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Jeff Bezos on Entrepreneurship
So I just got around to looking at my January/February issue of Foreign Affairs and there is a conversation with Jeff Bezos. Yes, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in Foreign Affairs. Why not?
Here are just a few snippets from his conversation with editor Gideon Rose this past November.
What are the crucial qualities that make for a successful entrepreneur?
There are a few qualities that entrepreneurs benefit from. One is that view of divine discontent: How can you make something better? I think entrepreneurship and invention are pretty closely coupled. And inventors are always walking around the world thinking, “I’m kind of inured to this, but just because I’m used to it doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” That ability to look at things with a fresh mind, a beginner’s mind, is very useful for entrepreneurs.
Entreprenueurs also benefit greatly from being willing to fail, willing to experiment. Good entrepreneurs tend to be stubborn on the vision but flexible on the details. They’re persistent on what they’re trying to accomplish, but they are willing to rewrite the details as needed as they learn and as things fail.
Another quality I would mention is passion for the mission, whatever it is. The very best products and services are always built by missionaries. They’re people who are genuinely passionate about the arena and happy to be in it. Such people wake up in the morning thinking about that idea, thinking about that particular set of customer experiences or that service or product. They’re doing that when they’re in the shower, and they’re doing that as they close their eyes at night. That’s pretty different from the mentality of somebody just trying to get in on the Internet gold rush.
Most entrepreneurs and most start-ups fail; only a few become truly giant successes. Are there predictable things you can see in advance that separate the winners from the losers, or is success just a matter of luck and timing?
Certainly, good luck and good timing are huge components of outsized success in entrepreneurial endeavors. Lots of things have to go right, and the planets have to align; that certainly happened in Amazon’s case. Our timing turned out to be very good. And so you can’t sit down to write a business plan and say you’re going to build a multibillion-dollar corporation; that’s unrealistic. A good entrepreneur has a business idea that they believe they can make work at a much more reasonable scale and then proceeds adaptively from there, depending on what happens.
Is entrepreneurship a source of innovation and dynamism that benefits not just the entrepreneurs themselves but the economy and society more generally?
Yes, I think so. New inventions and things that customers like are usually good for society. They can be tough on incumbents, and so people who have built a business doing it the old way think it would be better if things could be more stable for longer periods of time. But you have to remember, new inventions are not inherently disruptive. Invention is only disruptive if customers say, “Hey, I like this better than the old way.”
That kind of improvement for customers is often very good for society, even if it’s difficult for people who are invested in the traditional methods.
So by that logic, is all creative disruption by definition a net plus? Because if it wasn’t, then it wouldn’t be going forward?
I’m always a little worried about words like “all” and “always” and “never.” I’m sure there are exceptions. But I would say that, on balance, most successful innovations in the economy do tend to be good for society.”
Wall Street History will return in two weeks.