Jeff Bezos says he let his four kids play with knives at age 4 and power tools since age 7 or 8.
Because allowing them to take risks and be self-reliant teaches resourcefulness — a key trait both in business and in daily life, says the Amazon founder.
Speaking at a SummitLA panel on November 4, with his brother, Mark Bezos, the CEO says that being resourceful is a skill he learned as kid and one that he and his wife have instilled in their children, ages 12 to 17.
His wife's rationale, Bezos says jokingly, is that she "would much rather have a kid with nine fingers than a resourceless kid," which he the CEO believes is a "fantastic attitude about life."
Bezos learned resourcefulness, early on.
Every summer until he was 16, Bezos visited his grandfather's ranch "in the middle of nowhere." When things around the farm broke down, he says, his grandfather couldn't just call someone to come fix them. Instead, the man would repair the items himself — with the assistance of young Bezos.
Together they fixed heavy machinery, performed veterinary work on his cattle and even built a house one summer.
"He would take on major projects that he didn't know how to do and then figure out how to do them," says Bezos. "As a kid, I got to see him solve all these problems and be a real problem-solver."
The billionaire explains that learning to be resourceful at a young age has helped him immensely in business, particularly at Amazon where he has faced failures time and time again and has been forced to take risks.
In fact, in his first annual letter to Amazon shareholders in 1997, the CEO writes, "Given a 10 percent chance of a 100-times payout, you should take that bet every time."
Take, for example, Amazon Marketplace, a platform for third-party sellers on Amazon.com. It took three iterations before becoming a profitable business.
Bezos first launched Amazon Auctions, similar to Ebay's business model, which ended up being a complete failure. He then created Z-shops, which also tanked. Finally his third try led to Amazon Marketplace, which he says "started working right way" and now accounts for nearly half the units sold on Amazon.com.
Though each one of these failures lasted over a year, says the CEO, his resourcefulness and willingness to try new things paid off in the end.
Bezos tells the panel that as an entrepreneur you run into problems, failures and things that don't work as you try to move things forward. That's where resourcefulness comes in, he says.
"Each one of those times that you have a setback and you back up and you try again," says Bezos, "you're using resourcefulness, you're using self-reliance, you're trying to invent your way out of a box."
Luckily, says the businessman, he now has kids who have learned to be resourceful and most importantly, "who so far have all their fingers."
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