Jeff Bezos on Day 1 vs Day 2

I love this letter from Jeff Bezos and wanted to quote it at length. The full letter is at Recode.

 2016 Letter to Shareholders

April 12, 2017

“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”

That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.

I’m interested in the question, how do you fend off Day 2? What are the techniques and tactics? How do you keep the vitality of Day 1, even inside a large organization?

Such a question can’t have a simple answer. There will be many elements, multiple paths, and many traps. I don’t know the whole answer, but I may know bits of it. Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.

True Customer Obsession

There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.

Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen.

Resist Proxies

As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2.

A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us? In a Day 2 company, you might find it’s the second.

…Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design.

Embrace External Trends

The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.

These big trends are not that hard to spot (they get talked and written about a lot), but they can be strangely hard for large organizations to embrace. We’re in the middle of an obvious one right now: machine learning and artificial intelligence.

High-Velocity Decision Making

Day 2 companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly. To keep the energy and dynamism of Day 1, you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions. Easy for start-ups and very challenging for large organizations. The senior team at Amazon is determined to keep our decision-making velocity high. Speed matters in business – plus a high-velocity decision making environment is more fun too. We don’t know all the answers, but here are some thoughts.

First, never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process. For those, so what if you’re wrong?

Second, most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.

Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.

This isn’t one way. If you’re the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time.

…Fourth, recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision.

“You’ve worn me down” is an awful decision-making process. It’s slow and de-energizing. Go for quick escalation instead – it’s better.

So, have you settled only for decision quality, or are you mindful of decision velocity too? Are the world’s trends tailwinds for you? Are you falling prey to proxies, or do they serve you? And most important of all, are you delighting customers? We can have the scope and capabilities of a large company and the spirit and heart of a small one. But we have to choose it.

Einstellung effect

There is a well known bias related to this called the Einstellung effect, a psychological phenomenon characterized by a fixation on the first solution to a problem discovered at the expense of being able to find potentially better solutions. 

This is aggravated by multitasking. William Dershowitz on Multitasking:

“Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing

The Practice of Ritual Defamation

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” – Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s I used to closely track Laird Wilcox – an expert on extremist groups. I loved his even-handedness and commitment to free speech. I even called him once to ask him something, at about 5 am his time. Luckily he was up already and forgiving of my lack of consideration. I used to have a copy of his book on Free Speech, “Be Reasonable”, but seem to have lost it.

Wilcox’s essay on the eight elements of Ritual Defamation is a classic.

Defamation is the destruction or attempted destruction of the reputation, status, character or standing in the community of a person or group of persons by unfair, wrongful, or malicious speech or publication. For the purposes of this essay, the central element is defamation in retaliation for the real or imagined attitudes, opinions or beliefs of the victim, with the intention of silencing or neutralizing his or her influence, and/or making an example of them so as to discourage similar independence and “insensitivity” or non-observance of taboos. It is different in nature and degree from simple criticism or disagreement in that it is aggressive, organized and skillfully applied, often by an organization or representative of a special interest group, and in that it consists of several characteristic elements.

Ritual Defamation is not ritualistic because it follows any prescribed religious or mystical doctrine, nor is it embraced in any particular document or scripture. Rather, it is ritualistic because it follows a predictable, stereotyped pattern which embraces a number of elements, as in a ritual.

The elements of Ritual Defamation are spookily recognizable in our era of manufactured moral panics, altruistic punishment and social media shaming:

  1. In a ritual defamation the victim must have violated a particular taboo in some way, usually by expressing or identifying with a forbidden attitude, opinion or belief. It is not necessary that he “do” anything about it or undertake any particular course of action, only that he engage in some form of communication or expression.

The countermeasure is to robustly defend free speech and freedom of thought, with a particular focus on guarding against social tyranny.

2. The method of attack in a ritual defamation is to assail the character of the victim, and never to offer more than a perfunctory challenge to the particular attitudes, opinions or beliefs expressed or implied. Character assassination is its primary tool.

Again, ad hominem attacks and character assassination need to become intellectually embarrassing and shameful themselves.

3. An important rule in ritual defamation is to avoid engaging in any kind of debate over the truthfulness or reasonableness of what has been expressed, only condemn it. To debate opens the issue up for examination and discussion of its merits, and to consider the evidence that may support it, which is just what the ritual defamer is trying to avoid. The primary goal of a ritual defamation is censorship and repression.

This is a call to yet more speech. In the face of people trying to shut down a discussion, train them to recognize it is counter-productive.  Dive deep. Really explore the topic. Let attempts at taboo-making be markers for increased investigation. Ritualize the Streisand Effect.

4. The victim is often somebody in the public eye – someone who is vulnerable to public opinion – although perhaps in a very modest way. It could be a schoolteacher, writer, businessman, minor official, or merely an outspoken citizen. Visibility enhances vulnerability to ritual defamation

One of the oldest problems human’s face in our social societies is how to reveal and conceal our alliances. The silence of political elites in England about large-scale child rape and the widespread conspiracy of silence protecting Harvey Weinstein and other powerful sex pests shows that people are so fearful retaliation that they will not speak out even about things they know to be factually true and utterly morally repulsive. So it is no surprise people are easily intimidated into silence on intellectual or policy topics where one might be wrong anyway, and the consequences of even defending certain positions – not even espousing or supporting – may be ruinous. We need to find ways to create true intellectual safe spaces where any and all ideas can be openly discussed without fear of retaliation.

One solution is offered by the authors of Zero Hedge,  Pseudonymous speech responsibly used:

Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. it thus exemplifies the purpose behind the bill of rights, and of the first amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation– and their ideas from suppression– at the hand of an intolerant society.

The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse.”
Mcintyre v. Ohio elections commission 514 u.s. 334 (1995) Justice Stevens writing for the majority

Hopefully, the rally by forces of the Enlightenment will re-establish norms around genuine tolerance for heterodoxy and dissent.

5. An attempt, often successful, is made to involve others in the defamation. In the case of a public official, other public officials will be urged to denounce the offender. In the case of a student, other students will be called upon, and so on.

The best defense here lies in preparation. Agree in advance with colleagues and fellows what you will do when they come for one of you. Agree to the conditions for speaking out in unison. Isolation of the victim is key to the success of ritual defamation, so prepare to act in concert. Do not be picked-off.

6. In order for a ritual defamation to be effective, the victim must be dehumanized to the extent that he becomes identical with the offending attitude, opinion or belief, and in a manner which distorts it to the point where it appears at its most extreme. For example, a victim who is defamed as a “subversive” will be identified with the worst images of subversion, such as espionage, terrorism or treason. A victim defamed as a “pervert” will be identified with the worst images of perversion, including child molestation and rape. A victim defamed as a “racist” or “anti-Semitic” will be identified with the worst images of racism or anti-Semitism, such as lynchings or gas chambers.

Humanize everyone. As Hunter S. Thompson observed, “Even a werewolf deserves a lawyer”.  Find and accentuate the human in the story. Lampoon the labels. Subvert them. Look at how Jewish public figures cleverly embraced the anti-semite practice of identifying Jewish people by surrounding their names with brackets e.g.  {{{Sam Harris}}}. Or how Republicans enthusiastically self-identified as “deplorables”. 

7. Also to be successful, ritual defamation must bring pressure and humiliation on the victim from every quarter, including family and friends. If the victim has school children, they may be taunted and ridiculed as a consequence of adverse publicity. If they are employed, they may be fired from their job. If the victim belongs to clubs or associations, other members may be urged to expel them.

So this is Maoist/Stalinism 101targetingargting people through their innocent loved ones, but also show trials and denunciations by colleagues and children. With us or against us. These reductionist theatrics are the core of exercise: Demoralize your opponents and signal your allies. Humiliation is the salt that flavors the defamation. As a countermeasure, we ought to hit back in the defense of freedom of speech and thought by raising the costs for those who are disloyal to the defamed and act to punish without reasonable due process.

9. Any explanation the victim may offer, including the claim of being misunderstood, is considered irrelevant. To claim truth as a defense for a politically incorrect value, opinion or belief is interpreted as defiance and only compounds the problem. Ritual defamation is often not necessarily an issue of being wrong or incorrect but rather of “insensitivity” and failing to observe social taboos.

Big Brothers’ dictum was never right “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” should have been “Who controls the norms, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the norms”. Norms and their enforcement are foundations of human society. They are inescapable realities for all socially cooperative creatures. The question is how do we create, update, maintain and enforce norms fairly and with optimal outcomes for humanity? Any attempts to lock them down now, to declare the debate over and the matter settled is usually an attempt by the currently powerful to pull up the ladders after them. To cement their gains and freeze arrangements as maximally advantageous to themselves. Even if they are wise and norms fitting for the age and environment, it will lead to the stultification major religions experience due to being trapped trying to navigate a world with guidance thousands of ýears out of date.

Let’s go full Bayesian. Let us destroy the sanctity of “sensitivity” and anything else that prevents reassessment and reform.Mere ignorance and error must never be a crime, their recognition is a prerequisite for learning and development. The truth must always be an inviolable ultimate defense against any defamation.

Source: The Practice of Ritual Defamation – How values, opinions and beliefs are
controlled in democratic societies by Laird Wilcox

Read More , especially:

Political philosopher John Gray identified the common strands in liberal thought as being individualist, egalitarian, meliorist and universalist. The individualist element avers the ethical primacy of the human being against the pressures of social collectivism, the egalitarian element assigns the same moral worth and status to all individuals, the meliorist element asserts that successive generations can improve their sociopolitical arrangements, and the universalist element affirms the moral unity of the human species and marginalises local cultural differences.

21st Century Enlightenment

 In Defence of Enlightenment