Why Bad Listening is One of the Worst Decisions Managers Can Make

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Powerful leaders are often mythologized as stubborn and bull-headed, and that ignoring the advice of others is a virtue.

But researchers at NYU’s Stern School of Business conducted a study on the influence of power in decision-making and they confirmed what many employees already know: people with more power listen less, take less advice, and are ultimately less accurate in final judgments.

The researchers gathered survey data from hundreds of working professionals, and they conducted controlled laboratory experiments where they primed participants to experience varying levels of power and then presented them with advice from others.

They found that greater power meant a reduced tendency to take advice from others. The reason was that the powerful had an elevated confidence in their snap judgments, and that meant that they didn’t listen to valuable advice of others that could’ve changed their mind.

That’s why to successful tech entrepreneurs Andy Grove and Jeff Bezos, bad listening is one of the worst decisions you can make as a manager—because it makes the quality of all of your manager decision making worse.

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Why You Should Hire People Who’ve Rebounded from Failure, Not Those Handcuffed by Success

Fish Jumping Out of Bowl Hire Innovators

When it came time for Jeff Bezos to install a team to lead Amazon’s new subsidiary, the grocery delivery service AmazonFresh, he made a startling move. Instead of selecting experts from the supermarket or delivery industries or snapping up executives from his competitors, he chose people who had failed exactly where he wanted to succeed.

This maneuver would have never happened in the early days of Amazon. In the first few years of the company, Bezos was incredibly demanding about who he would hire. He only wanted the best — which were people who had “been successful in everything they had done.”

Bezos’s thinking on hiring did an about-face as he continued to build Amazon. To hire innovators, you must move beyond conventional ideas of success, and that’s why Bezos ultimately hired failures to run AmazonFresh.

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Bad Managers Talk, Good Managers Write

The exemplary manager is often shown as the outgoing guy that gives his team pep talks and high fives. In truth, though, that stereotype couldn’t be farther from the truth.

To three highly effective, seasoned, and successful executives, being a good talker isn’t just overvalued, it can actually be detrimental. Rather, there’s a subtle, often-overlooked ability that’s one of the most vital skills you can have as a manager — the ability to write.

why good managers write

“Written communication to engineering is superior [to verbal communication] because it is more consistent across an entire product team, it is more lasting, it raises accountability.” 

Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz

When managers write, you create work product — white papers, product requirement documents, FAQs, presentations — that lasts and is accessible to everyone in the organization. From marketing to sales to QA to engineering, everyone has a document off which they can work and consult.

The upshot is that the manager also takes public responsibility for what happens when the rest of the team executes on the point of view taken by the documents. That ratchets up accountability through the organization.

To Horowitz, the distinction between written and verbal communication is stark and, in fact, it’s what separates the wheat from the chaff. Good managers want to be held accountable and aren’t looking for ways to weasel out of responsibility. And so, good managers write, while “[b]ad product managers voice their opinion verbally and lament … the ‘powers that be’.”

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The Unexpected Naming Trick that Launched Amazon Out of Obscurity

naming your company like amazon

Amazon.com wasn’t the company’s originally conceived name.

The first name that Jeff Bezos chose for his new online bookseller was Cadabra, short for Abracadabra. But he found out quickly that Cadabra wouldn’t work. When he told the name to his lawyer over the phone, the lawyer replied incredulously, “Cadaver?”

He toyed with a few other names — MakeItSo, Relentless, Awake, Browse, and Bookmall — before finally settling on Amazon.com.

Bezos chose the name Amazon for two reasons. First, the Amazon River is Earth’s largest river and he intended to create Earth’s largest bookstore. “This is not only the largest river in the world, it’s many times larger than the next biggest river,” Bezos said. “It blows all other rivers away.”

The second reason Bezos chose “Amazon” seemed like an incidental thought at the time, but it turned out to be a surprisingly important driver of early growth — one that launched Amazon.com out of obscurity into becoming a billion dollar company.

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How To Make Small Teams Actually Work With Terrible Communication

8981473860_427a454be6_kAmazon is a mess. In the words of one former Amazon.com engineer: “their hiring bar is incredibly inconsistent across teams,” “their operations are a mess,” “their facilities are dirt-smeared cube farms without a dime spent on decor or common meeting areas,” “their pay and benefits suck,” and “their code base is a disaster, with no engineering standards whatsoever except what individual teams choose to put in place.”

It’s madness! No, it’s Amazon.com. They do a lot of things totally wrong. But they make up for it (and then some) by doing one thing really, really right.

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The 60% Rule: The Humbling Reason Why It’s Vital that You Encourage Autonomy at Work

product visionaries

Breakthrough products are created out of thin air by a singular product visionary — your Steve Jobsian figure in a black turtleneck and a ponderous look. He yells at people and tells them what to do, until it’s perfect and done.

To Chris Savage, co-founder and CEO of Wistia, one of the biggest video hosting sites on the web for businesses, that’s a widespread misconception that can harm the way you run your business.

Chris has a rule of thumb on making product decisions that’s both incredibly humbling to all you Jobs disciples out there and imperative to grasp. The rule is this: the very best of us only get product decisions right 60% of the time. The rest of the time, we’re wrong.

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How to Hire Like Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos Early Amazon

It’s hard to believe now, but in the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos had a tough time hiring.

While he had some extreme methods, he refused to compromise on them even when the company was in desperate need to staff up. Bezos stuck to his guns and turned down candidate after candidate, much to the frustration of his lieutenants.

What must have felt unbearable in the short term turned out to be absolutely critical in the long term, as Amazon built the unique and high-performing company culture that made it the prime tech giant it is today.

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The Risky Mentality that Made Jeff Bezos So Successful

Success often feels like a chase, especially in the startup world. You scrabble to gain ground, obsessing over features and metrics and competitors, and though you think you’re moving fast and hard, sometimes it feels like you’re running up a down escalator.

For Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, success isn’t a pursuit or a race to the top. It’s an adventure. You don’t just buy The Washington Post when you think you’re in a race. Rather, his key to success is maintaining a mindset of exploration rather than conquest. Bezos told Charlie Rose in 2012:

Jeff Bezos explorer mentality

Some companies have more of a conqueror mentality. If you look at their annual strategic plan, it starts with their three top enemies, who they’re going to crush this year…. We have an explorer mentality, so we like to go pioneering. We like to find dark alleyways and wander down them and see if they open up into broad avenues, and sometimes they do. That pioneering, explorer mentality is really what drives us. That’s the core of the culture.

For all the lip service paid to innovation and disruption, the conventional quest for business success can translate into fighting shy of risk and looking to just do better than your neighbor more often. The explorer mentality changes your lodestar. You’re not looking to catch up to others, but looking to forge new paths, and that frame of mind makes a huge difference.

Wandering in and out of unfamiliar areas can be perilous but two complementary aspects of Amazon’s culture make the explorer mentality click — and that’s a long-range orientation and an obsession with customers.

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Jeff Bezos’s Peculiar Management Tool for Self-Discipline

The modern workplace’s vogue is informal information exchange. We sit in open floor plan offices so that we can spontaneously collide, chat, and collaborate. The office setup for a meet-cute of ideas can be fizzy and energizing, though when sparks aren’t flying, the colliding can be noisy and distracting.

Jeff Bezos takes a totally different approach to management far from that madding crowd. He has a contrarian management technique that’s peculiarly old school — write it down.

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In senior executive Amazon meetings, before any conversation or discussion begins, everyone sits for 30 minutes in total silence, carefully reading six-page printed memos. Reading together in the meeting guarantees everyone’s undivided attention to the issues at hand, but the real magic happens before the meeting ever starts.  It happens when the author is writing the memo.

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