Landry also stressed the importance of brevity. “Keeping things concise and to the point forces you to think things through in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise. You can’t hide behind complexity, you actually have to work through it,” she said. Or, as another Amazon leader put it, “Perfection is achieved when there is nothing left t…
…develop a new product at Amazon is a memo rather than, say, a PowerPoint deck or a kickoff meeting. As Fareed Zakaria once put it, “Thinking and writing are inextricably intertwined. When I begin to write, I realize that my ‘thoughts’ are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them.”
All of this happens before the first meeting is held, a single line of code is written, or an early prototype is built, because the company strongly believes that until you internalize the customer’s perspective, nothing else really matters. That’s key to how the company operates.
The first step in developing Prime Now was to write a press release. Landry’s document was not only a description of the service, but how hypothetical customers would react to it. How did the service affect them? What surprised them about it? What concerns did they want addressed? The exercise forced her to internalize how Amazon’s customers would think and feel about Prime Now from the very start.
You’ll get a higher return by investing into what you’re good at already, whatever it is… That, by far, is the sanest, the most reasonable, the smartest thing to do. But when you have a very fast-changing landscape like we live in right now, you get stuck on a local optima, you get stuck. The problem is that the only way you can get to a higher, more fit place is you actually have to go down. You actually have to head into a place where you are less optimal, you have no expertise, there’s very low margins, there’s low profits, you’ll look foolish, there’ll be failures. And if you’ve been following a line of success, that is very, very difficult to do.
The problem with that qualifier, though, is that productivity can stifle the randomness needed for pure, unadulterated exploration. The point of exploring and discovering new things isn’t just to keep things interesting. The goal is to arrive at things worth producing with wide-eyed perspective, an appreciation for the unknown, and genuine curiosity.
We’ve gotten better at encouraging each other to travel, make mistakes, and develop grit. But in the overarching tug-of-war between productivity and exploration, the former is basically non-negotiable. It’s a finger-wagging type of compromise that says, “You can explore, just be working toward something.”