Jeff Bezos likes to call Amazon a "Day 1 company."
We are all familiar with the feeling of Day 1.
It's that feeling of the incredible first date, starting a new job, the first day of school, the beginning of the playoffs, or launching a new idea or product.
Day 1 is all about movement, momentum, hard work, and opportunity.
So what happens on Day 2?
Bezos: “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
Yesterday Bezos released his annual letter to shareholders, and in the letter he outlines four keys to playing defense against Day 2:
- Maintain a true customer obsession.
- Resist proxies.
- Embrace external trends.
- Practice high-velocity decision making.
While these are useful frameworks for thinking about organizational culture and management strategy, they can also be applied to our personal lives as principles for being a "Day 1 Person."
How To Be a Day 1 Person
1. Maintain a true customer obsession
In our personal lives, we don't have customers. Instead we have relationships. And our most important relationships are like our "customers" in the sense that it is important that we continually add value to their lives.
Whether it be a sibling, parent, colleague or significant other - if we maintain a true obsession with adding value to the lives of those we care about, both they and we will reap the benefits.
When it comes to these key relationships - to quote Bezos "Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you ... delight [your people]."
I love that.
2. Resist Proxies
I think of all of the principles, this one may be most important to living a good, deliberate life.
In his letter, Bezos talks about the subtle dangers of managing to proxies. He uses the example of becoming so focused on process, that we forget that the process is not the thing, it's simply a way to get to the thing. And it's not necessarily the right way, or the best way, or as good of a way as it was yesterday.
In our personal lives we manage to proxies all the time. We're so used to this that often we don't even realize that it's what we're doing.
We strive to make more money, even though money is not the thing we actually want. Money is a proxy for success and contentment.
So we must constantly be asking ourselves: What are the different processes I can use to achieve success (which you must define for yourself) and contentment? Making money is one process, but it's certainly not the only process, and it's probably not the most strategically sound process.
When it comes to our health, wealth, relationships, goals, and how we spend our days, we must be vigilant about recognizing what is a proxy and what is an actual thing we want.
3. Embrace External Trends
The future is coming. We live in a time of rapid change. And people are divided by this.
On one hand, we have the technologists and early adopters who are biased toward believing that everything new is good and represents progress.
On the other hand, we have the traditionalists and holdouts who are generally suspicious and skeptical of change, new technology, and things they don't understand.
But at it's core, change is simply a natural phenomenon. Like a tree in autumn, or a star collapsing into a black hole, change is neither inherently good nor bad, it simply is.
Thus, embracing external trends in one's personal life doesn't mean adopting every new thing. It simply means maintaining openness and awareness toward what is happening around us, without responding in a knee jerk fashion.
Such openness is in and of itself an embrace, and it will cultivate a curiosity that is certain to lead anyone down many fascinating paths.
4. Practice High-Velocity Decision Making
It's not enough to make good decisions. Day 1 people must also make fast decisions.
Some highlights from this section of Bezos' letter:
Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process. For those, so what if you’re wrong?
Time spent on a decision making process should scale in proportion to the reversibility and weight of the decision. So what if we're wrong? Often, it just means we learn something.
"Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow
Learning to operate with incomplete information is one way to combat status quo bias.
"Use the phrase "disagree and commit." This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, "Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?"
This is a good framework for any relationship that requires joint decision making. And if you're on the other side, be sure to fully commit to the joint decisions you make with the people around you, even if you disagree. Give the idea a fair trial first, and reevaluate later.
"Recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision ... “You’ve worn me down” is an awful decision-making process. It’s slow and de-energizing. Go for quick escalation instead – it’s better.
I think this is especially important with your significant other, and I don't think it has to be reserved for true misalignment issues.
Quick escalation is a useful process for most things. Even small things will cause friction and resentment to build over time, so better to recognize and escalate early and quickly so that you can resolve the thing before it becomes a THING.
Basically - default to open, honest, and regular communication, don't let things fester, and avoid battles of the will.
When you wake up tomorrow, it will be Day 1 of the rest of your life.
You can read Jeffrey P. Bezos' full letter to Amazon Shareholders right here.
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