Written by: Stephen Hsu
Primary Source: Information Processing
These quotes appear in an excerpt from a new biography by Brad Stone. Stone uncovers some new ground — tracking down Bezos’ long-lost biological father, who was unaware(!) that his son had become a billionaire e-commerce titan.
I had always heard that Bezos has a vulcan or hyper-rational management style. It’s good to know he occasionally loses his temper like everyone else.
“Are you lazy or just incompetent?”
“I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”
“Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”
“Are you trying to take credit for something you had nothing to do with?”
“If I hear that idea again, I’m gonna have to kill myself.”
“We need to apply some human intelligence to this problem.”
[After reviewing the annual plan from the supply chain team] “I guess supply chain isn’t doing anything interesting next year.”
[After reading a start-of-meeting memo] “This document was clearly written by the B team. Can someone get me the A team document? I don’t want to waste my time with the B team document.”
[After an engineer’s presentation] “Why are you wasting my life?”
… To the amazement and irritation of employees, Bezos’s criticisms are almost always on target. Bruce Jones, a former Amazon supply chain vice president, describes leading a five-engineer team figuring out ways to make the movement of workers in fulfillment centers more efficient. The group spent nine months on the task, then presented their work to Bezos. “We had beautiful documents, and everyone was really prepared,” Jones says. Bezos read the paper, said, “You’re all wrong,” stood up, and started writing on the whiteboard.
“He had no background in control theory, no background in operating systems,” Jones says. “He only had minimum experience in the distribution centers and never spent weeks and months out on the line.” But Bezos laid out his argument on the whiteboard, and “every stinking thing he put down was correct and true,” Jones says. “It would be easier to stomach if we could prove he was wrong, but we couldn’t. That was a typical interaction with Jeff. He had this unbelievable ability to be incredibly intelligent about things he had nothing to do with, and he was totally ruthless about communicating it.”
See also Bezos on the big brains ;-)
Jeff Bezos: Yeah. So, I went to Princeton primarily because I wanted to study physics, and it’s such a fantastic place to study physics. Things went fairly well until I got to quantum mechanics and there were about 30 people in the class by that point and it was so hard for me. I just remember there was a point in this where I realized I’m never going to be a great physicist. There were three or four people in the class whose brains were so clearly wired differently to process these highly abstract concepts, so much more. I was doing well in terms of the grades I was getting, but for me it was laborious, hard work. And, for some of these truly gifted folks — it was awe-inspiring for me to watch them because in a very easy, almost casual way, they could absorb concepts and solve problems that I would work 12 hours on, and it was a wonderful thing to behold.
“Abstract geniuses” like the ones Bezos encountered at Princeton might not have the common sense or practical inclination necessary to run an organization like Amazon, but on the other hand, perhaps a few do! 8^) In any case, credit to Bezos for being so brutally honest and logical about his own abilities and limitations. Most people, when confronted by an obviously superior intellect (even if confined to some narrow subset of abilities), resort to comforting rationalizations: “I could understand quantum mechanics if I really wanted to. But I don’t, so who cares!”