How To Be Innovative: 6 Secrets From Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos has been called by Harvard Business Review the best living CEO. He is the founder of Amazon.com, and has guided the company from its roots as an online bookseller to becoming the innovation factory it is today.

People hear “innovation” and usually think of Apple, without appreciating the breakthroughs Amazon has had with the Kindle eReader, the Fire tablet, Amazon Web Services, Prime, one-click checkout and even the mechanical turk.

Bezos has even donated $10 million to establish the Bezos Center for Innovation, as part of the Museum of History and Industry, which will open later this year. Below are six secrets to innovation, according to Jeff Bezos.

1. Ignore Wall Street.

Bezos has long frustrated many investors who are looking to maximize short-term returns. He has the unusual ability to truly be indifferent to the radical swings in the stock market. At one point Amazon’s stock price fell from a high of 100 down to 6, right after 9/11. Yet over the long-term investors have done fantastically well; early investors in Amazon have gotten 124 times return on their money since the company went public.

Even if you don’t have a public company, make sure you choose investors and business partners who share your views on innovation and who know how to be patient for the returns.

2. Innovation doesn’t need a big budget.

Many people assume innovative companies have massive R&D budgets. But as Bezos said in one interview, “Frugality drives innovation…we didn’t have money to spend on ad budgets. So we created the associates program…[Innovation] requires thoughtfulness and focus on the customer.”

Think about your own company’s pain points. How can you creatively attack the problem? How can you creatively serve your customers better?

3. Value the innovation spectrum.

Bezos frequently talks about a “spectrum” of innovation. While the big breakthroughs get all the attention—Kindle, Cloud Computing, Prime—he also strives for small innovations and daily improvements that reduce costs, save time or improve quality.

Do you encourage your employees to think of new ideas daily? Do you have a system for reviewing, implementing and awarding these ideas?

4. Keep teams small.

In a feature on Bezos, Fast Company shares his “two pizza rule.” He frequently explains that the ideal project teams can be fed by no more than two pizzas—typically five to seven people.

Bezos knows that as companies get larger, there is a compelling pull to larger and larger teams as different fiefdoms demand representation and as an attempt at coordination. Yet it’s always the small teams that can remain nimble, move fast, and make things happen.

How big are the cross-functional teams in your company? Do they really need to be cross-functional?

5. Experiment.

At the 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos, Bezos said, “If you double the number of experiments you do per year, you’re going to double your inventiveness.”

It’s the simple idea of innovation being tied to invention. Failure is not just ok, it’s required. How many times did Edison fail at the light bulb before his breakthrough? Yet, too many professionals today seem scared to try new efforts in case they don’t work out and their “personal brand” is tainted with a failure.

At Amazon, everyone is an inventor.

6. Hire pioneers.

At the 2012 re:Invent conference Bezos said on stage, “You have to actually select people who want to innovate and explore…When you attract people who have the DNA of pioneers, the DNA of explorers, you build a company of like-minded people who want to invent.”

What does your selection process currently look like? Do you screen people for their innovation potential?

Comparing ourselves to Jeff Bezos, and our companies to Amazon.com, can be a humbling experience. But it can also be an inspiring one. We can all learn from Bezos’ lessons and strive to serve our customers in new and delightful ways.

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Kevin Kruse is a NY Times bestselling author, speaker and serial entrepreneur. His latest book is Employee Engagement for Everyone.

Author: Kevin Kruse

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Kevin Kruse

Bio: Kevin Kruse built and lead several multi-million dollar tech companies, winning Inc 500 and Best Place to Work awards along the way. Kevin is also a regular leadership columnist on Forbes, as well as the author of several books including NY Times bestseller, We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement, and his latest, Employee Engagement For Everyone.

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  • ash varma

    Wonderful post, Kevin! Thanks for sharing. I can’t disagree with a single point! :) Great advice from Jeff Bezos. Thanks, again. Regards.

    • http://www.amazon.com/Employee-Engagement-2-0-Performance-Real-World/dp/1469996138/ Kevin Kruse

      Thanks, Ash, glad you like it!

  • DoodleySquat

    Today Amy Goodman on Democracy Now had an undercover reporter explain what working for Jeff Bezos at one of Amazon’s distribution centers is like: similar to Chinese slavery. He may be hailed as a visionary genius but he is making the lives of his rank and file workers sheer misery. Just another Robber Baron in sheeps clothing.

    • http://www.amazon.com/Employee-Engagement-2-0-Performance-Real-World/dp/1469996138/ Kevin Kruse

      DoodleySquat, thanks for the comment. Yes, it’s interesting how companies or CEOs that are models for some good things, might not be the best in other things. I also think of Steve Jobs infamous ways of treating people, and Apple’s treatment of off-shore subcontracted workers.

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