If you're looking to give yourself a crash course in cutting-edge business thinking, you could do a lot worse than taking a leaf out of VC Li Jiang's book. An investor at GSV Capital, Jiang recently set himself an intriguing project -- read every one of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's Letters to Shareholders dating all the way back to 1997 and mine them for insight.
Given that so many ideas from Bezos's Letters over the years have become business mantras -- from his much discussed insistence that "It's always day one" at Amazon to his distinction between Type 1 and Type 2 business decisions -- it's no surprise that the result of Jiang's self-assigned homework is a long list of huge insights. You can read them all on Medium (or if you'd really like to go back to the source material itself, all of Bezos's Letters are available here.)
But among the many Bezos gems that Jiang unearths is one from way back in 1998 that remains quite relevant to anyone looking to hire excellence. As Jiang notes, "Amazon asks for the company to increase the quality of its people as it scales. This is incredibly hard to do." But Bezos, being Bezos, has found a way. According to the 1998 Letter, it boils down to asking these three questions before saying yes to any new hire:
Will you admire this person? If you think about the people you've admired in
your life, they are probably people you've been able to learn from or take an
example from. For myself, I've always tried hard to work only with people I
admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise.
Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they're
entering? We want to fight entropy. The bar has to continuously go up. I ask
people to visualize the company 5 years from now. At that point, each of us
should look around and say, "The standards are so high now -- boy, I'm glad I got in when I did!"
Along what dimension might this person be a superstar? Many people have
unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. It's often something that's not even related to their jobs. One person here is a National Spelling Bee champion (1978, I believe). I suspect it doesn't help her in her everyday work, but it does make working here more fun if you can occasionally snag her in the hall with a quick challenge: "onomatopoeia!"
A lot of things have changed about how business gets done since 1998, but these three questions have weathered the test of time. They're general enough for any industry and entirely straightforward in their meaning, and yet they're also powerful enough to actually make a difference in how you hire.
So why not go through them next time you're pondering whether to pull the trigger on a potential new team member?