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

 

 

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.  

From: http://blogs.hbr.org/tjan/2009/08/lessons-learned-from-30-years.html

Clouds are still vapour, Grids are real

My fellow blogger and Communications Director at DNS Europe, Steve Hurford,  has put together a great position statement on the future of Cloud Computing and its relationship to Grids. Here is an excerpt:

Grids are the building blocks of future clouds

Without knowing today exactly what the future of cloud computing will look like, customers are faced with the decision of what choices to make that give real commercial benefits today and greatest flexibility for tomorrow. As we see it, future clouds will be formed from and accessible by those customers which adopt grid hosting infrastructures, develop multi-tennant applications and offer services that are not tethered by specific location, operating system, physical resources or other geographical constraints. Not only will they be able to integrate with future clouds but they will be best placed to take advantage of other cloud-enabled services and to offer their own services to other cloud contributors.

Clouds should not and will not be “owned”

The term cloud computing is today being used by many providers who, in fact, are actually offering Grid Hosting. Taking Google and Amazon as examples, they have opened up their own infrastructure for customers to deploy their own applications on their “clouds” and use their compute resources for a measured service fee. More correctly, these infrastructures should be called “grids” and the services called “Utility Computing”. Where these offerings substantially differ from our believe of what Cloud Computing will become is in their attempt to own the cloud. Ultimately we believe that this is a futile effort due to the pace of change of market requirements and their restricted service platform development capabilities. Provided that they eventually adopt the principles of open platform integration, they will however become very serious components of the future of cloud computing.

From grids to clouds

Under perhaps the simplest model for differentiating grids and clouds, grids are essentially building blocks, or discrete physical resources that will one day make up, or enable, clouds. One of the key drivers for businesses must therefore be to invest in a technology which facilitates the easiest transition from one to the other. A technology which will enable real cost savings today with open opportunities for tomorrow. A technology which provides a birthing ground for new application and service architectures which will one day fly the nest and reach full maturity in “the cloud”.

From: http://www.dnseurope.net/cloud_computing.html

We are always keen to hear from anyone that has some ideas about all this, so please feel free to contact Steve with your feedback via the contact form here or on the DNS Europe website.

Bootstrapping your Startup

I recently came across Reuven Cohen’s (CEO of Enomaly) “8 Rules for Bootstrapping your Startup“. It is a good list and there is no doubt that Enomaly is the rising star in the Cloud Computing startup field, earning themselves backing from Intel and the superb PR that such backing affords.

In many ways Enomaly and my company are similar (Consulting companies that have transformed into Cloud Computing start-ups).

I will be keeping an eye on these guys.

Kill your good ideas

Is the hallmark of a great company its ability to resist half-heartedly attempting to implement good ideas, but rather to focus on perfectly implementing a few of the best? Steve Jobs thinks so. From Bob Sutton “Wisdom From Steve Jobs: The Importance of Killing Good Ideas”:

[Steve] Jobs’ argument went something like this: What is really hard – and a hallmark of great companies – is that they kill at lot of good ideas. Sure, this is tough on people who have come-up with the good ideas as they love them and don’t want to see them die. But that for any single good idea to succeed, it needs a lot of resources, time, and attention, and so only a few ideas can be developed fully. Successful companies are tough enough to kill a lot of good ideas so those few that survive have a chance of reaching their full potential and being implemented properly. I would also add that this approach also applies to good product and experience design. If every good idea is thrown into a product, then the result is a terrible and confusing experience. (This seems to be the problem with the latest version of Microsoft word, it does everything, so therefore is very annoying and confusing to use.)

If you take this argument to its logical conclusion, it means that innovative companies might keep track of these two metrics:

1. How many good ideas are killed? (If this number isn’t high enough, that is a bad sign.)

2. Are people complaining – even leaving – because too many of their good ideas are killed? (The idea here is that if no one is complaining about this problem, then there aren’t enough being killed. The complaining, and even people leaving, is bad. But if no one is complaining, it is a worse sign. Creating this kind of frustration is an unfortunate byproduct of an effective innovation process and if your people don’t have enough pride and confidence to get upset when their innovative ideas are killed, then something is wrong with them — or your culture.)

These weird metrics may or may not work, but they make sense given Jobs’ argument (which I find quite compelling). His argument also resonates with our experience teaching in the d.school — the groups that often do the worst work have too many pet ideas and can’t bring themselves to kill enough of them, so they don’t do a decent job on any of them. Groups that can’t kill enough ideas also often suffer from bad group dynamics, either because multiple members won’t allow the group to kill their pet ideas, or because the group avoids difficult conversations about which ideas (and therefore whose ideas) to kill, and instead, tries to develop too many ideas (None of which are developed well — which results in collective failure.) As Perry tells our students, there comes a point in the process where you have to kill the ideas you have nurtured and come to love, even though it hurts.

If only we would let ourselves be dominated

In a thoughtful post entitled “Thoughts on the Financial Crisis“, Tim O’Reilly quotes a Rilke poem:

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming…What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

He explained the quote like this:

There are a lot of people bloviating about the financial crisis. It’s outside of our area of expertise, so there didn’t seem to be a lot of urgency to add to the hot air. Even professional economists and financial experts disagree on where this is going. I’ve been reading a lot, and sharing the best links via my twitter feed, but frankly, I’m feeling that we’re in the middle of a wave that no one completely understands.Meanwhile, I did in fact spend my NY Web Expo talk on the idea that “I sense a storm coming” (Rilke quote), and the idea that companies and individuals need robust strategies (ones that can work even in uncertain times), with one robust strategy being to “work on stuff that matters.”

In a letter to his own employees where he elaborates on this, he passes on some great advice that we can all heeded:

Many of you have no doubt been alarmed by the developments of the last couple of weeks in financial markets……robust strategies are ones you’d adopt in good times and in bad…we probably end up with more robust strategies if we assume the worst rather than the best.

We could be in for a long, rough time in the economy. I’m not going to say otherwise.

But I also want to point out that rough times are often the best times for creativity, opportunity and change.

…And if you look at history, you see that this has always and everywhere been true. It’s not an accident that economist Joseph Schumpeter talked about the “creative destruction” inherent in capitalism. Great problems are also great opportunities for those who know how to solve them. And looking ahead, I can see great opportunities.

The energy crisis (both global warming and the oil price shock) is helping people to focus on how technology can transform the energy sector. The financial crisis has demonstrated just how out-of-whack an unregulated, proprietary, black-box approach can get. This will lead to
an emphasis on regulation, but I hope, above all, on transparency. This is of course analogous to what happened with open source software. Meanwhile, the mobile revolution will continue, regardless of the state of the economy. If it can prosper in Africa, it can prosper even in an
American downturn. And all the stuff we’re exploring with Make: new materials, new approaches to manufacturing, and the “open source” approach applied to hardware, will take us in unexpected directions.  And all of these areas can benefit from what we do best: capturing and
spreading the knowledge of innovators.

We don’t know yet how problems in the overall economy will affect our business. But what we can do now are the things we ought to be doing anyway:

  • Work on stuff that matters: Assuming that the world does go to hell in a handbasket, what would we still want to be working on? What will people need to know? (Chances are good that they need to know these things in a world where we all continue to muddle along as well.)
  • Exert visionary leadership in our markets. In tough times, people look for inspiration and vision. The big ideas we care about will still matter, perhaps even more when people are looking for a way forward. (Remember how Web 2.0 gave hope and a story line to an
    industry struggling its way out of the dotcom bust.)
  • Be prudent in what we spend money on. Get rid of the “nice to do” things, and focus on the “must do” things to accelerate them.
    These are all things we should be doing every day anyway. Sometimes, though, a crisis can provide an unexpected gift, a reminder that nobody promised us tomorrow, so we need to make what we do today count.