Amazon’s Leadership Principles

Jeff Bezos recent shareholder newsletter has received much praise in the tech press. Inc drew special attention to his principle of “Disagree and commit.”

When I read the article, this principle felt familiar to me, then I remembered where I had seen it before. It is the 13th Amazon Leadership Principle:

“Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.”

The rest of the principles are also well worth remembering.

See also:

Communication is Failure



The Four Elements of Leadership

Michael Lombardi, former General Manager of the Cleveland Browns and current member of the coaching staff on the New England Patriots enumerated four elements of leadership:

  • Management of attention, aka plan. Systems and processes are offshoots of management of attention.
  • Management of meaning, aka communication – explain the plan.
  • Management of trust – consistency and no double standards.
  • Management of self – self-criticism and humility. Honesty. Admit mistakes and correct course.

He also quoted Bobby Kennedy – “Guide your life by principle not ambition”. Not sure if its accurate but I like the quote.

From The Knowledge Project podcast

Kevin Kelly on design and the Scientific Method

[I noticed I had 36 posts in the drafts folder some dating back years. It can be quite fascinating to see what had your attention years ago. This one, last edited in March 2009, is just collection of notes for a post, but there were some gems from Kevin Kelly]

Totally engrossed in the subject of resources and pipeline management, information design, intermediate technology and dashboard design

“n-Dimentional gigantic hypercube of all the possible solutions to how to design the things and we are just wondering around trying to find the best one.” –  Stack Overflow podcast

How do committees invent?

In a discussion on Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Kevin Kelly made this observation:

Consider a parallel with software design:

* Statement of requirements
* [ architect/design
* [ implement/test
* deliver

That is, Scientific Method consists of a statement of the
problem, followed by a repetition of: generate hypotheses
and perform experiments to test hypotheses, followed by
From Pirsig’s description of Scientific Method:

* Statement of problem
* [ hypothesis
* [ experiment
* conclusion

a conclusion. Software design can be considered to be a
Statement of requirements, followed by a repetition of:
generate a proposed design then implement and test it;
followed by delivery of the final system.

Now, Pirsig goes into the fact that what seems like it
should be the hardest part–generating viable hypotheses–
in practice turns out to be the easiest. In fact, there’s
no end to them; the act of exploring one hypothesis brings
to mind a multitude of others. The harder you look, the
more you find. It is an open, not a closed, system.

I would suggest that this correspondence holds: that
the set of possible designs to meet the requirements is
infinite; that the act of generating a design brings to
mind multiple alternatives; that generating a design
increases, rather than decreases, the set of possible
alternative designs.

This is argument by analogy and therefore not particularly
forceful, but I feel certain, myself, that it holds. It
certainly feels right, intuitively. I think it ties in
with Goedel’s work on decidability: that any sufficiently
complex system–which any programming language is–is able
to say more than it can prove. Thus there’s always another
hypothesis that might give better answers; there’s always
another design that might solve the problem better. There’s
always room for an architect that can pull the magic out
of the clouds.

That last bit ties in to a point I’d like to expand on. That
is, that all formalisms, or design methodologies, are in
some way limiting. By adhering strictly to a particular
design process, you forego the gains that come from
inventing a new, better process.

Admittedly, you also ‘forego’ the time lost on ideas
that don’t work out.

Process or methodology is a means of getting a Ratchet Effect,
or Holding The Gains. It’s a way of applying
a pattern of development to other, related, projects.
There needs to be a way of allowing for new developments
and ideas, though.

“There’s no one more qualified to modify a system than
the last person to work on it”. That seems counter-
intuitive; one would think that the people that created
it understand it best. However, they’ve moved on to
other things, while the later maintainers got the
benefit of all the original designers’ work plus,
in addition, all that was later learned about the
system, such as how it reacts to the customers, and
how it responds to maintenance.

Software design is made up partly of flashing new insights,
and partly of routine solutions that have been invented over
and over again. Codifying patterns is a way of ratcheting
the whole community up to near the level of the leaders, at
least in terms of the routine solutions.

It’s still necessary to allow for the insights, though. A
lot of the big-company emphasis on process ignores this, assuming
that nothing is ever new, and that the answers of yesterday
are good enough for tomorrow.

(this is turning into a pretty good rant, but I think I’ll
cut it off for now)

— KevinKelley –

[Dec 2014: Sadly is not working, and has no archive of this page]

Approximately correct strategy

Jason Bates (@JasonBates) tipped me off about the concept of “Approximately correct strategy”, from an interview with by Dick Harrington (former CEO of Thomson Reuters) by HBR columnist Anthony Tjan:

Recently, I had dinner with Dick Harrington, former CEO of Thomson Reuters

We talked about his three most significant lessons learned over his very successful 25+ year career as a Fortune 250 executive.

Dick Harrington (DH): First, you have to have an “approximately correct” strategy — you have to know where you are going, but directionally correct is the key. Two, you have to be highly focused and intensely execute that strategy by motivating and aligning the troops you have. And three, it always comes back to the customers and the fact that you have to manically know your customers and drive everything from that.

TT: Nicely done. So let’s start with the first point. People often worry about architecting a perfect business plan or strategy and then get lost in the minutia. How do you know when you are “approximately correct,” as you say?

DH: You want to be approximately correct instead of precisely incorrect. There is a point at which additional information or research will not change the basics of your strategy. When you get your strategy there, you have to “Nike it” – you just do it. If you continue to refine and refine, you’ll never get into action, and the incremental value of research just won’t be worth the time and money. Schedule time frames and be religious about them to launch, get feedback, and see if the strategy is acceptable to the customer or if you need to adjust.  


For men, it pays to a bit chubby

From The Wall Street Journal

obese women have a far harder time climbing the career ladder than their slimmer female counterparts, while men actually improve their chances of reaching the corner office when they gain weight.

Now, a new study goes a step further by showing that employers seem to treat women exactly the way the fashion industry does – by rewarding very thin women with higher pay, while penalizing average-weight women with smaller paychecks. Very thin men, on the other hand, tend to get paid less than male workers of average weight. Men earn more as they pack on the pounds – all the way to the point where they become obese, when the pay trend reverses.

When it comes to men, I am not sure that the study adjusted for age. Men tend to gain weight as they age, particularl in the late 20s and 30s, a period of often rapid career progress. I am wondering if this study is seeing causes where there are only correlations?