Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian (Part 6 of 6)

This is the final post in a series comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture and today we are wrapping it up with Has Backbone, Disagree and Commit and Delivers Results. The previous post was on Vocally Self Critical; Earn Trust of Others; Dive Deep and you can see the full list here. I want to thank the many friends who worked through these principles and the Scriptures together with me over the course of 6 weeks back in October/November–it has been a joy and I thank God for you all!


This is the last in our series comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture and though there remains room for further study, I hope what I’ve shared has been helpful. The good news is that growing as a leader at Amazon means growing as a Christian and although these principles do not exhaust the fruits of the Spirit or Peter’s list of virtues, let’s thank God that we can excel in following Jesus while succeeding at Amazon.

Has Backbone, Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Why is it difficult to have backbone? Can you share examples of where having backbone resulted in a positive or negative outcome?

In our discussion, we shared about the easy tendency towards passive aggressiveness when we succumb to social cohesion. As Christians, there seems to be a tension between the gentleness we are called to and the apparent aggressiveness of respectfully challenging decisions we disagree with. Sometimes it feels like the most aggressive people in voicing their opinions “win” and the meek are ignored (allusions to Matthew 5:5?). In fact one person received feedback to the effect of, “You need to be more vocal—you’re not here to build relationships, you’re here to get stuff done!”

It seems that at the heart of this tension is a distinction over the substance of the disagreement: Don’t disagree over egos, disagree over data (aka the truth). Having backbone is not contrary to Christian gentleness when we are slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger (James 1:19). Forcing your opinion, being aggressive and not listening should not be mistaken for having backbone. Even within Amazon, this principle is balanced by diving deep into the data and being vocally self critical.

Thankfully appealing to data and appealing to customers works much of the time in Amazon. It requires more work to sedulously test assumptions and compile the facts, but doing so often influences decisions and produces results. For example, one TPM had a feature that needed buy-in from many stakeholders who were already deluged with other work. By presenting the data and demonstrating its value to the business and our customers, he was able to get the resources despite the pushback from others who were displeased.

Delivers ResultsDelivers Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

What does it mean to settle?

In Amazon there are so many stakeholders from designers to developers to legal, finance, and other teams that any new initiative is bound to face an intimidating array of challenges. When you get pushback from all sides, you keep striving to overcome them instead of giving up—this principle seems to value perseverance.

Why do leaders focus on the key inputs?

Perhaps because they cannot control the outcomes, but in a sense they have faith that focusing on the right inputs (which they can control) will result in the output they desire.

What happens if you fail to deliver a result?

This probably ties in with being vocally self critical—admit the problem first and don’t blame it on others. Take responsibility, fail fast and recover.

What are relevant Scriptures to this principle?

As you can see from the brevity of the responses to these questions, we didn’t have much time to discuss “Delivers Results”. However, as Christians, we know Jesus expects us to “deliver results” by the grace he supplies, the right input being “remaining in him”:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Paul explains that in ministry, the results are from the Lord and all ministers of the gospel can do is focus on the inputs:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6)

Endurance and perseverance amidst trials and persecutions are also essential to maturity and finishing the race of life:

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)

(see also Romans 5)

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:12)

(see also Hebrews 12)

In all these we know that the end result is praise, glory and honor to God:

If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)

Food for thought:

How is there room for grace in a corporate environment?

Are “Has Backbone, Disagree and Commit” and “Delivers Results” principles that can and should be applied outside of Amazon to churches for example?

Please leave a comment and like/share/tweet/+1 this series if you’ve found it helpful.

Thanks! Soli Deo Gloria.

 

Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian (Part 5 of 6)

This is part 5 in a series of posts comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture. Today’s post is about Vocally Self Critical, Earns Trust of Others, and Dive Deep. The previous post was about Think Big; Bias for Action; Frugality and you can see the full list here.

Today’s leadership principles seem focused on making sure Amazon remains a truth-seeking organization instead of one that succumbs to social cohesion.


Vocally Self Critical


Vocally Self Critical
Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. Leaders come forward with problems or information, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Have you been tempted to cover up mistakes and bad news?

In our theology of technology group, we shared different situations where we’ve faced this difficulty. It’s tempting to give the appearance that you or your team are progressing more quickly than you actually are, especially when reporting to upper management. It’s tempting to remain quiet while others are telling a rosy story or making promises that are nicer than reality. As leaders, we should speak up and make sure the truth is heard even though we risk making our team (or ourselves) look bad.

When you tell the truth despite its social repercussions, you encourage others to give you honest feedback and many times pre-empt the need for others to criticize you (a sort of corollary to Proverbs 27:2). Of course it’s still possible reject critical feedback outside of the ways you are willing to criticize yourself, so this is not a substitute for peer feedback.

As Christians, we have great freedom to be vocally self critical because the truth about our most depraved condition is fully known God and yet he thoroughly loves us and has given us full access to himself through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16). Even though speaking up for the truth can have painful social consequences, we do it because we love the truth and our neighbor (1 Corinthians 13:6). David throughout his Psalms demonstrated a vocally self critical attitude in his confession towards God (Psalm 32) and an opposite would be the hypocritical Pharisees that Jesus condemned (John 8, Matthew 7:1-5).

Earns Trust of Others

Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility.

Describe a time when someone in Amazon earned your trust

We began describing two types of trust-earning activities, which seemed to be different than the receptivity described by this leadership principle. The first was a case where a senior developer took the time to teach a junior developer. By explaining his thought process, asking guiding questions, listening and demonstrating the merit of his ways, this developer earned the trust and respect of the junior developer. There are other instances where senior developers may be more pre-occupied with their own work or dogmatic about some point instead of reasoning with and persuading others about their approach. The second way to build trust over time was to under promise and over deliver—basically making and keeping the promises you make over time builds trust.

However, the description for this principle seems to lean toward earning trust by listening to others and being open to their feedback and ideas—a kind of continuation of being vocally self critical. This is particularly powerful when exercised by someone in authority because it is moving along the lines of Jesus’ teaching that leaders are not to lord their authority over others (as expressed by authoritarian stubbornness), but to use it to serve others (Luke 22:24-26, 1 Peter 5:2-4). Even so, it can be frustrating dealing with someone who gives the appearance of receptivity, but ultimately is seeking to manipulate the situation to their advantage or confirm what they already desire (see for example Rehoboam who rejected the advice of his father’s counselors). As believers we ought to be truly receptive and likewise forthcoming in speaking the truth to each other (Psalm 32:9, Proverbs 1:7, Ephesians 4:15, 25).

Dive Deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details and audit frequently. No task is beneath them.

What is the difference between diving deep and micromanaging?

Most of the time we’ve seen leaders dive deep at Amazon for the purposes of understanding and accountability rather than in order to directly control every action a team is making. Leaders are willing to dive deep and can quickly get to the heart of a matter, apprising themselves of the true situation. Regularly diving deep creates an atmosphere of accountability because it means that you have to know your stuff when you present and share facts with others.

Why is it tempting to stay high level instead of diving deep?

When we’re under deadlines, it may seem like we don’t have enough time to dive deep and really understand a problem, technology or spreadsheet. There is a balance between knowledge exploration and exploitation, and the intuitions about when to dive deep and when to leave things at an abstract/aggregate level seem to be gained through experience. When you do see a problem, diving deep is a form of taking responsibility since if you choose not to solve it, someone else probably will have to. This is also a way for leaders to earn the trust of others since peers and followers know that you know what is really going on and that you are taking care of it.

How does this relate to Scripture?

My friend Carter pointed out that we are not seeking proof texts in asking this question, but simply trying to reflect on these principles in light of Scripture. Jesus for example did not need to be “vocally self-critical” or “open-minded” in the sense that we do. We didn’t get to really explore this question for Dive Deep, but we know that Christ commanded his disciples to follow his example by serving each other even in the lowliest task of foot washing (John 13). In a sense his mission to seek and save the lost by giving up his own life is God “diving deep” to redeem his entire Creation:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Food for thought:

How can we overcome the tendency towards social cohesion and promote a truth-seeking culture in our families, churches, teams and wider communities?

Please leave a comment and read the next post on Have Backbone, Will Disagree and Commit; Deliver Results.

Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian (Part 4 of 6)

This is part 4 in a series comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture. Today’s post is about Think Big, Bias for Action, and Frugality. The previous post was about Are Right, A lot; Hire and Develop the Best; Insist on the Highest Standards and you can see the full list here.

Think Big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

How can you think big while remaining realistic?

In Amazon we often test the big ideas with a press release to socialize the idea and gather data followed by a prototype. Oftentimes a big idea may be rejected not because it is flawed, but because the people it is presented to cannot conceive of how it is possible. In such cases a prototype can help people take the idea seriously.

What prevents us from thinking big?

We discussed two types of obstacles: busyness and fear.

It is easy to get trapped in the details of work and lose sight of the bigger picture/possibilities. For developers, the iterative cycle of two week incremental sprints lends itself to forgetting where you are going. To overcome this, some teams schedule brainstorming sessions to take a step back and dream. Using the 5 Why’s can also help uncover bigger ideas.

It is also easy to fear failure or rejection for promoting big and bold directions. Great ideas can be quickly squashed by a desire for social cohesion. In such cases collecting data by experimenting and talking with others can help build up sufficient momentum to overcome these obstacles.

Is it prideful to “Think Big”?

For example, the Psalmist writes:

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.
(Psalm 131:1-2)

Yet, we know God’s plan to save the world and redeem the whole creation is incredibly big thinking:

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelations 7:9)

In his parable of the talents, Jesus in fact condemns the lazy servant who takes no risks and gets no return on investment for his master (Matthew 25:26-27).

So, it seems that although it is possible to “think big” for prideful reasons, it is just as possible to “think small” for selfish reasons.
In Amazon, thinking big is always designed to deliver more value to customers and similarly as Christians, we can always be thinking big for Christ’s purposes.

Bias for Action

Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Why is it difficult to have a bias for action?

It’s tempting to delay decisions until they are made for us because it is scary to take responsibility for an unknown outcome.

For example, Saul faithlessly cowered with his 600 men instead of attacking, while Jonathan by faith exhibited a bias for action and achieved a victory for Israel.

6 Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

7 “Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

8 Jonathan said, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.” … 13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre. (see full story at 1 Samuel 14:1-14)

How does a bias for action fit with waiting on the Lord?

We discussed the nuances of waiting on the Lord vis-à-vis acting, but didn’t arrive at a conclusive summary.

We should not confuse procrastination or avoiding responsibility with waiting on the Lord—sometimes we already know what the Lord wants us to do, but haven’t accepted his answer. An example would be the faithlessness of the Israelites who refused to enter Canaan when the Lord told them to go and then went when he told them “no” (Deuteronomy 1).

On the other hand, many Scriptures that speak of waiting on the Lord connote a restful stillness while he acts on our behalf:

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! (Psalm 37:5-7)

As these various Scriptures illustrate, it seems that there is a place for action and stillness and at the root of both is complete trust in the Lord.

So let us take action, make decisions, and calculated risks by faith in God instead of succumbing to analysis paralysis or anxious toil.

Frugality

We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size or fixed expense.

How can a person be frugal and generous at the same time?

We didn’t get to examine the effects of frugality like resourcefulness, but we addressed the principle itself. It seems that frugality is a mindset, which strategically arranges its assets towards its aim. In Amazon this aim is customer obsession—delivering more value to our customers (often in the form of lower prices). As Christians, our aim is God’s glory.

Even though God has unlimited resources, one could argue that he is frugal because his unlimited resources are brought to bear on his strategic purposes by lavishing the elect with the riches of his grace, to the maximal praise of his glorious grace:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:3-8a)

We also see Christ commend incredible acts of generosity in others:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. (Luke 21:1-3)

So, although we did not get to explore all the dimensions of frugality, stinginess and generosity, in the least we saw that it does not mean a generic miserliness. We practice thrift in certain areas so that we can be generous in the areas that matter to God.

Food for thought:

How does faith in Christ empower you to “Think Big”, exhibit a “Bias for Action”, and practice “Frugality” for his strategic purposes?

Please leave a comment and read the next post on being Vocally Self Critical, Earning the Trust of Others and Diving Deep.

Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian (Part 3 of 6)

This is part 3 in a series comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture. Today’s post is about Are Right, A Lot, Hire and Develop the Best, and Insists on Highest Standards. The previous post was about Ownership; Invent and Simplify and you can see the full list here.


Are Right, A Lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts

Can leaders make mistakes?

Yes, the freedom to make mistakes is necessary to grow and learn. However, when leaders are wrong a lot, their mission will fail and the team will fall apart.

How does a leader demonstrate humility while being right a lot?

We discussed Amazon’s other leadership principles like Invent and Simplify and Vocally Self-Critical which require a leader to be open to ideas from any where and to forthrightly admit their own mistakes and failures. And of course Jesus is our example of a man who was always right and thoroughly humble (though we did not dive deep into his life).

We know he did not want his disciples to be naïve, telling them, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). However, being right a lot is not enough, as we see in examples like Ahithophel who was so smart his word was treated like the Word of God, but who died in ignominy (he ended his own life when his advice was not followed) (2 Samuel 16:15-17:23).

It seems that “being right a lot” is always in the service of love, as taught by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 8. He affirmed that the believers who thought all food was acceptable since it was all from God were right, but that their knowledge should not be used to harm other believers by causing them to violate their consciences. Believers in the right should lovingly forgo their own claims to rightness in order to build up their brothers and sisters who were wrong on the matter.

Hire and Develop the Best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others.

As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
so are sluggards to those who send them. (Proverbs 10:26)

Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank. (Proverbs 22:29)

What does this principle mean?

We noted that as illustrated by the Proverbs above, it’s normal to look for the best and avoid the worst. Leaders always look for top talent and give them opportunities to grow. They don’t hold people back, but use their influence to maximize the potential of those under their care. It doesn’t mean that Amazon only hires people who have already arrived at eminence in their field, but it does mean that Amazon invests in the people that have the potential to develop into those top performers.

What are the limits to this principle?

It is possible to set too high of a bar so that you can hire no one. Unrealistic expectations can also be frustrating for the people who have already been hired. However when an organization fails to practice this principle, it can stagnate or degenerate in the worst case and the best people will want to leave and go elsewhere.

How does this relate to Scripture?

The notion of developing people, seems very much in line with Jesus’ commandment to make disciples, teaching them to obey everything he commanded (Matthew 28:18-20) and also with Paul’s words to Timothy: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2). We can see his list of elder qualifications to get an idea for who Paul would have considered “the best”.

Even so, there seems to be an inherent tension in this principle and God’s choice which often seems marked with weakness or hiring and developing “the worst”:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

We had a lengthy, but inconclusive discussion about the differences between God’s kingdom and the corporate world and whether or not the principle of developing virtuous, happy people from “the best” and “the worst” as the measure of true wealth might be a unified endeavor. Leave a comment if you want to know more about this since it was a hot topic, but I can’t summarize it well for this post.

We closed this topic remembering the words of Christ, which sets forth his view of being “the best”:

Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:10-12)

Insists on Highest Standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)insistsOnHighestStandards

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

How do you balance Insists on Highest Standards with Delivers Results?

We had a very engaging, but rambling discussion on this topic, which makes it hard for me to summarize.

I admitted to my own tendency to lean towards delivering results now over the patient, deliberate, thorough approach necessary for creating products of the highest quality. Through the conversation, I realized that:

  1. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well
  2. Doing things well is really enjoyable (and doing things poorly is not)
  3. Building something that goes unused is really discouraging (and building useful things is rewarding)

This is nothing new, but it firmed up my convictions about quality. So in the future I’d like to try to do this: We don’t want to sacrifice quality, since it is bad for customers and it is bad for developers. We should very very carefully pick the features that do get built since few things are worse than wasted labor and unused products (inventory). Thus, when making tradeoffs, we should always cut features instead of cutting quality or completeness of the features that have already been chosen. We should also set aside time for experimentation, learning, and exploration where the quality of the learning is the aim (the product quality is irrelevant in this case).

Food for Thought:

How ought we as Christians and Amazonians treat those who are not right a lot, who are not considered the best, and who do not meet the highest standards?

Leave a comment and come back tomorrow for the next post on Think Big, Bias for Action and Frugality.

Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian (Part 2 of 6)

This is part 2 in a series of posts comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture. Today is about Ownership and Invent & Simplify. The previous post was about Customer Obsession and you can see the full list here.


Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job”.

What does it mean to be an owner?

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:23)

You share in the long term risks and rewards of the things under your ownership.

How is ownership different than stewardship?

Although they are different, a good steward always acts in the best interests of their owner, so that the actual behavior is similar.  We had an interesting segue into the history of English trust law.

We also cited John 10:11-13 where Jesus distinguishes himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep vis a vis hired hands who don’t inherently care for the sheep.

Can you act like an owner even when you don’t feel like one?

There are all sorts of reasons for not feeling like an owner:

  1. You may not be an owner, or you may not have the influence to affect change and benefit from the outcome of your decision.
  2. Selfish ambition, where we use what we have to get ahead in the short term instead of doing what is right in the long term for others. For example, designing a system for the short term, expecting to get promoted and switching to another team so that we don’t have to deal with the consequences.
  3. Conflict with authority where we don’t feel like benefitting those above us because they aren’t looking out for our best interests
  4. Disagreement with authority where we feel disempowered, having to only take on the consequences and responsibilities of ownership without having the freedom and rewards of it.

As Christians, even though we may be hired hands, God is the master. He has entrusted a stewardship to us and our reward is guaranteed by him (Colossians 3:23-24), even if we cannot trace out the connection between the responsibilities we fulfill today with the rewards that come in the future.

God is in fact the owner of all things (Psalm 24:1) and his incredible promise is that we are not merely stewards, but also heirs (owners!) of all things in Christ:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-17)

 

Food for thought:

How does realizing that God owns everything and that we will one day inherit all things affect how we approach our work and our life?

Invent and SimplifyinventAndSimplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here”. As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

How have you seen Invent and Simplify exemplified in Amazon?

Since Day 1, Amazon has been about innovating on behalf of customers. We see it everywhere from building the kindle to deliver a simpler experience for acquiring and consuming content to inventing new ways for sellers to put things for sale on our site.

Are there limits to Invent & Simplify?

Sometimes we make the mistake of reinventing the wheel. We shouldn’t invent for the sake of inventing. Amazon is full of smart people, so it often times seems simpler to solve a problem oneself instead of collaborating and doing the higher level work that can produce simpler and more general solutions. Without invention though, we would lose our edge and also a lot of the fun we have creating (which is very satisfying since God made us to be sub creators).

How has being a Christian required you to accept being misunderstood for long periods of time?

In general any initiative to change the status quo requires being misunderstood for long periods of time.

Jesus was misunderstood for long periods of time by his contemporaries, both opponents (Luke 7:34-35) and disciples (John 13:6-7). If you’re willing to stretch things, one could even say that he “invented & simplified” the way of salvation by solving the problem of sin through his death in our place and introducing righteousness by faith. As believers we may endure prolonged seasons of persecution or being misunderstood before the gospel impacts someone’s life.

Food for thought:

How can we apply “Invent & Simplify” to gospel goals?

Consider these words from Johann Gutenberg describing his vision for the invention of the printing press (1455):

God suffers in the multitude of souls whom His word can not reach. Religious truth is imprisoned in a small number of manuscript books which confine instead of spread that public treasure. Let us break the seal which seals up holy things and give wings to Truth in order that she may win every soul that comes into the world by her word no longer written at great expense by hands easily palsied, and multiplied like the wind by an untiring machine.

Inspired? Please leave a comment below! Check out the next post on Are Right, A lot; Hire and Develop the Best; Insist on the Highest Standards.

Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian (Part 1 of 6)


Customer Obsession
theCustomerIsAlwaysRight

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

We started with customer obsession because it was the first on the list and because it really is the central principle at Amazon.

What is Amazon’s mission?

To be earth’s most customer centric company.

What does customer obsession look like?

We gave various examples like AWS refunding customers who had passed the trial period without realizing it.

What are the limits of customer obsession? Can the customer ever be wrong?

We debated giving customers what they want versus what they need. One example is the scandal when a book on pedophilia was self-published and after some back and forth Amazon ended up choosing to listen to the customers who were offended by it. Our discussion concluded that it’s about doing what’s right for customers.

What are some relevant Scriptures?

We only got to examine two. The first was Proverbs 20:14:

“It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer—then goes off and boasts about the purchase.”

We can’t always take what customers say at face value, but we can commit to loving our customers and doing what is right for them. I don’t remember the second passage, but the essence of our discussion was about how Christians represent the Lord in their actions and likewise represent Amazon in their deeds.

What happens when we lose customer obsession?

We tend to become profit-obsessed. In this way, customer obsession is one way we fulfill God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves and protects us from the perils of worshiping money.

What about sellers and employees? Are customers benefitted at the expense of our vendors, sellers and employees?

The Lord detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him. (Proverbs 20:23)

When Amazon uses its leverage to negotiate better terms for customers, the vendors still have a choice to make. As long as Amazon maintains integrity and does not fudge metrics to get better terms or withhold money that rightfully belongs to the vendors, using its scale to deliver more value to customers seems just and fair.

Food for thought:

What would earth’s most God-centered company look like?

Please leave a comment and read the next post on Ownership, Invent and Simplify.

What I learned from Urbana 2012

urbana_plenaryThe antiphonal hallelujahs crescendoed to blazing lights which I thought would explode from the joyous singing. It was the last night of Urbana and we ushered in the new year with a 16,000 strong multilingual, multicultural worship service. It was incredible.

I attended the missions conference with my sister (who wrote about her experience here) and met friends like MIT Media Lab RA Nate Matias (who posted his track notes here) and speaker Christopher Yuan who led packed sessions on the topic of “A Christian Response to Homosexuality“. The sessions were good (I wept for joy when Ram Sridharan preached the gospel from Luke 15), but I particularly thank God for connecting me with believers who share my passion for technology entrepreneurship for the gospel (direct message me if you’d like to join the group).

Who I Met

Urbana was organized into four tracks: Urban Poverty, Pastoral Leadership, International Students and Business Changing the World. In the business track I got to meet professionals, entrepreneurs and investors who created companies and products that advance the gospel in the marketplace:

I came away refreshed by my conversations with these people and many others. It’s invigorating to be part of a community creating technology and doing business to advance the gospel in word and deed.

What I Learned

Here were some of my key takeaways from the conference:

Faith First: I went not knowing what to expect and left overjoyed by many serendipitous connections. I usually try to figure out the cost/benefit of decisions and think everything through ahead of time, but I’m beginning to accept the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5-6; it seems that Jesus requires us to trust him first and think things through second. Like Abraham who left his homeland for a land God would show him, we must first believe that God is good and in believing we can respond and in responding we can think through where he is calling us to, how to get there, and what to do.

Cherish People: Being task oriented, I tend to view relationships in terms of my goals and responsibilities, but at Urbana I had the pleasure of simply enjoying people: hearing their stories, sharing mine and praying with them. Ram’s message reminded me that all my heart’s desires are met in Christ and that despite everything I’d like to do for God, the real satisfaction is being with Him. I hope this carries over to work where it’s easy to become so task focused that legitimate opportunities to deeply connect with people are neglected.

I’m Not Alone: I formerly felt like no one shared my passion for technology entrepreneurship for the gospel. Being at Urbana changed all that not only by giving me access to likeminded people, but also by renewing the joy of God’s invitation to all people to feast at his table. Instead of wallowing in isolation, I should seek out and cultivate diverse relationships with others since I’m not as different/alone as I might think.

Don’t Resist the Spirit: There were two occasions when I felt the Lord lead me to do something and I resisted. The first was an internal voice telling me to pray for a woman on crutches. I avoided her, walking deeper into the stadium ostensibly looking for my sister, but couldn’t resist. I walked back and asked, “Excuse me, but–could I pray for you?” She replied, “uhh–okay”. I was afraid it would be awkward. But when I asked, “what happened to your leg?” she shared that she had knee surgery and accidentally dislocated it afterwards. When I learned she would be on crutches another 8 months, my awkwardness was washed over with compassion and I joyfully prayed for her healing.

The second case was in the prayer ministry room where a woman next to me started weeping and I felt led to say, “God’s peace be with you, your sins are forgiven in the name of Jesus”. I questioned this inclination thinking, “Who am I to say such things? I don’t know her and what she is going through.” But I realized that God knew and if he wanted me to speak, who was I to resist? So I put my hand on her shoulder, whispered the words, and left the room.

Upon reflection, I’ve probably resisted the Spirit a lot, which may be why I’m reluctant to pray about certain things…I don’t really want to hear an answer. This experience may sound weird to some, but I am simply trying to honestly recount my experience. Testing these inclinations against Scripture, I find no reason to believe they were not from the Holy Spirit.

Don’t Wait for Perfect Motives, Wait for the Lord: During a Bible study session on Peter’s calling, I tweeted: “Feeling unworthy to try great things for God because I can’t handle the pressure of living up to people’s expectations”. Two InterVarsity staff members, Steve and Carrie, prayed with me on separate occasions when I shared my personal tension between being a witness for Christ at work and pursuing a vision of enabling multilingual churches to flourish and become the norm. Maybe I wanted to stay in place out of fear or maybe I wanted to pursue this idea out of selfish ambition. Steve said that I cannot wait for pure motives because we always have mixed motives and can only continually repent of the wrong ones and cultivate the right ones. Carrie reminded me that waiting on the Lord is not passivity, but faithfulness and that I need not rush to decide since the Lord would act in His time.

How About You?

I have reams of notes on what else transpired at the conference and many awesome experiences remain unrecorded, but I hope this taste has been enough to whet your appetite for what God has in store for you this year.

  • Are you procrastinating responding to God by overanalyzing instead of trusting Him?
  • Who can you listen to and love instead of merely transacting dialogue with?
  • Can you join/start a community that will stoke the flames of your passion?
  • In what areas of life are you resisting God’s leading?
  • Is there a desire you need to wait on the Lord for? Is there a God-given desire you need to act on instead of waiting for pure motives?