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Jeff Bezos To Social Cohesion: Drop Dead

Actually, the Amazon bigwig said: "If I hear that idea again, I’m gonna have to kill myself." Why?

Jeff Bezos To Social Cohesion: Drop Dead

[Image: Flickr user Dan Farber]

Upon reading the Bloomberg Businessweek cover story on Amazon, a portrait of Jeff Bezos emerges: He's overwhelmingly intelligent, overwhelmingly prescient, and sometimes just simply overwhelming, as in the way that he yells at employees.

Writer Brad Stone collects some of his greatest in-meeting quips, as recollected by Amazon veterans:

  • "Are you lazy or just incompetent?"
  • "I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?"
  • "Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?"
  • "If I hear that idea again, I’m gonna have to kill myself."
  • After an engineer’s presentation: "Why are you wasting my life?"

Stone notes that the people who do best at the company can thrive in the adversarial atmosphere. Rather than brainstorming their way into groupthink, Bezos has a built an engine of argument:

Bezos abhors what he calls "social cohesion," the natural impulse to seek consensus. He’d rather his minions battle it out backed by numbers and passion, and he has codified this approach in one of Amazon’s 14 leadership principles—the company’s highly prized values that are often discussed and inculcated into new hires:

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Clearly, the storminess inside Amazon is like lightning in a bottle: Stone reports that the nearly 20-year-old company is at $75 billion in annual revenue and a $140 billion market value, with its headcount growing to 97,000 full-time and part-time employees. Plus, as our cover story shows, the advance of the Bezos empire knows no bounds.

Some employees dig the confrontational culture and "couldn't work effectively anywhere else," Stone says. But why might the confrontation be so constructive?

Move fast, break hearts

Agreement feels good—hey, we get along great!—but it's not the best for innovation. Why? Because if everybody has the same idea, then you only have one idea.

So if you want more ideas, you need to disagree, which is why partnering with someone who has an opposite work-style or background from you is so effective: Since your perspectives address different areas, you won't duplicate your work. It's a confrontational, constructive form of diversity.

Bottom Line: Inside Amazon, constant friction begets creative tension.

Hat tip: Bloomberg Businessweek

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