Jeff Bezos just published his annual letter to Amazon shareholders. It's his last one as the company's CEO -- he has announced that he will be stepping down in June and passing the reins to Andy Jassy. Bezos will continue as executive chairman of the company.
With his tenure as CEO coming to an end, Bezos shares two pieces of business -- and life -- advice he'd like all of us to take to heart.
1. "Create more than you consume."
Bezos expands on this point:
If you want to be successful in business (in life, actually), you have to create more than you consume. Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with. Any business that doesn't create value for those it touches, even if it appears successful on the surface, isn't long for this world. It's on the way out.
It's fascinating that Elon Musk said almost exactly the same thing during a video interview with the Wall Street Journal in December. After asking what the point of companies is and why we should even have them, Musk answered his own question: "A company has no value in and of itself. It only has value to the degree that it is an effective allocator of resources to create goods and services that are of greater value than the cost of inputs." Or, in a lot fewer words, to succeed, a company must create more than it consumes.
Both business and life give us daily opportunities to either give out more than we take in or else do the opposite. When you consider these opportunities, keep this advice in mind. After all, it comes from the two wealthiest people in the world.
2. Fight for what makes you different.
Further down, after detailing Amazon's financial successes, Bezos writes that, since this is his last shareholder letter as CEO, "I have one last thing of utmost importance I feel compelled to teach." What follows, surprisingly, is a passage about biology from Richard Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker, a book about evolution first published in 1986. It talks about the nature of life itself as an ongoing struggle against whatever environment you're in. Our bodies must work, for instance, to maintain a temperature around 98.6 degrees, which is (usually) much warmer than the air around us. The passage ends: "If living things didn't work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings, and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die."
What does this have to do with business? It's a metaphor, Bezos says, and one that applies not only to Amazon, but to every business, and every individual, too.
In what ways does the world pull at you in an attempt to make you normal? How much work does it take to maintain your distinctiveness? To keep alive the thing or things that make you special?
We're all told to "be yourself," he adds. But no one tells us that being yourself comes at a cost. Just as in biology, the environment around us will always try to make us merge into our surroundings. "Being yourself is worth it, but don't expect it to be easy or free. You'll have to put energy into it continuously," Bezos writes.
He's for sure writing from personal experience here. It's a great observation and one we should all take to heart. Whatever makes you different, whatever makes you unique, is also what puts you out of step with the world around you, and the world will try to make you conform. So fight for that difference and protect it. Because that is how you know you're alive.