Must-Read: George Anders: What [Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld of] the NY Times Didn’t Tell You In Its Amazon Workplace Expose: “Amazon.com can be a tough place to work. In this 2012 Forbes cover story…
…I alluded to the online retailer’s stressful, low-perks culture, driven by founder Jeff Bezos’s nonstop ambitions. Now The New York Times has published a 5,700-word expose…. It’s a powerful read. You won’t forget the details…. Each anecdote feels complete…. But there’s one key anecdote in which the Times plays by different rules. Let’s take a closer look.
Early in the piece… the Times shares a story of Bezos at age 10: “He wanted his grandmother to stop smoking, he recalled in a 2010 graduation speech at Princeton. He didn’t beg or appeal to sentiment. He just did the math, calculating that every puff cost her a few minutes. “You’ve taken nine years off your life!” he told her. She burst into tears.”… The Times doesn’t tell us what happened next. It’s all in the Princeton commencement talk…. Bezos’s grandfather stopped the car. The old man signaled for his 10-year-old grandson to step outside. Once they were standing together, the old man said: “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”
That encounter has haunted Bezos for a long time. At the close of his Princeton talk, Bezos posed a series of rhetorical questions to graduates, including: “Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?” and “Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?” Let the anecdote run its course, and we get a sense of Bezos as a relentless doer, periodically wrestling with his conscience. Cut the story short, and Bezos can be invoked as an emotionless cyborg, casting a shadow over everything else that follows…. Journalists enjoy the right to be selective…. I’ve talked to a lot of Amazon alumni over the years, and my sense is that the Times piece captures something fundamentally true about the Seattle company’s breakneck pace. All the same, there’s something worrisome when the discard pile tells a very different story than what makes it into print.