How Jeff Bezos Decides When to Give Up on an Idea

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of, who usually doesn’t give a lot of interviews, gave one at this year’s CodeConference. The whole interview can be found here, and if you can find 80 minutes to see it, I highly recommend it.

The part of Bezos’ interview that stood out for me the most was when he talked about how he decides when to give up on idea. You can view that specific part of the interview by clicking on this link. Paraphrasing loosely, he said:
The most important things we’ve ever done have always seemed dumb to industry experts at the beginning. You can’t listen to people in the beginning when they say it won’t work, but you have to be stubborn on the vision, and flexible on the details. Now at some point, you may have to give up on the vision. How do you know when that is? I think it is when the last high judgement champion folds his or her cards.

I learned two things from Bezos’ insight which I believe I can apply in my personal and professional life:

  1. I need to intentionally schedule time to evaluate my goals. Just like in the world of business, a time may come when I may need to give up on some of my existing goals in order to move on to new things. The only way to arrive at that decision is by stepping back and evaluating things. Now it’s important to mention that one doesn’t evaluate too frequently, as that may become a distraction in and off itself. Instead, evaluations should be adequately spaced to enable the proper exploration of goals and opportunities.
  2. I need to have high judgement champions in my life; people interested in my growth and development whom I respect and admire, and whose judgement I trust. When things because unclear to me, or when I’m trying to decide if I should persevere or give up on a significant life goal, I can lean on these people for insight and advice. Some people also refer to this as having a personal board of directors.

Any other thoughts or ideas on how to decide when to persevere and when to quit?


Five Agile Practices That Scale

Agile World Cloud

Since the creation of the agile manifesto in 2001, agile practices like extreme programming (XP) and scrum have grown in popularity with startups, but haven’t done so well in large companies. Some argue that the reason for this is that agile methodologies were actually created for small teams in the same physical location, and therefore isn’t as relevant in the highly distributed product development teams that can be found in most large enterprises.

While agile does work best for small, collocated teams, I recently came across a book titled Scaling Software Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises, which argued that there are seven agile practices that can be successfully applied across organizations of any size. I thought of sharing all seven, but decided for the sake of brevity to discuss my top five🙂. They include:

  1. The Define/Build/Test Component Team: Instead of having the database team, the mid-tier team and the web/mobile team come together to deliver a feature, create a feature team made up of database, mid-tier and front-end engineers, as well as other team members (designers, product managers, e.t.c) needed to define, build, test, and deliver value to the customer. Amazon’s “two pizza” teams are a great example of this practice at scale.
  2. Smaller & More Frequent Releases: Move away from the “big bang” release that is done once a year to smaller and more frequent releases. This enables your product teams to respond faster to customer and competitive dynamics. Facebook is a good example of this practice, with its “move fast, break things” mantra.
  3. Concurrent Testing: All code should be tested code. Test cases should be written up before actual coding is done, and checked-in code should be subjected to a barrage of automated tests. Not sure about which big company is a good example here🙂
  4. Continuous Integration: The product team is not allowed to say coding is done until the code is in a releasable state. This means that it can quickly and easily be deployed to a production-like environment, using a deployment pipeline that subjects it to a series of automated tests. Google seems to have been doing this for a while now.
  5. Regular Reflection and Adaptation: A company that isn’t learning is a company that is dying. Very regularly, product and business teams need to reflect on what’s working and what needs to be improved, and take steps to implement the needed changes. Our fearless CEO is definitely helping us lead this charge at Microsoft!🙂

These five practices are mostly self evident, and aren’t really a silver bullet. Teams and companies (especially large ones) that adopt them will still face all kinds of challenges as they try to innovate and deliver value to their customers. Notwithstanding, embracing these agile practices will probably lead to faster product development cycles, with less waste (building stuff that no one wants), and empowered teams. Which company doesn’t want that?

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How Organizations Fail to Think


I recently came across a TED video by Margaret Heffernan, an international business leader and writer. In her speech, Margaret shared an insight which I felt was pretty radical: most organizations don’t think.

If like me, you work at an organization that requires you to do a decent amount of thinking on a daily basis, you might be wondering what this woman is talking about. According to Margaret, a critical component of organizational thinking is constructive conflict, and most of us do our very best to avoid conflict at work. The reasons for conflict avoidance are many, but some of the top reasons include:

  1. Conflicts can be messy and personal.
  2.  Conflicts are highly unpredictable, and it may be impossible to effectively manage the conflict once it has begun.
  3. People who start conflicts at work are usually labelled as not being a team player, or a whistle blower, and no one likes these kinds of people.

Despite the risks associated with engaging in conflict at work, the fact that the great tragedies of organizations and humanity happened in the open, and succeeded because people failed to speak up against the status quo, challenges us all to go beyond our comfort zones, and engage in the constructive conflict needed to develop creative solutions to our world’s problems.

So how do we do this? Margaret’s talk provided me with three good tips:

  1. Resist the neuro-biological urge to only associate with people who are like you. Instead, develop the patience and trust needed to engage with people with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests.
  2. Realize that speaking up in disagreement is not an end in itself, but is only the beginning of the path to a creative solution.
  3. When you have a question or concern about your organization’s product, service, or business process, it is very likely that others secretly share the same concern. The only way to find out is to speak up.

Any other ideas on how to effectively manage organizational conflict?


Why Google Gave Android Away for Free: The Business Case for Open Source Software


In 2007, Google unveiled the Android mobile operating system under an open source license. This meant that Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) such as LG, HTC and Dell could access the Android source code, and modify it to suit their specific needs, without paying a penny to Google. Why did Google choose this open source approach, when it could have made a decent chunk of money from selling Android?

While I don’t work for Google, I’ve spent some time researching and thinking about the business case for open source software. I believe that from a business perspective, an open source model might make sense for the following reasons:

  1. Monetization of Proprietary Add-Ons: Open source software is likely to gain market share faster than commercial software as its growth is not restricted by the friction of financial transactions. This rapid growth can then be monetized through the creation of proprietary add-ons. For example, Android now has about 65% market share in the US, and Google monetizes this growth through proprietary apps such as Google Search, Google Maps and the Google Play Store, which power its sprawling advertising business.
  2. Reducing Development Costs: Android’s open source license allows any developer around the globe to improve the Android source code for his/her benefit. These improvements are also available to Google for free, and while Google may not necessarily need the free development effort, it ultimately create a positive feedback loop where Android gets better faster, which leads to more users and growth which Google can then monetize.
  3. Attracting and Retaining Talent: Today’s software developers want to do more than write code that earns them a paycheck; they want to change the world. One way to do this is by contributing to cool open source projects that are used by millions of people around the world. Therefore, a company that releases and contributes to open source software projects is likely to be more attractive to talented developers.

Resilience By Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, gave a commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley a few weeks ago which I believe is worth sharing. There are two parts of the speech that I find absolutely outstanding: the medium and the message.

When I say the medium, I mean that the speaker was outstanding. I must confess that I’ve never really been a fan of Sheryl Sandberg. All that “Lean In” stuff really put me on edge and made me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because I needed to hear it.🙂 Anyways, what blew me away was how vulnerable she allowed herself to be during the speech, irrespective of the fact that she’s one of the most powerful business leaders in our world today. I was really inspired by her example, and challenged to become even more vulnerable with my co-workers, friends and family.

Now to the message. Sheryl Sandberg shocked her audience by stating that instead of sharing life lessons, she’ll share the lessons she learned from the unexpected loss of her husband. A key insight she shared is that when we experience a negative event, we process it through one of the following ways:

  • Personalization, which refers to thinking that we are to blame for everything that’s wrong in our lives,
  • Pervasiveness, which means that one bad event will affect all areas of our lives, and
  • Permanence, where we project our current feelings out indefinitely.

However, once we can sidestep these emotional land mines, and realize that:

  • We are not responsible for every bad thing that happens in our lives,
  • Being bad at one thing doesn’t mean you’re bad at everything, and
  • Our current emotions, whatever they are, won’t last forever,

We can go beyond our adversity, and instead choose joy and meaning. I’m really inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, and if you watch her speech, you just might be too.🙂

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On Work-Life Balance, and Setting Down Glass Balls…

glass balls 2
A few days ago, I heard a work-life balance tip from Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of business development, that resonated strongly with me. My loosely paraphrased version of the tip goes like this:

When we think about the tension between performing well on the job, and catering to the relationships and commitments we have outside of work, it can sometimes feel like we’re juggling a bunch of glass balls. From maintaining a healthy lifestyle to taking care of a sick parent, there’s all these things that we feel we really need to take care of as screwing them up could have potentially devastating consequences.

While it is important to identify the glass balls in our lives, it is also important to realize that we are not slaves to our priorities. Life always happens, and when it does, it’s totally fine to set down some of these glass balls so we can pick them up later. Failure to do so will keep us in a perpetual state of stress, which may lead to us dropping – and shattering – a few glass balls.

What does this idea look like in real life? When I put in long hours on a high profile project, and am invisible to friends and family for a few weeks, that’s okay! When I take off during crunch time at work in order to attend a friend’s wedding on the other side of the globe, that’s okay too! Our work-life balance will constantly change as we move through different phases of life. The challenge is to ensure that our balance goals are created not by our friends, family members, colleagues or the media. Rather, what work-life balance means to us at every phase of our lives, should be decided by us.

Peggy suggested that we set a glass ball on our work desk as a way to keep this idea fresh. I’m yet to get mine…🙂

Nurturing BSchool Connections

Joining Kellogg grew my network exponentially, and enabled me to build relationships with and learn a lot from really smart and admirable people. Fast forward to life after school though, and then comes the challenge of maintaining and nurturing these really valuable business school relationships.

The typical post-MBA job is pretty challenging, and forces MBA grads to spend their weekdays struggling to stay on top of things, and weekends recovering from the struggles of the previous week, while planning for new struggles ahead. With this tightly packed and mostly overflowing schedule, how can we find the time to nurture our existing relationships, not to mention build new ones?

I’m currently struggling through this challenge, and have been chatting with a lot of friends about it. While I still haven’t found a silver bullet, I’ve stumbled on some pretty good ideas:

1. Intentionally Plan Your Connections: This tip comes from Keith Ferrazzi, the networking guru who wrote the bestseller titled Never Eat Alone. Keith talks about creating a relationship action plan, as a way to stay on top of your relationships. His approach is pretty structured (which is not surprising as he’s an ex-consultant), and involves categorizing your network into 3 segments, and committing to an interaction frequency for each segment. Keith’s approach didn’t work very well for me, as categorizing my hundreds of friends was too cumbersome. Instead, I decided to identify the top 10 – 15 people that I really wanted to stay in touch with, and then tried to make plans for that small set of people. These plans included activities such as coffee or brunch meetups, and phone calls over the weekend, or during lunch time at work. The most important part of this tip is the PLANNING. Schedule a specific time and put it on your calendar like you would a business meeting because this stuff is actually more important in the long run.

2. Turn Facebook Time into Connecting Time: No one plans Facebook time into their day, but somehow most of us get to check Facebook an average of 14 times in a day. How does this happen? More importantly, what if we could turn that time into networking time? We all have ‘gifts of time’ during the day; examples include commute time, waiting in line for coffee, or waiting for people to show up for a meeting. In times like these, as I find myself reaching for the Facebook icon on my phone, I stop and ask myself: who can I ping right now to let them know I’m thinking about them? I try to hit at least 3 messages a week which is a super small goal, but I think this is beneficial in two ways. First, social media is already a widely accepted additive (although not a substitute) to our face to face interactions. Second, these low cost drops of pings on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites easily become an ocean of thoughtfulness and connection.

3. Just Do It!: This last tip seems to be in contrast with the first, but they actually work very well together. After making a networking plan, it’s really important to not stay welded to it. Don’t worry if certain people are slipping through the cracks and not being reached out to by you. Just keep reaching out and staying as connected as you can with those that are top of mind for you. The interesting part of this approach is that it helps you power through your inertia, and get started really quickly.

Any other good ideas on how to nurture business and personal connections?