A while back I read a book on Jeff Bezos: “The Everything Store” — and was struck by a lot of the life principles Bezos applied to his business and life.
Below are some lessons I learned from him, and lessons you can apply to any form in your life:
1. The “regret minimization framework”
One of the lessons I learned from Bezos was that he applies a “regret minimization framework” to his life.
The concept is this: he imagines himself at age 80, and thinks to himself, “What have I regretted in life?” And he works backwards.
For example, when this “internet” thing came about, he was working at a high-powered finance job, and in the middle of his bonus season. He wanted to quit his job, and start an internet company — yet if he quit his job, he wouldn’t receive his massive bonus.
He wondered to himself, “If I were 80 years old, would I regret not experimenting with this ‘internet’ thing?” He decided the answer was “yes” — so he quit his job (at the dismay of everyone around him) and started Amazon.
The rest is history.
There is no such thing as living a “perfect” life. But it is possible to live a life without regrets.
Whenever you’re going to make a big life decision, ask yourself, “Will I regret not doing this if I were 80 years old, or possibly on my death bed?”
Let this guide your life.
2. Avoid the narrative fallacy
When the author of “The Everything Store” wanted to interview Jeff Bezos for the book — Jeff Bezos pointed out a good point: Jeff Bezos wouldn’t probably give an accurate personal history of himself and Amazon, because we all fall victim to the “narrative fallacy” — we tell an easy-to-comprehend story of our past successes.
But the problem with the “narrative fallacy” is that our personal history is a lot more complex, messy, and confusing than we think it is. Yet we put it into an easy-to-tell-story.
This is the problem of studying the lives of “successful” people. These individuals tell us about their successes, but often downplay (or ignore) their failures.
I would tell you to ignore all these books on “how to become successful in life” — because nobody has the answers. A lot of these “success” stories can be merely attributed to luck (and of course, some hard work).
What applies to the life of others won’t apply to you. The formula for success doesn’t exist.
Rather, it is about you leveraging your personal strengths, making the best of what you have, taking risks, and trying to add value to the lives of others.
Don’t fall victim when analyzing the stories of others— because they are all probably victims of the “narrative fallacy” themselves.
3. It is easier to invent the future than to predict it
I believe it is an Alan Kay quote that says “It is easier to invent the future than to predict it.”
Jeff Bezos applied the same concept with Amazon. When he started Amazon, nobody sold books online— and it was considered strange to buy things online with your credit card.
Yet instead of trying to predict what the future was going to be like — he invented it. He innovated with Amazon with first with books, then made it the store for everything. With Amazon Prime, Jeff Bezos did the unthinkable — made almost all the products available for “free” 2-day shipping (with an Amazon Prime subscription). He innovated with the Kindle e-reader as well as the Kindle publishing platform (that made anyone an author). Furthermore, they have pushed to become a monopoly by pursuing risky ventures— into making smartphones, tablets, voice-controlled assistants, TV/Music/Movie streaming, 1-hour delivery, groceries, fashion, and tons of other things I don’t even know about.
Don’t wait for the future to happen. If you find anything you’re frustrated about in life, be the change which you wish to see in the world (Gandhi).
4. How to make money?
Many people are confused about Amazon — they think that Amazon’s value is by selling things. Instead, the strength of Amazon is the recommendation engine, as well as the system of reviews on products. Jeff Bezos says the following:
“We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchasing decisions”.
In today’s world, there are billions of ways to add value to the lives of others. To help others make decisions is a huge field that is still largely untapped.
Making money isn’t just selling things, or selling your time or services.
Rather, you can make money in a myriad of different ways. You can create a business and make money by making the lives of others easier. Help your customers make complex decisions, and give them meaning and direction in their lives.
5. The customer always comes first
One of the things which has helped Amazon become so successful is Jeff Bezos’ belief in always serving the customer first.
He knew that customers wanted low prices, faster shipping — so he made that a priority of the company (which prevented Amazon from turning a profit).
Yet Bezos is in the long-run game with Amazon. He knew that if you did everything to please the customer, he would get customers hooked (like myself), and then build long-term value.
Many businesses and individuals make the mistake of thinking about short-term profits and gains. They screw over their customers, just to make a few extra nickels.
Yet by always trying to do what is best for your customer, you will end up making dollars in the future.
I think the best way to think about it is the following: treat your customer how you would like to be treated. This simple ethical tenant can guide your business well.
6. It is better to cannibalize yourself; than let others cannibalize you
This is a similar philosophy to Apple — it is better to cannibalize (hurt) yourself, rather than letting others hurt you.
The world is a dog-eat-dog world. And if you don’t continue to push yourself and innovate — someone else will take your spot.
Kodak innovated with 35mm film photography, and were actually one of the first companies to make a digital camera. Yet they failed to invest more into digital photography — because they were afraid of cannibalizing their film sales. Now where is Kodak? Bankrupt and (mostly) irrelevant.
I always try to think to myself: “How can I make myself redundant?” as a way to help me continue to innovate.
For example, when I did a lot of workshops, I would put together in-depth presentations. I wanted to share this information with other people, so I ended up recording them, and sharing them. A lot of people told me this was suicide— “If people watch your lectures on YouTube, what incentive will they have to attend your workshops?” In-fact, it helped me innovate. I ended up having the students in my workshops watch my presentations, and used more workshop time to shoot 1:1 (what is more valuable).
What are other ways you can make yourself redundant? How can you do it in a way that helps you innovate and be more creative in your work and life?
Don’t be afraid of cannibalizing yourself. It is better to cannibalize yourself; rather than letting someone else cannibalize you.
7. Be stubborn on your vision; flexible on details
We all have a great vision for our lives. We have a great vision in terms of how we can help empower others, and create lasting art.
I think it is important to have a big and great vision. Yet the problem is when we become to stubborn on the small details.
By becoming inflexible on the details, we will lose sight of potentially better options. We need to stick to our big vision, but be flexible on the details to make that happen.
If you don’t have a big vision for your life — make one. I feel it is better to have a big vision for your life and fail, rather than to have a mediocre vision for your life, and accomplish it. The higher we set our goals for ourself, the more we will achieve in life.
Even if you set a great goal for yourself in life, and fail — you will still get closer to greatness (than not having any goals).
Regardless of your personal beliefs about Amazon — I feel a lot of Jeff Bezos’ personal beliefs and ethics can help us in our lives.
Be bold. Be audacious. Take risks. Don’t wait for the future to happen — create the future yourself.
Seek to improve value for others. Seek long-term growth. Be patient, and have no regrets in life.
For more inspiration, learn from these contemporary titans.