The Bezos Culture of Data and Disagreement… and Why it Works

April’s Forbes magazine features a profile of the US’s new top CEO: Jeff Bezos, and how he runs Amazon.

The article is well worth a read, and even has one or two good lessons from the Bezos style of leadership. Amazon is very data-driven, and tracks over 500 different measurable goals. These goals are variable and hard-fought:

“There’s an incredible amount of challenging the other person,” says Manfred Bluemel, a former senior market researcher at Amazon. “You want to have absolute certainty about what you are saying. If you can stand a barrage of questions, then you have picked the right metric.”

As a company, encouraged by Bezos, Amazon is lean and “intense.” This intensity is undoubtedly the source of some of their better ideas. Research has shown that brainstorming in a “positive environment” is about half as effective as thinking about a problem alone. More effective still are groups of people told to “debate” each others’ ideas and criticize the contributions that seem below par.

Beyond the generation of ideas, Bezos tasks small teams to take on risky initiatives:

Experiments are hatched and managed by the smallest teams possible; if it takes more than two pizzas to feed a work groupd, Bezos once observed, then the team is too big.

This small-team approach allows Amazon to explore new products without investing the kind of resources that would make it problematic for them to fail. And famously, Bezos is “willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time,” which means that just because a project doesn’t catch fire immediately doesn’t mean that it gets killed. It may be a decade before it takes pole position — but Bezos would rather have it at Amazon than at a competitor.