“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

One of the core tenents of Jeff Bezo’s thinking at Amazon is “It is always Day One,” which is a philosophy on staying nimble, having a small business mind with a big company heart. It involves maintaining a customer-obsession and focusing on the needs of the customers. Amazon strives to be the most customer-centric company in the world.

In a conversation he had with David Rubenstein, club president of The Economic Club of Washington on September 13, 2018, Jeff said:

It’s Day 1. Everything I have ever done has started small. Amazon started with a couple of people. Blue Origin started with five people and a very, very small budget. Now the budget of Blue Origin is over $1 billion a year. Amazon literally started with 10 people; today it is over 750,000. That’s hard to remember for others, but for me, it’s like yesterday. I was driving the packages to the post office myself and hoping one day we could afford a forklift. So for me, I’ve seen small things get big, and it’s part of this Day 1 mentality. I like treating things as if they’re small. Even though Amazon is a large company, I want it to have the heart and spirit of a small one.

Jeff Bezos’ expansiated on the concept of “Day One thinking at Amazon” in his 2016 Shareholder Letter and 1997 Shareholder Letter.

Jeff Bezos was recently asked at a recent all-hands meeting at Amazon: “JEFF, WHAT DOES Day 2 look like?” His response:

That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

In the recently released book, Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos, Jeff shares some great insights about how to fend off day two and make your culture a always Day 1 Environment:

According Jeff Bezos, the essentials for Day 1 defense are: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.”

To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Early Days

True Customer Obsession

There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.

“Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen”

Resist Proxies

As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2.

A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.”

A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us? In a Day 2 company, you might find it’s the second.

The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us? In a Day 2 company, you might find it’s the second.

Embrace External Trends

The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.

“These big trends are not that hard to spot (they get talked and written about a lot), but they can be strangely hard for large organizations to embrace. We’re in the middle of an obvious one right now: machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

High-Velocity Decision Making

Day 2 companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly. To keep the energy and dynamism of Day 1, you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions. Easy for start-ups and very challenging for large organizations.

“The senior team at Amazon is determined to keep our decision-making velocity high. Speed matters in business—plus a high-velocity decision-making environment is more fun too. We don’t know all the answers, but here are some thoughts.”

  • First, never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process.
  • Second, most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70 percent of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90 percent, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.
  • Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this, but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.
  • Fourth, recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision.

In his book, Always Day One: How the Tech Titans Plan to Stay on Top Forever, Tech Reporter Alex Kantrowitz writes about the inner workings of the most powerful companies in the world, such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple. He writes:

“Day One” is everywhere at Amazon. It’s the name of a key building, it’s the title of the company’s blog, and it’s a recurring theme in Bezos’s annual letter to shareholders. And though it’s tempting to read it as an order to work ceaselessly, particularly at the notoriously hard-charging Amazon, its meaning runs deeper.

“Day One” at Amazon is code for inventing like a startup, with little regard for legacy. It’s an acknowledgment that competitors today can create new products at record speeds—thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and cloud computing especially—so you might as well build for the future, even at the present’s expense. It’s a departure from how corporate giants like GM and Exxon once ruled our economy: by developing core advantages, hunkering down, and defending them at all costs. Getting fat on existing businesses is no longer an option.

In the 1920s, the average life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company was sixty-seven years. By 2015, it was fifteen. What does Day Two look like? It looks a lot like death.”

“From its origins as an online bookseller, Amazon has lived its Day One mantra, inventing new businesses with abandon, with a near-complete disregard for how they might challenge its existing revenue streams. The company remains a bookseller, but it’s also a clearinghouse for almost every imaginable product, a thriving third-party marketplace, a world-class fulfillment operation, an Academy Award–winning movie studio, a grocer, a cloud services provider, a voice-computing operating system, a hardware manufacturer, and a robotics company. After each successful invention, Amazon returns to Day One and figures out what’s next.

Stay grounded like the big tech giants like Amazon and others, always remember it is always Day One.

All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

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