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These 3 Quotes From Jeff Bezos Will Change How You Run Your Business

By February 14, 2024No Comments

(This column originally appeared in Entrepreneur)

Want to change how you run your business? Listen to Jeff Bezos. The former CEO of Amazon was recently interviewed by podcaster Lex Fridman and during the course of this more than two-hour conversation discussed everything from space travel to weight-lifting. But, as a business owner, there were three nuggets of advice that came out of the conversation that really stuck with me. And if you also run a business, you’ll probably agree.

Bezos said this in the context of telling the story of why he decided to change majors from physics to computer science. A star student and a lover of science, Bezos entered college with the aspiration of becoming a theoretical physicist. But he quickly realized during college that there were some people who are just naturally gifted at some things, like a classmate who was able to figure out a physics problem in minutes, which took Bezos hours.

“There’s a particular kind of intuition you need to be a great physicist,” he said. “I realized that maybe being a theoretical physicist wasn’t what the universe wants me to be.” So he changed majors, and the rest was history.

Related: The 5 Key Characteristics and Qualities of a Good Leader

The lesson is important for anyone running a business, particularly in these times of tight labor: people can be smart in a thousand different ways. If you hire someone to do a job and they’re not doing it well, it doesn’t mean they should lose their job. This is particularly important for those of us running small businesses, where even the loss of a single employee can have a significant impact. No one is a genius at choosing the right people. But if you find someone who has the right attitude you have to ask yourself: can this person be productive somewhere else? What other ways can my business profit from this individual?

“When I meet people, I’m always looking for the way that they’re smart,” Bezos said. “And you find it’s one of the things that makes the world so interesting and fun. It’s not like IQ is a single dimension. There are people who are smart in such unique ways.”

My father — who passed away more than 20 years ago — was a smart guy but a failed entrepreneur. And after two decades of reflection, I’m pretty sure I know the biggest reason why: he could never make a decision. His brilliant mind couldn’t move forward until he had all the facts and he had thought of all the potential problems. He did this for everything. And it hurt him.

To Bezos, decisions are either “one-way doors” or “two-way doors” and most of them are two-way.

“Some decisions are so consequential and so important and so hard to reverse that they really are one-way door decisions,” he said. “You go in that door; you’re not coming back. And those decisions have to be made very deliberately, very carefully.”

But most decisions aren’t like that, and unfortunately, Bezos believes that most companies take a “one size fits all” decision-making process, and that slows things down to the point of indecision and pain. “Managers wind up using the heavyweight process on all decisions,” he said.

To run a business, you can’t overthink an issue. You have too many things to do and too many decisions to make. My father would get bogged down in minutia, not wanting to make any mistakes. Good entrepreneurs don’t. The best are able to differentiate between one-door and two-door decisions and make the two-door ones much quicker.

Bezos has talked before about Amazon’s decision-making process and says that most decisions can be made with just 70% of the data because “if you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.”

It’s common to disagree. But if you’re the owner of a business or a leader, most decisions generally land on your desk. Bezos talked about how he would oftentimes approve a decision even if he didn’t agree with it. He did this because his managers “had their ear closer to the ground” and may have a better angle than he had. But once that decision is made, it’s made. Bezos says that he doesn’t second guess, “snipe,” or say, “I told you so.” Instead, he commits to making sure things work.

“That’s a really important teammate behavior,” he said.

I’ve learned that unless I feel supremely passionate about an issue or have some type of knowledge that others don’t then making a decision, even if I don’t agree with the direction, is better than making no decision at all. The key thing is to make the decision and then fully commit to it. As mentioned above, most decisions are “two-door” so adjustments can be made.

Related: If You Want People to Follow You, Stop Being a Boss — 8 Steps to Truly Effective Leadership

Bezos says it’s even worse to compromise.

“The advantage of compromise as a resolution mechanism is that it’s low energy, but it doesn’t lead to truth,” he said. “In agreeing on things like the height of the ceiling, where truth is a noble thing, you shouldn’t allow compromise to be used when you can know the truth.”

Being a leader is about surrounding yourself with the right people and making good decisions. It’s also about taking advice from someone who’s done that on a large scale. None of what Bezos told Fridman hasn’t been said before. And maybe you’re already doing what he says. At the most, his advice is important. At the least, it’s validating.


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