Brayden Haws

July 27, 2021

Invent and Wander

I just finished reading Invent and Wander which contains all the Amazon Annual Shareholder Letters. Many have called these letters a mini-MBA and after reading them I can see why.

In the span of a few pages each year you see clearly how to:
-be customer obsessed
-use writing as a tool and weapon
-develop a product mindset
-use metrics and goals to drive long-term success
-make bets
-use current success to drive future outcomes

Each letter is worth a read in full. But in each there was an idea or two that were most impactful for my own learning. I have compiled some of those and encourage you to take a look.

If these peak your interest, I would recommend you grab the book for yourself or you can also find the shareholder letters online.

1997 - Identify Key Metrics

This was the first shareholder letter and already Amazon had clearly defined what metrics were important for their success. Not just in that moment but in long-term. This gave Amazon a built-in decision making framework as it made decision about the future. They could always measure and weigh if it was going to impact these key metrics and goals. To be able to prioritize the long-run over the short-term you need to build a system to guide choices and actions, you can't just wing it.

1998 - 3 Questions For Hiring
When interviewing someone to determine if they can both make an immediate impact and contribute to a long term culture Amazon asks these 3 questions:

-Will you admire this person?
-Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they're entering?
-Along what dimensions might this person be a superstar?

2005 - Be Comfortable With Disagreement

When creating something brand new you often won't all be on the same page. That is okay and should be expected. If you want to do great things you should get comfortable with discomfort and disagreement. Later on Amazon describes their culture of "Disagree and Commit", where you may never agree on the topic but still commit to backing it and helping make it successful.

2007 - Customer Obsession Wins

I wrote about this previously but this was my favorite takeaway from all the letters and the book as a whole. Being customer obsessed leads to solving the problem customers actually want solved, instead of the problem you may be most inclined to solve.

2008 - Working Backwards

Another that I couldn't wait to post about but I love the idea that working backwards is a forcing function for innovation and meeting customers's needs.

2009 - Focus on Controllable Inputs

Doing the right things where you have control (customer obsession, process) will lead most often lead to better results then you would get from starting from the financial outcomes and trying to hack your way into them.

2012 - Search For The Subtle

So many times in these letters there are references to the subtle things. Anyone can get the big things right. But it takes special talent to identify the subtle (risks, insights, opportunities) and then execute on those things.

2014 - 3 Big Ideas
In this year the format of the letters begins to shift. They begin to be framed around Amazon's 3 Big Ideas: Marketplace, Prime and AWS. They highlight these are what makes Amazon different and what Amazon is doing each year to increase their leadership and specialization in relation to these ideas. But the letters also call out that the success of these 3 ideas is paying for Amazon to go and find a 4th idea. That is the path to long-term success, executing and leading in what you do best while reinvesting in invention and innovation.

2015 - It's the Approach Not the Arena

When AWS launched many didn't see how it made sense in the context of Amazon's other businesses. The whole point here is that while the product Amazon delivered looked much different from their other offerings it was spawned from the same processes and frameworks that made them successful in ecommerce and logistics. If you have a long-term vision and execute soundly you will discover a whole host of opportunities that will not be apparent to others.

2017 - Culture of High Standards

This seems especially relevant for those leaders wondering how to make remote-first work. If you have the right people and build the right culture, work being done should not be a concern at all.

About Brayden Haws

Healthcare guy turned tech wannabe. Doing product stuff at Grow. Building Utah Product Guild⚒️. Constantly tinkering on my 🛻. Occasionally writing poor takes on product strategy and technology⬇️.

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