When Jeff Bezos started Amazon.com with $300,000.00 of his parent's money, he gave himself a 70% chance of failing. This estimation demonstrated more hubris than confidence, given that only 10% of startups succeed. Nevertheless, he knew that taking a risk was a necessary, albeit terrifying, component of progress. Bezos used what he terms "regret minimization framework" to solidify his decision to start Amazon.
In other words, he asked himself how he might feel at age 85 as he reflected on his decision. Would he have more regrets if he tried building an internet company and failed, or would he feel worse if he never tried? He decided on the latter, took a gamble, and well, you know the rest.
According to Daniel Goodman MD, Harvard trained psychiatrist and entrepreneur, Bezos found a way to resolve a universal struggle. "With complex decisions, it is hard to make a choice, let alone to even know how to go about making a choice," says Goodman. Indeed, it can be difficult to define goals and values, particularly when the results might be ambiguous and intangible for many years. Goodman states "asking yourself to consider what your future self might be thinking is a powerful perspective-taking technique that can help identify what matters most to you."
This difficult process can be quite valuable. If we can be crystal clear about what we strive for in our personal and professional life, we will be more likely to achieve what we want.
As a psychotherapist, I sometimes use a bit of drama to push clients out of their comfort zone and make big life decisions. I use a similar technique to Bezos, morbidly termed "the tombstone exercise." True to the name, clients write an imaginary epitaph that describes how they want to be remembered, and what they hope to achieve at the time of their death. Next, the patient writes what their tombstone might say if their life ended today. Albeit creepy, this powerful exercise helps clients develop perspective and vision regarding vital life goals.
Another critical life lesson can be learned from Amazon's early day. At its inception. Amazon was an original in a completely novel marketplace. Bezos and his team were forced to focus on what customers might want from this newfangled shopping platform called the "internet," instead of what the competition was doing. This mentality created a culture in which Amazon prioritized customers above all else. This tradition became a company ethos.
Today, Amazon prides itself on being "earth's most customer-centered company." By focusing on what customers want, instead of the competition, employees worked towards defined targets within their control; low prices, big selection, and fast delivery.
Many companies make the mistake of trying to undermine the competition, an ambiguous ethereal goal that causes uncertainty and creates insecurity. Focusing on what everyone else is doing also takes bandwidth away from innovation, creativity and cohesive company culture.
To reiterate, what are the key lessons from the early days of Amazon? Take the time to define your values and long-term goals, and stay focused on your own progress, which more under your control than undermining competition. Focusing on creating a product that everyone loves versus what everyone else is doing creates a trusting and creative culture. That is what Jeff Bezos did, and it became the foundation for Amazon's success and longevity.