’”

“How do you stay ahead of ever-rising customer expectations? There’s no single way to do it – it’s a combination of many things. But high standards (widely deployed and at all levels of detail) are certainly a big part of it.” 

Amazon’s commitment to“high standards” has forced it to push itself to become one of the leading companies in the world.

This continued push has led to Amazon being ranked No. 1 in the American Customer Satisfaction Index eight years in a row, among many other impressive rankings.

During his talk about the role of higher standards, Bezos list four elements about them:

               1. They are teachable

               2. They are domain-specific 

               3. You must recognize them

               4. You must explicitly coach realistic scope  

“For us, these work at all levels of detail,” Bezos said. “Everything from writing memos to whole new, clean-sheet business initiatives. We hope they help you too.”

While writing about the use of memos within Amazon, Bezos gave an example of six-page memos that are shared before every meeting. When sharing memos, he said you can often tell the quality of the memo based on the expectation of scope. Poorer quality memos are often that way because the writer thought they could make a high-standard, six-page memo in a few days or even a few hours.

Meanwhile, higher quality memos often take a few weeks of writing, complete with rewrites, edits and reviews with other coworkers. The key takeaway, Bezos said, is results can be improved just by teaching scope.

Disruptions in All Industrie

This chart shows how disruption has affected not only the economy, but thousands of businesses as well.

But don’t think that the disruption is almost done. More disruption is coming, most likely from Artificial Intelligence.  The explosive growth of artificial intelligence heralds opportunity and disruption across industries.

The key is that we must learn how to become a disruptive innovator like Bezos.  We need to be curious and explore possibilities.  

By being ahead of the disruption and trying to find ways to take advantage of it, Amazon has innovated and created key features used by millions today. Amazon Prime was scoffed at early on, but now has 200 million subscribers worldwide and more than five billion items shipped through Prime.  Amazon also innovated with its Alexa digital assistant and Echo devices.

Getting ahead of the disruption and being an innovator doesn’t have to be limited to major companies like Amazon.

The Role of Curiosity

Bezos said, “From very early on in Amazon’s life, we knew we wanted to create a culture of builders – people who are curious, explorers.They like to invent. Even when they’re experts, they are “fresh” with a beginner’s mind.” 

Cultivating curiosity at all levels helps leaders and their employees adapt to uncertain market conditions and external pressures.  When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more-creative solutions.

Winning & Losing Moves

Why do some ideas succeed and others do not?

In the face of uncertainty, our first instinct is often to reject novelty, looking for reasons why unfamiliar concepts might fail. However, by committing to higher standards and exploring opportunities for disruption, your management company can become an innovation leader as well.

Here are some of my takeaways for multifamily owners and developers from the Jeff Bezos’ annual letters.  

1.    Create obsession about customers (tenants).  

2.    Simplify and automate processes to scale your business faster.  

3.    Commit to higher standards – and push to achieve them. Communicate your vision, invest the time to succeed, create accountability and inspect the results.

4.    Be curious and experiment more through small investments – Test concepts and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  They are key to eventually winning big.  


Here is a link to Bezos’ final annual letter.  He concludes that letter with these sentences: “To all of you: be kind, be original, create more than you consume, and never, never, never let the universe smooth you into your surroundings. It remains Day 1.”

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