A View from Blue Grotto

Friday, January 23, 2009

Raising your IQ

“Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” Alan Kay, computer programming pioneer

Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was interviewed in the October 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review on the topic of leading strategic change. In an article titled Institutional Yes, Bezos talks about creating, and sustaining, a culture of “entrepreneurial optimism.”

It was interesting to read about a company I must admit I know little about, other than having made purchases at Amazon.com. Bezos was incredibly candid about the culture of the company and their guiding principles.

One of the questions the authors asked: does strategy rely on a key ingredient – the CEO/founder? Or is it an institutional capacity? Bezos’ reflections indicate he and his team (he demurs on the imprint he naturally has on the company) have built a culture that propagates breakthrough ideas, as well as the capacity to implement them.

For example, Amazon’s senior team meets weekly for four hours to discuss strategies. That’s a significant chunk of time each week to devote to throwing stuff against the wall. But that overall commitment to strategic planning is affirmed throughout the company, and, as Bezos says, “is informed by a cultural point of view.” The company relies on everyone from senior staff to fulfillment center guys and gals to bubble up ideas on everything from customer service improvement to cost savings.

It’s true. Every level of your organization contributes to your success. I quoted Scott Thurm of the Wall Street Journal in an earlier Blue Grotto blog: “Trying to make conversation during a recent elevator ride, I asked a package-delivery courier whether it was more efficient to start at the top of the building and work down, or start at the bottom of the building and work up. "It depends on the time of day," he replied.” So, instilling the value of your employees’ perspective only increases your chances of success. But you have to ask for, and they in turn need to expect to give, their input.

Bezos explains one of the challenges of success is to create repeatable processes, and a culture that reinforces Amazon’s commitment to its customers is paramount to their growth and continued success. Every employee spends time in the fulfillment centers within their first year on the job and every two years they spend two days working in customer service. “Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.”

I’m guessing that some of the more refined perspective comes out of the call centers. And, greatly impacts those strategic planning sessions.

Email me with examples of how your organization is “informed by a cultural view.” And whether or not you leverage your culture to your advantage.

My favorite Bezos quote: “Be afraid of our customers, because those are the folks who have the money. Our competitors are never going to send us money.” Good advice.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.