Go big

May 12, 2016

I still can’t believe I’m writing this, but here goes: In just a couple weeks I’ll be joining Amazon’s design team.

Amazon. There’s no getting around it, Amazon’s huge. They have about 30 buildings in Seattle alone. My most recent company, Tagboard, had about 30 people. Amazon is a company where it’s completely impossible to ever know all of your coworkers. In my professional career I have worked at several kinds of companies: non-profit, freelance, small agency, and startup; but I’ve never worked at a company like this.

As I considered possibly working at Amazon, I had lots of questions: How on earth do they maintain a culture they’re proud of? How does design fit in? What’s it really like there?

I asked around. I learned that this massive company is made of many tiny groups, all working on lots of interesting problems. It’s very easy to get an idea, and build a mini-team to test it out. Amazon embraces invention and all the failure that comes along with it. From Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos’s most recent shareholder letter:

I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.

He also writes about company culture in the same letter:

You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it – not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events – by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of the company lore.

They did write down their culture. Amazon has these Leadership Principles they published. They use them in everything from developing product ideas, hiring new employees, and measuring progress. It’s not just some silly fodder for inspirational posters. There’s some good stuff there, like “Customer Obsession”, “Invent and Simplify”, and “Learn and Be Curious”.

The culture of leadership, ownership, and intentionality that I see clicks with me and it’s very refreshing. That said, I know this is just the beginning of a journey. Day 1 is just a point on a map, and I’m excited to get moving.

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