Amazon Exhibit 99.1: Ancient Wisdom in Modern Times
A few weeks back media outlets were buzzing with articles quoting or referring to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders. Exhibit 99.1 in Amazon’s SEC filings. Everyone loved how Bezos described Day 1 vs. Day 2 for his 20-year-old baby—Amazon.
“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
And when asked the question about how to fend off Day 2 symptoms while retaining the vitality of Day 1, he did a fantastic job articulating crucial elements of success and failure. This post is not about summarizing or repeating that great piece of corporate advice. It’s about going back in time to find references to the same timeless wisdom. Wisdom the human race has seemingly ignored for millennia.
One of the biggest causes of Day 2 irrelevance stems from invincibility syndrome. One of the most ancient epics from India, The Mahabharata, outlines this symptom in a dialog between King Yudhisthira and the Yaksha. The question from Yaksha was quite simple: “What’s the greatest wonder?” The King’s swift reply posted in Sanskrit language below translates to “Every single day countless individuals die, yet the remaining ones think they are going to live forever. There is no greater wonder than this.”
If we replace individuals with companies in the above statement, the explanation still makes sense. Even after seeing many companies go bankrupt every day, most companies are still delusional about their eternal presence and continuous growth. How ironic! No wonder Jeff Bezos presented a warning light against going into the hallucination of Day 2. Complacency kills!
Another great piece of advice found in Bezos’ letter is to embrace external trends–especially around artificial intelligence, bots, drones, etc.
“The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.”
Keeping tabs on trends and external disruptions is very pragmatic advice. In fact, one of the oldest books in the world, The Rigveda, quotes the exact same principle: “Let noble thoughts come to us from all the directions.” And once again, in our quest of becoming the most selfish species on earth, we’ve forgotten to think outside of our own box. Win-win and co-innovation are approaches gaining popularity only recently.
Another interesting attribute Bezos mentions is “disagree and commit.” Think for the greater good. If you’re a boss and most of your team agrees on a certain decision, you should give in and commit support–possibly against your personal wishes. This, too, is anything but new. The Vidur Neeti, a book embedded inside the epic of The Mahabharata, describes these qualities quite well. Always think from a big-picture perspective!
In short, the ancient wisdom, which had all of these golden nuggets of corporate and human behavior, is still relevant in modern times. We just have to start practicing these shared values in our respective circles of influence to create a better future. Or at least, stay away from the deadly Day 2 spiral of stasis, irrelevance, decline, and death.
So, what’s keeping us from applying these principles as we innovate? This is a question we must all ask ourselves—and then shift our behavior to embrace the future.