Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently sat down with the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., for a very interesting interview. In just over 45 minutes, Bezos discussed much of his business philosophy, including how he handles problems that come up at Amazon.
It came in response to an interesting question posed by the interviewer:
"When you buy things on Amazon, do you ever get the wrong order? Do you call up and complain?"
Bezos responded by saying he does indeed get faulty orders from Amazon from time to time, and that he treats these problems the same way he does customer problems that he discovers, which involves the following:
1. Asking the team to write up a case study.
2. Identifying real root causes.
3. Identifying and recommending root fixes.
Bezos then sums up exactly why Amazon handles problems this way:
"So that when you fix it, you're not fixing it for that one customer; you're fixing it for every customer. And that process is a gigantic part of what we do."
Bezos's method struck me because I learned a similar problem-solving method decades ago, and it's served me well in the real world.
Let's briefly consider this blueprint for action, and see why these steps are so valuable.
1. Put it in writing.
You'll notice that Bezos first asks his team to form a case study based on the problem. There are multiple reasons why doing so is effective.
The conditions and circumstances surrounding a problem are complex and varied. By forming a case study, the team is required to analyze these circumstances and present them clearly in writing. That isn't easy; it requires skill and focused thought.
But in doing so, you get a more accurate representation of the big picture, as opposed to a few "outlier" situations. This can help you accomplish successive steps more effectively.
2. Identify the root causes.
Bezos makes a point to identify that the goal is to find real root causes (plural).
This is important because you could identify a single root cause of a problem and drastically reduce its occurrences--and yet, the problem could continue to return or even grow if other significant causes go untouched.
But by identifying numerous root causes, you greatly magnify the potential of completely eliminating the problem--or at least bringing it to as close to zero as possible.
3. Identify root solutions.
Now comes the hard part. Once you've established your root causes, you're ready to begin brainstorming fixes to each.
The initial part of step three should be uninhibited: Your team should feel free to recommend both traditional and unorthodox solutions. The more choices you have, the better, as it will allow you to whittle, refine, and select the best of the best.
Most important, remember: Your goal is to identify root solutions that address root
Far too often companies throw rigid rules or simplistic fixes at a problem. At best, these actions only address symptoms, rather than root causes. At worst, they create even greater problems than the ones they were meant to fix. And few companies consider the overall impact of such "solutions"--namely, how they will affect employee morale and company culture.
Instead, work on establishing principles that will guide your people to make better decisions moving forward.
So, the next time you notice a problem at your work, get help from your team to:
Put it in writing. Identify root causes. Recommend root fixes.
Do this, and you'll be solving problems not just for a few customers, but for all of them.