Jeff Bezos' Innovation Formula
In August of this year, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million. In his first interview after the purchase, Bezos summed up his innovation process:
"In my experience, the way invention, innovation and change happen is [through] team effort. There's no lone genius who figures it all out and sends down the magic formula. You study, you debate, you brainstorm and the answers start to emerge. It takes time. Nothing happens quickly in this mode. You develop theories and hypotheses, but you don't know if readers will respond. You do as many experiments as rapidly as possible. 'Quickly' in my mind would be years."
Leaders and entrepreneurs can learn the following from Bezos strategy:
1. Teamwork Leaders should never hold out hope for a creative “lone genius” to come along and plop a great idea into their laps.
Innovation is a group process. That’s why it’s crucial for leaders to build coalitions around their change agendas. The more people who are working together, the better the result will me.
Takeaway: Stop waiting for Godot. Build a coalition and start the discussion.
2. Tinkering Thomas Edison famously said, “I failed my way to success.” So to do teams. Bezos makes it very clear that he brainstorms, debates, and tinkers with ideas.
In the same interview, Bezos says, “I’m a genetic optimist. I’ve been told, ‘Jeff, you’re fooling yourself; the problem is unsolvable.’ But I don’t think so. It just takes a lot of time, patience and experimentation.”
Bezos works on big problems in a small, organized way. He welcomes debate and testing because he knows creativity and innovation will be improved.
Takeaway: Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
3. Patience For Bezos, innovation isn’t an overnight thing. It’s a long process that could take years.
Leaders shouldn’t try to force innovation or speed it along. It’s a slow, natural process that needs time to grow, develop, and adapt.
Takeaway: Don’t force creativity. Let it develop and bubble to the surface naturally. You can’t mandate innovation.
In the final analysis, pragmatic leadership is about implementing innovative ideas and sustaining team momentum. Leaders and entrepreneurs should learn from Bezos’ pragmatic approach to innovation. They shouldn’t worry about cultivating a “lone genius.” What they should do is deliberately build a coalition. They shouldn’t spend their time worrying about failure. They should embrace it. Lastly, they should accept that innovation is a slow process.
Innovation isn’t going to be delivered instantly by a Lone Ranger riding into the boardroom. It’s going to be developed by a team over time.
SAMUEL B. BACHARACH | Columnist | Director, Cornell's Institute of Workplace Studies
Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University's ILR School, and is director of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Among his books are Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. His latest volume, A Good Idea Is Not Enough: Leading for Change and Innovation, will be published this November by BLG.