And he knows how to stay the course -- and stay true to a vision -- in spite of doubters, naysayers, and critics.
Here's an example: Referring to the Amazon Echo, Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phillip Schiller once said, "There's many moments where a voice assistant is really beneficial, but that doesn't mean you'd never want a screen. So the idea of not having a screen, I don't think suits many situations."
Tens of millions of Echo devices in homes later... yep: Oops.
As Bezos said (as recounted in John Rossman's upcoming book, Think Like Amazon: 50 1/2 Ways to Become a Digital Leader):
"One thing I learned within the first couple of years of starting a company is that inventing and pioneering involve a willingness to be misunderstood for long periods of time.
"One of the early examples of this is customer reviews. Someone wrote to me and said, 'You don't understand your business. You make money when you sell things. Why do you allow these negative customer reviews?'
"And when I read that letter, I thought, we don't make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchase decisions."
To Bezos, critics of online reviews missed the point. Amazon's goal was to help customers make the best purchase decisions they possibly could; deliver that, and customer loyalty would skyrocket.
And as a result... Amazon would sell more things.
Input is Great... Until It's Not
Of course, seeking input is natural. We're taught to actively solicit opinions. We're taught to bounce ideas off others. We're taught to run ideas up proverbial flagpoles and harness the incredible power of a group to make great decisions.
Yet the main power wielded by group thinking is the power of the middle ground: Groups grind away clean edges and sharp corners. After all of the input and feedback and devil's advocacy, what remains is safe, secure...
If you want to be different -- if you want to achieve "different" -- you must be willing to accept criticism. To accept disapproval. To be questioned, to be doubted...
To be, as Bezos says (again from Think Like Amazon), misunderstood:
"Anytime you do something big, that's disruptive -- Kindle, AWS -- there will be critics. And there will be at least two kinds of critics.
"There will be well-meaning critics who genuinely misunderstand what you are doing or genuinely have a different opinion. And there will be the self-interested critics that have a vested interest in not liking what you are doing, and they will have reason to misunderstand.
"And you have to be willing to ignore both types of critics. You listen to them, because you want to see, always testing, is it possible they are right? But if you hold back and you say, 'No, we believe in this vision,' then you just stay heads down, stay focused, and you build out your vision."
Of course, it's hard not to worry about what other people think. And much of the time you should worry about what other people think -- but not if it stands in the way of living the lives you really want to live.
That's when you must be willing to be misunderstood. If you decide to start a business (which you can do in less than half a day.) If you decide to adopt the one work/life balance that actually works. If you decide to consistently say the four most important words a leader can say.
Some people will question you. Some will doubt you. Some will think you're crazy.
They're not wrong. They just misunderstand.
And that's okay -- especially if you're living your life the way you want to live it.