I’ve been a fan of Jeff Bezos for a while. Wrote about this some here. I use Amazon’s affiliate program. I barely make anything off it, but I am sending them business. I also buy most of my books from them. I vote for them with my money, sort of speak. I pay decent attention to what Bezos and Amazon are up to.
If you’re unaware, The New York Times ran an article which made Amazon look not so great.
Unsurprisingly, there were some retorts sounding like the older brother. “Oh come on, it’s just some good ol’ ribbing going on. They’re too sensitive.” Or maybe it’s the older sister,
While the above makes me laugh hysterically, I get it’s excessive. If what was in the Amazon article didn’t seem excessive, well, that’s not something I’m going to try and convince you of here.
Next, I’ve seen a lot debating the article’s veracity, but the last few years more and more has been coming out on Amazon that’s hard to get on board with. The fact they were lining up ambulances outside their warehouse rather than install air conditioning…I mean, how are you going to positively spin that? Because I save some money on my next Prime delivery? While watching House of Cards makes me wonder if another tech company planted the seed for this article, with the motive of dissuading talent from Amazon (Microsoft is also in Seattle; that show has messed with my head), this Times article merely seemed to be a tipping point. The type of stuff described had been swirling around for a while.
Bezos didn’t really even offer a rebuttal. He did link people to a current employee’s very long rebuttal. I think the rebuttal was telling. Some quotes, with bolding mine:
“There is no “little-known experiment”. That’s just silly. No one at Amazon has time for this, least of all Jeff Bezos. We’ve got our hands full with reinventing the world.”
“There is no intricate machine, and I have no idea what Jeff’s ambitions are, other than to continue to grow Amazon. Most of us work here because we want to solve the world’s most challenging technology problems.”
“Yes. Amazon is, without question, the most innovative technology company in the world. The hardest problems in technology, bar none, are solved at Amazon. This is why I’m here. My mentor, an Executive at one of the biggest software companies in the world, told me in our monthly 1:1, as recently as 3 days ago: “There isn’t another company with the size, complexity, and Engineering strength of Amazon. It is the undisputed world leader.” And it is true. Our sheer size and complexity dwarfs everyone else, and not everyone is qualified to work here, or will rise to the challenge. But that doesn’t mean we’re Draconian or evil.”
Bolding not mine-
“In 1997, Amazon revolutionized the way the world shops. Today, we’re the world’s most innovative technology company that just happens to sell books, among other things.”
I think this is where the tech industry runs into some of their problems. It’s where Steve Jobs had issues, why so many loathed Bill Gates back in the day and why he went full bore into philanthropy, it’s where the shitbird who runs Uber has problems, it’s why Mark Zuckerberg donated a hundred million dollars the same day The Social Network came out, it’s part of why people throw rocks at Google’s buses; it’s where Amazon probably has issues.
It reminds me of something I heard Amy Schumer say, regarding being at the Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people gala, with Kanye and Kim.
“That’s what’s so funny. It’s like these Ebola fighters and like people who made real change. And then it’s like me and Bradley Cooper.”
If Bezos thought Amazon was doing what was bolded above, why does the guy have a space company on the side? One he’s poured over five hundred million dollars into? An amount that could pay for how much air conditioning? Although, it does seem more than any profit Amazon has ever made. BOOM!
Because even he doesn’t genuinely believe his employee’s above quotes. (Whether he’s able to get his employees to believe it is a different matter.) Even he knows there are other much more complex problems out there than whether you get a delivery by drone. Like going to Mars and making life multiplanetary. Or countless problems in healthcare, many which are largely technology based. Surprise, surprise, Bezos has invested in neuroscience research. Supposedly some “cancer” thing is going around too.
Some delusion about your work can be advantageous. Having an overinflated sense of your work’s importance can help push you along when things are tough. It can also cause you to have an overinflated sense of yourself, to think less of others who aren’t doing the same work, to care more about the work than the human(s) doing the work-
“I remember having a conversation with [Steve Jobs] and I was asking why it could have been perceived that in his critique of a piece of work he was a little harsh. We’d been working on this [project] and we’d put our heart and soul into this, and I was saying, ‘Couldn’t we … moderate the things we said?’
And he said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘ Because I care about the team.’ And he said this brutally, brilliantly insightful thing, which was, ’No Jony, you’re just really vain.’ He said, ‘You just want people to like you, and I’m surprised at you because I thought you really held the work up as the most important, not how you believed you were perceived by other people.’
That’s Jony Ive describing one of the most important things Steve Jobs taught him. As if being decent to people while still giving meaningful criticism are mutually exclusive. But when you’re changing the world by making phones easier to use, you get a license to treat people however you want, right? No. Space X, a company actually trying to put people on Mars, has a strict no asshole hiring policy. They seem to be doing alright with that. Because caring what other people think doesn’t make you vain. Worrying about how you treat people doesn’t make you vain. It makes you human. Not caring what other people think makes you at best a narcissist. At worst, a sociopath.
If you want to go solve the most difficult, important problems in the world, then go do it. If you have the ability, you should do it. But don’t pretend automating fulfillment centers, delivering my floating beer pong table sooner or differently (literally the last thing I had delivered from Amazon), having great customer service when I order sneakers, working on one of countless cloud computing services, selling and bringing every item on earth to my door step, is demonstrably improving the world. Bringing things to my doorstep might be making things worse.
If you’re my surgeon removing a cancer tumor, hey, I’ll give some more leeway in how you treat people. You still don’t need to be a jackass, but I’ll be more forgiving if you are. But if you’re Amazon, even you’re making my life better, I care less about getting my package a day, or a few hours sooner, at a few cents, or even a few dollars less, than I care about people not getting heat stroke or having a mental breakdown in the process. Hopefully Amazon does too. Plus, it’s good business. I might not be able to find another world class cancer surgeon. I can find another way to get my beer pong table.