Jeff Bezos did something on Thursday he rarely does: He sat onstage in public and answered questions (from Amazon's director of forecasting, Jenny Freshwater) in a "fireside chat."

The occasion: Amazon's Re:MARS conference in Las Vegas, which is a public version of Amazon's events on machine learning, automation, robotics and space technologies. 

Bezos answered questions on a number of topics, but he included seven key pieces of advice, peppered throughout the talk, for anyone who wants to be successful. 

Without further delay, and mostly in his own words, here's what the wealthiest person on the planet says people need to do in order to be successful.  

1.     Obsess over customers.

The first few of these items came in response to a single question from Freshwater, who asked Bezos, "What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own business?"

His first response won't be much of a surprise to anyone who has studied him over the years. When I analyzed the word choices in the full text of all of Bezos's annual Amazon shareholder letters, the most commonly used word by far was: "customer."

And that's where Bezos started on stage in Las Vegas, too: "I get asked this question from time to time. The most important thing is to be customer-obsessed. Don't satisfy them, absolutely delight them."

2.     Be passionate.

"Passion," Bezos continued. "You'll be competing against those who are passionate."

I'm going to take the liberty of expanding briefly on this point, simply because it's easy to confuse the advice to "be passionate" with the less-worthy advice, "follow your passions."

There's a big difference. Bezos is talking here about adopting the right attitude for the right idea -- not trying to make the wrong idea work, just because you're "passionate" about it.

3.    Take risks.

Here, we'll just let Bezos's words speak for themselves -- the man who famously quit a wildly well-compensated job to drive across the country and start an Internet business before most of America even knew much about the Internet:

Take risk. You have to be willing to take risk, if you have a business idea with no risk, it's probably already being done. You've got to have something that might not work. It will be, in many ways, an experiment. 

We take risks all the time, we talk about failure. We need big failures in order to move the needle. if we don't, we're not swinging enough. You really should be swinging hard, and you will fail, but that's okay.

4.    Be willing to change your mind.

My Inc.com colleague Jessica Stillman wrote a fantastic article last year about what Bezos once said was the #1 sign of high intelligence: an ability to change one's mind.

On Thursday, he had a similar message:

People who are right a lot listen a lot, and they change their mind a lot. People who are right a lot change their mind without a lot of new data. They wake up and reanalyze things and change their mind. If you don't change your mind frequently, you're going to be wrong a lot. People who are right a lot want to disconfirm their fundamental biases. 

5.    Disagree and commit.

In almost any interview with Amazon, an applicant will likely be presented with a question about what you'd do if you thought your employer was headed in the wrong direction.

One principle that they're reportedly testing for with that scenario, is your ability to "disagree and commit," which is one of the things Bezos talked about on Thursday:

We have a leadership principle, "disagree and commit," and a lot of times, I'll disagree and commit. Often, you're working with people who are just as passionate as you are, they have their own set of ideas. If you're the boss, the other people may have more access to the ground truth than you. Often the boss should be the one to disagree and commit.

6.    Think about a 10 year horizon.

What will the world look like in 2029 or 2030? That's a question successful people will be asking themselves now, if I'm reading Bezos here correctly:

I think you can foresee some things [that will change] in the 10 year time-frame.

...

The bigger question is "What's not going to change in the next 10 years?"

Look at what's stable in time, and continue to focus there. Identify those ideas, they're usually customer needs. If you're basing a strategy on customer needs that are stable in time (fast delivery, low cost), you can spin up a lot of flywheels around those questions. They're so big and fundamental.

7.    Be relentless.

Among the many fun bits of trivia about Amazon is the fact that one of the original names Bezos considered for the company was Relentless. In fact, Relentless.com still forward to the Amazon home page.

So keep that in mind, when you hear this answer he gave, after Freshwater asked him how to know when to give up on an idea:

"When do you know when to stop?" Bezos said. "When the last champion is ready to throw in the towel, it's time to stop."

Here's a partial video of Bezos's talk with Freshwater.

Published on: Jun 7, 2019
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