Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994. Twenty-three years later, he's one of the richest people in the world. But while Amazon is undeniably a tech company, the business was built on this old-school premise:
Focus on the things that don't change.
The premise, while simple, is also easy to forget when innovation seems to be the secret of massive success. Catching the next wave, predicting the next trend, disrupting an industry, or hacking your way to near-immediate success, sparking change ... that's what works.
But it's hard to be innovative. It's hard to be truly disruptive. Shortcuts typically yield short-term benefits. Knowing what will change -- that's incredibly difficult.
Bezos doesn't worry about what will change. He focuses on what won't change. Bezos built Amazon around things he knew would be stable over time, investing heavily in ensuring that Amazon would provide those things -- and improve its delivery of those things.
I very frequently get the question: "What's going to change in the next 10 years?" And that is a very interesting question; it's a very common one. I almost never get the question: "What's not going to change in the next 10 years?" And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two -- because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. ... [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that's going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection.
It's impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, "Jeff, I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher." "I love Amazon; I just wish you'd deliver a little more slowly." Impossible.
And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.
Twenty years ago, Bezos said the same thing. In his 1997 shareholder letter, he wrote:
We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term ... Because of our emphasis on the long term, we may make decisions and weigh tradeoffs differently than some companies.
Focusing on things that won't change does not guarantee success -- but it provides as close a foundation for success as you will find.
That's true even if you don't start a company; here are a few timeless principles that consistently provide professional and personal success.
Focus on collecting knowledge ...
Competing is a fact of professional life: with other businesses, other products, other people. It's not a zero-sum game, but it is a game we all try to win.
Smart people win a lot.
Smarter people win even more often.
Continually striving to gain more experience and more knowledge is the second-best way to succeed.
... But always focus more on collecting knowledgeable people.
You can't know everything. But you can know enough smart people that together you know almost everything.
And, together, do almost anything.
Work hard on getting smarter. Work harder on getting smart people on your side.
Always give before receiving.
The goal of networking is to connect with people who can provide a referral, help make a sale, share important information, serve as a mentor, etc. When we network, we want something.
But, especially at first, never ask for what you want. Forget about what you want and focus on what you can give.
Giving is the only way to establish a real relationship and a lasting connection. Focus solely on what you can get out of the connection and you will never make meaningful, mutually beneficial connections.
Approach networking as if it's all about them and not about you and you'll build a network that approaches it the same way.
And you'll create more than contacts. You'll make friends.
Always look past the messenger and focus on the message.
When people speak from a position of position of power or authority or fame, it's tempting to place greater emphasis on their input, advice, and ideas.
Warren Buffett? Yep, gotta listen to him. Sheryl Sandberg? Yes. Richard Branson? Absolutely.
That approach works to a point -- but only to a point. Really smart people strip away all the framing that comes with the source -- both positive and negative--and evaluate information, advice, or input solely on its merits.
When Branson says, "Screw it; just do it and get on with it," it's powerful.
If the guy who delivers your lunch says it, it should be just as powerful.
Never discount the message because you discount the messenger. Good advice is good advice--regardless of the source.
Always work on "next."
It's impossible to predict what will work, much less how well it will work. Some products stick -- for a while. Some services flourish -- and then don't. Some ventures take off -- and flame out. Some careers take off -- and then stagnate.
You will always need a "next": a new product, a new service, a new customer or connection.
No matter how successful you are today, always have a next in your pipeline. If somehow your current products or services or ventures continue to thrive, great: You will have created a bigger line of products and services and ventures. If your career trajectory continues to climb, great: You will still have added new connections, new skills, and new perspectives that will only add to your value.
(The same applies to career pursuits or even personal pursuits; as I describe in my upcoming book, The Motivation Myth, we should all be an "and." We don't all need to be serial entrepreneurs, but we should all be serial achievers.)
That's how successful people weather the storm when times are tough, and become even more successful when business is booming.
Always take responsibility.
If you're always right, you never grow. One of the best things you can do is to be wrong, because when you make a mistake you are given the chance to learn.
(Don't worry. Every successful person has failed numerous times. Most have failed more than you. That's why they're successful today.)
Own every mistake, every miscue, and every failure. Say you made a mistake. Say you messed up. Say it to other people, but more important, look in the mirror and say it to yourself.
Then commit to making sure that next time things will turn out very differently.
Always turn ideas into actions.
The word idea should be a verb, not a noun, because no idea is real until you turn that inspiration into action.
Ideas without action aren't ideas. They're regrets.
Every day we let hesitation and uncertainty stop us from acting on our ideas. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure are what stop me, and may be what stops you, too.
Think about a few of the ideas you've had, whether for a new business, a new career, or even just a part-time job. Looking back, many of your ideas would have turned out well, especially if you had given them your best effort.
Trust your analysis, your judgment, and your instincts. Trust them more than you do. Trust your willingness to work through challenges and roadblocks.
Granted, you won't get it right all the time, but when you let an idea stay an idea, you almost always get it wrong.