Amazon CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos is now the richest man in the world and he got there by relentlessly focusing on the consumer experience.
Bezos has removed much of the friction involved in online buying. For instance, before Amazon, buying online could be a frustrating experience but Amazon patented technology in 1999 that let consumers buy with one click. He also anticipated that an alternative to print books would soon appear and got ahead of the market by creating the Kindle reader and Kindle format.
Getting more out of life and business is about asking the right questions at the right times. In my own experience, I have seen the power of asking the right questions firsthand. My company, Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for the legal industry, started with a question, "Why do lawyers continue to have exchanges the old-fashioned way?" There was no viable answer, so that led to other questions, such as "Why don't lawyers collaborate through easy-to-use channels? "Is now the right time to create one?"
As self-help guru Tony Robbins has noted, "successful people ask better questions and, as a result, they get better answers."
Here are some questions I have asked myself that have opened up new lines of thought:
1. How can a new technology available in the market take friction out of people's lives?
Bezos asked and answered this question when Amazon rolled out Amazon Go this year. The store uses sensors that connect to a consumer's smartphone app to tally up purchases, obviating the checkout line.
Sometimes Bezos is a bit ahead of the market -- like with delivery drones that are only available to a handful of customers at this writing -- but better to be too forward-focused than to be unaware of the possibilities offered by new technologies.
2. Why do we always do it this way?
As Steve Jobs once noted, "everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were smarter than you and you can change it...once you learn that, you'll never be the same again."
For instance, Warby Parker's founders wondered why eyeglasses were so expensive. After doing some research they discovered that the industry was dominated by one company, Luxottica, and the reason that the a pair of glasses was because Luxottica was abusing its position. That meant the category was ripe for disruption.
3. What is causing pain for my customers?
For Zappos, now a unit of Amazon, the answer to that question was obvious: Most web-based retailers made it all but impossible to get in touch with a human representative. That's why Zappos made a point of putting its phone number on its website and ensuring that someone was there to answer the line 24/7.
4. What functions can be combined?
In 1997, Philippe Kahn wondered why one had to carry a phone and a camera separately. In his quest to create "the 21st Century version of a Polaroid picture," Kahn inserted a camera into a Motorola Startac phone. Now, of course, cameras are a standard smartphone feature.
For Uber, the aha moment was when Founder Travis Kalanick realized that it would be nice to be able to push a button on your cell phone to hail a cab.
5. Am I too rooted in one business?
Amazon's original business was selling books, but by not naming itself Books.com, Amazon was free to start selling all kinds of things, to the point where it's now a search engine connected to a warehouse. There's nothing wrong with being the best in your category, of course, and an obsessive focus on one product or service (like coffee for Blue Bottle or sweatshirts for American Giant) is a smart business model, too. But don't box yourself in too much at the beginning if you can help it.
There are lots of other questions you can ask too. Danny Meyer, founder of Shake Shack, asked the question, How can we become the company that will put us out of business? But Bezos' queries all stem from a single question: How can we meet the customer's needs?
Following that line of inquiry alone will be enough to improve your business and offer a mission that will never end.