Working Backwards | Colin Bryar

Summary of: Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon
By: Colin Bryar


Dive into the world of Amazon and explore its leadership principles, customer-centric strategies, and game-changing decision-making processes with the book ‘Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon’ by Colin Bryar. Uncover how Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, utilized his bold vision and obsession with customer experience to create a thriving e-commerce giant. Learn the crucial principles, including Invent and Simplify, Bias for Action, Think Big, Frugality, and Obsession with Customer Experience, that have shaped Amazon’s innovative and customer-focused mindset. Discover how Amazon overcame challenges, set industry standards, and ventured into unchartered territories while ensuring customer satisfaction remained at the core of their endeavors.

Amazon’s Leadership Principles

Amazon’s success is rooted in the leadership principles established by Jeff Bezos. In the early days, Bezos saw the potential of the internet and its predicted growth, which led him to leave his job and start an online bookstore. This decision demonstrated Amazon’s Invent and Simplify principle, where leaders are always seeking new and innovative ways to get things done. A Bias for Action was also exemplified, as Amazon leaders believe that speed is crucial to business success. Think Big is another vital principle, where dreaming small only leads to small achievements. Frugality is celebrated at Amazon, where leaders focus on getting more done with less, and there are no prizes for rising headcounts or budgets. Finally, Amazon’s Obsession with Customer Experience is the key priority, where every decision made is centered around ensuring a satisfying customer experience.

How Amazon Perfects Its Hiring Process

Many companies treat critical decisions as trivial, including hiring choices that impact long-term performance. Amazon tackles this issue by eliminating urgency and confirmation biases in their recruitment process. They have a secret weapon called the bar raiser, who conducts final interviews and has the power to veto candidates if they aren’t a good fit. To avoid confirmation bias, all interviewers write reports on the candidate after their interviews, which they refer to when discussing the candidate. This system ensures that each opinion is unbiased and rigorous, resulting in Amazon hiring only the best people.

Amazon’s Memo Method

Amazon’s senior management meetings abandoned PowerPoint presentations in favor of a six-page narrative memo to convey complex information effectively. Jeff Bezos found that PowerPoint was derailing his senior management meetings, as attendees could not probe deep into the topic at hand or appreciate the connections among ideas, making it impossible for Amazon’s leaders to make informed decisions. The six-page memo replaced PowerPoint and leveled the playing field among staff members. It allowed the topic to be explained in greater depth and detail while offering much more scope for connections among different ideas to be explored. Moreover, it removed bias from the feedback process by focusing attendees’ attention strictly on the ideas themselves.

The Amazon way of Working Backwards

Amazon’s working backwards approach prioritizes customer-centricity by starting new product development by writing a press release and a frequently asked questions document, to ensure the viability and desirability of a product before they are developed.

At Amazon, every product development starts by prioritizing customers’ interests before its own. Instead of assessing the capabilities of its research and development teams, or constraining itself by considering its business’s preferences, Amazonians develop new products by primarily considering what would make their customers’ lives better. Once the idea has been hit upon, they work backwards to make it a customer-centric product.

Amazon’s working backwards approach may sound like a no-brainer, but many companies work forwards, leading to a phase where businesses are left with products that customers don’t want to buy. Amazon’s working backwards approach prioritizes customer-centricity by starting new product development by writing a press release and a frequently asked questions document, to ensure the viability and desirability of a product before they are developed.

The press release, written as a product proposal, describes the product’s benefits for Amazon’s customers by imagining that the product has already been created. By doing this, Amazon ensures that the product development team is working towards a product that benefits their customers first. In addition, the team creates a frequently asked questions document that answers any questions customers or internal staff might have. The FAQ document is about five pages long and addresses whether the product is viable or desirable for the company itself, pleasing customers and meeting their needs as top priority.

Amazon’s approach enables them to stay customer-centric by developing viable products that make lives faster, easier, or less expensive. It raises the bar of how businesses should approach product development in a customer-focused world.

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