Power Players

Jeff Bezos: This is the one Amazon leadership principle that 'surprises people' the most

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, founder of space venture Blue Origin and owner of The Washington Post, participates in an event hosted by the Air Force Association September 19, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

Amazon famously has 14 leadership principles that are part of the company's ethos.

But there is one that "surprises people," according to Jeff Bezos — it's Amazon's fourth leadership principle: "be right, a lot."

"...[G]ood leaders are right a lot," Bezos said at the Pathfinder Awards in Seattle in 2016. "You're not going to be right all the time, but I think with practice, you can be right more often."

How do you do that? "People who are right a lot, they listen a lot, and people who are right a lot, change their mind a lot," Bezos said.

That may be easier said then done, because most people just seek out information to bolster their current beliefs and tune out opposing opinions, according to Bezos. But "people who are right" do the opposite, he says.

"People who are right seek to dis-confirm their most profoundly held convictions, which is very unnatural for humans," he said. "Humans mostly, as we go about life, we're very selective in the evidence we let seep into us, and we like to observe the evidence that confirms our pre-existing beliefs."

Having the ability to see multiple viewpoints and understand the bigger picture, rather than being too confined to your own beliefs, increases your chances of being right.

"Life is complicated, the world is complicated," Bezos said. "Sometimes you get new data, and you change your mind. Sometimes you don't get new data, and you just reanalyze the situation, and you realize it's more complicated than you initially thought it was, and you change your mind."

Bezos is not the only one to make this point — billionaire Ray Dalio says the same thing.

"The biggest tragedy of most people is that they think that the right decisions are in their heads, they have opinions that they are attached to," Dalio said to Kara Swisher on the Recode Decode podcast in November of 2017. "I learned through experiences, I learned humility."

Even the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, had a tendency to change his mind frequently, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

"Steve would flip on something so fast that you would forget that he was the one taking the 180-degree polar opposite position the day before," Cook recalled at a D10 conference in 2012. "I saw it daily. This is a gift, because things do change, and it takes courage to change. It takes courage to say, 'I was wrong.' I think he had that."

Though it's important to be "right, a lot," Bezos points out that there are times when being wrong is OK too.

"You really can't accomplish anything important if you aren't stubborn on vision," Bezos said in 2016. "But you need to be flexible about the details because you gotta be experimental to accomplish anything important, and that means you're gonna be wrong a lot. You're gonna try something on your way to that vision, and that's going to be the wrong thing, you're gonna have to back up, take a course correction, and try again."

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