Jeff Bezos On How To Have a Beginner’s Mind

March 25, 2016, 2:10 PM UTC
Photograph by Wesley Mann

I’ve published a lot of words this week, including a feature in the current issue of Fortune on the evolution of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon (AMZN), as a leader. I thought I’d end the week with some words from Bezos himself from my interview with him in Seattle on March 10. I asked Bezos to reflect on some areas Amazon has gone into that are new to him, including fashion merchandising, and how he approaches new things. Here’s an edited version of his response:

“I have always needed to learn about things that were new to me. And to be a leader of any kind I think you need to be interested in self-improvement and growth. If you go back to the very beginning of Amazon, we had to learn about logistics. I’m thinking back 20 years, when I was driving all the packages to the post office myself. Today we have a lot of automation and robotics.

“We seek to hire our tutors. In the early days, we hired some of the best logistics people in the world, and then I studied at their feet. To start Kindle, we had to learn about the hardware business. Kindle is now more than 10 years old. That was a very steep learning curve. We spent three years learning how to build hardware devices before we launched Kindle 1, and now we’ve actually gotten pretty good at it.

“The best inventors have a high level of expertise in a particular arena, and they simultaneously maintain a beginners’ mind. And that’s hard to do. But that’s what you have to do if you want to invent and pioneer. The world is so complex and deeply rich with prior invention that it’s very unlikely that as a naive beginner you’re going to invent anything of use. So you have to be an expert in the state of the art and then somehow let that expertness not make you jaded.

“That’s one of the things that culturally we do really well at Amazon. We’re willing to learn new skills, willing to do that big price of admission. There’s a lot of tuition to become an expert in something new but then while doing that, maintain a beginner’s mind so that we actually end up with a differentiated offering instead of a me-too offering.”

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