How Jeff Bezos Decides When to Give Up on an Idea

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, 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?

 

Final Quarter (Spring) Courses

Oh Spring quarter! The final lap of the bschool experience. When you realize it’s all coming to an abrupt end, you can do one of two things: have your final course binge in order to maximize the value of your tuition and/or complete the requirements of your desired major, or take things really easy with respect to academics so you can take the rest of the experience in. Guess what I did? I chilled!

I decided to take a few classes for two main reasons. The first was that I wanted to have time to connect with my classmates before we scattered to different parts of the globe, and to plan my wedding (yes I did do some of the planning 🙂 ). The second was that I wanted to have a lot of time to dive deep into my finance classes. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I didn’t enjoy Fin D because I didn’t have enough time to work through the cases in depth, and I didn’t want to feel that way with the final finance classes I was taking at Kellogg. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m glad I took 3 credits in my final quarter. The classes that I took are as follows:

1. Entrepreneurial Finance & Venture Capital: I really enjoyed this course. It focused on the venture capital industry, an industry that I continue to be fascinated by. Through this course I was able to understand key industry terminologies like pre-money, post-money, and the various types of investment vehicles available to early stage investors. I was also able to debate with my classmates about the future prospects and possible valuations of a wide variety of businesses from biotech to enterprise software. These conversations were the best part of the class. We also had a few visiting entrepreneurs and VC speakers which was cool.

2. Financial Modeling For Leveraged Buyout Transactions (LBOs): I took this 5-week class because of the professor. Chirag Saraiya is a professor at Kellogg and a partner at Training The Street, a training outfit that teaches financial modeling and Excel skills to some of the most reputable banks and consulting firms in the world. I encountered Chirag and his amazing teaching style during one of his weekend workshops at Kellogg focused on financial modeling, and decided to take his class, even though I knew I wouldn’t be doing any LBO transactions anytime soon. What I really liked about his class is that he uses a lot of real-world examples, and tells us how finance-related stuff (like calculating WACC) plays out in the real world. I’ll definitely recommend this class for anyone interested in real-world corporate finance, or kick-ass Excel modeling skills.

3. Healthcare Information Technology: I decided to take some ‘random’ classes during my final quarter at Kellogg. By random I mean classes that had nothing to do with my primary interests: marketing, finance and technology. This turned out to be one of those classes, and I can’t say it went very well. It was a 5-week class so it wasn’t too bad. While we were talking about healthcare IT which is a hot topic, we ended up spending too much time on healthcare and not enough time on technology. With the right balance of both, it could be a pretty cool class.

4. Healthcare Quality: This was the other random 5-week class I took, and I didn’t enjoy it at all. Maybe it was too far from my comfort zone. We talked a lot about how hospitals measure quality and other similar but overall it was just a bad fit for me. Wouldn’t recommend.

5. Entrepreneurship: Building Innovation, Teams and Cultures: This one was good; really good. Think entrepreneurship meets technology meets organizational behavior. The professor, Mark Achler is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. He’s incredibly accomplished and yet so humble, and he has this vast network of entrepreneurs that he willingly shared with us. This was also a 5-week class, and every week the professor brought in a past or current CEO to chat with us about topics around corporate culture, bootstrapping a business, and other inspiring topics. The best speaker in my mind was the former CEO of Redbox. He had an incredible life story that left some of my classmates in tears. Definitely recommend!

Overall, a great quarter, and a good end to my academic experience at business school. Unless I have some sort of mid-life crisis (which is a distinct possibility), this is the end of formal classroom learning for me! 😀

Afropreneurship with Sim Shagaya

I recently came across this video interview of Sim Shagaya. Sim is the CEO of Konga.com, a fast growing ecommerce startup in Nigeria. The first thing I observed about this guy was his top-notch academic and professional credentials. Sim bagged degrees from George Washington University, Dartmouth College and Havard Business School, then did stints in investment banking (Rand Merchant Bank) and technology (Google) before pursuing his dreams of entrepreneurship within Africa. What I like about the video is that it provides a pretty good insight into the choices he has made so far with respect to starting and growing a technology startup in a developing country like Nigeria. Enjoy!

Living an Extraordinary Life: Hakeem Bello-Osagie

For those of you who know Hakeem Bello-Osagie, nothing more needs to be said about him. For those of you who don’t, words don’t really suffice. Let’s just say that he is the kind of guy that makes your average ‘high-flyer’ uncomfortable. With degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard Business School, and a distinguished career spanning across the energy, financial services and telecommunications industries, Keem (as he is called by friends) is a very very impressive guy.

This is Keem’s second speech on my blog. The first one (also worth watching) addressed the dilemma of citizens of developing countries studying in developed countries like the US. After graduating, should they stay back or go home?

This speech is awesome for a number of reasons. The first is that Keem shares his career story in a very candid way, which I think is quite inspiring. Another reason why I really enjoyed this speech is that I found Keem’s thoughts on living an extraordinary life to be quite profound. What he said is that if you want to live an extraordinary life, you have to be willing to try a lot of things that seem impossible. By definition, if you are trying a lot of things that seem impossible, you will probably fail a lot. However, once in a while, you’d surprise even yourself. Let me stop typing. Enjoy the video. 🙂

The Next Big Thing: Smartwatches

With worldwide smartphone penetration crossing the 1 billion mark, and smartphones overtaking feature phones in worldwide sales for the first time in 2013, you will agree with me that these devices have indeed come of age.

The bad news is that after quantum leaps in innovation from this (Nokia Communicator 9000):

nokia communicator

to this (iPhone 5) :

iphone

smartphone innovation in hardware seems to have plateaued. Sorry folks, but it seems like henceforth, all we can expect from Apple and Samsung are thinner phones with bigger screens and better cameras. The good news is that with growth slowing in the $358 billion smartphone market, the hunt has already begun for the next big thing: a new “screen”. This screen will not sit in your living room, neither will it be carried around in your backpack or pocket; it will be strapped to your arm.

I must confess I was initially quite skeptical about smart watches. In my mind, watches are just too dumb and too small to do anything cool. Once I came in contact with the Pebble, a smart watch created by a startup, my skepticism faded quickly. The video below provides a good window into the potential of this awesome device:

After my Pebble encounter, I am glad to say that I have become a big believer in smart watches becoming a significant driver of the next wave of technology innovation. This leads to the billion dollar question: who will dominate this emerging category? Is it a smartphone incumbent like Apple or Samsung, a smart watch first mover like Sony or a late underdog like Pebble. What do you think?

Why Managers Should Encourage On-The-Job Failure

On-the-job FailureThe saying that goes “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die” is quite applicable to how we  manage our careers. Few if any of us go to work everyday thinking about the best way to mess things up, or give the barest possible minimum. No way! We want to do our best; we want to innovate; we want to contribute and make a difference in our respective organizations. What holds us back? The fear of failure. If you commit to that ambitious target with your manager, it’ll come back to bite you in your performance review. If you volunteer to help turnaround an ugly situation and you fail, that might mean the end of your career. Because of this fear, we ‘play it safe’ and miss out on opportunities to create tremendous value for our employers, and rapid career growth for ourselves.

How do we move forward? One of the key things I learnt from the book The Startup Of You is that both entrepreneurs and professionals need to learn to take calculated risks. This way, they would be able to deliver the quantum leaps in value that comes from calculated risk taking.

What about the managers? What can they do? They can throw their weight behind – and celebrate – people who volunteer to tackle serious challenges within the company. This is not just my idea. Jamie Dimon, the current CEO of JP Morgan Chase, had some thoughts about innovation and failure while addressing the Harvard Business School MBA Class of 2009:

The full excerpt of his presentation can be found here.

Jeff Immelt is another global business leader that seems to agree with this idea of encouraging on-the-job failure. During his presentation to MBA students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he attributes his current position as CEO of GE to an opportunity he was given to fail:

The full excerpt of Jeff Immelt’s speech can be found here.

How else can we encourage on-the-job failure?

Please be sociable and share!