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September 2, 2020

What Jeff Bezos' Letter to the House Judiciary Committee Says About Amazon Culture

Written by: Rob Gonzalez
You learn different things from your grandparents than you do from your parents, and I had the opportunity to spend my summers from ages four to 16 on my grandparents' ranch in Texas.

My grandfather was a civil servant and a rancher — he worked on space technology and missile-defense systems in the 1950s and '60s for the Atomic Energy Commission — and he was self-reliant and resourceful.

When you're in the middle of nowhere, you don't pick up a phone and call somebody when something breaks. You fix it yourself.

As a kid, I got to see him solve many seemingly unsolvable problems himself, whether he was restoring a broken-down Caterpillar bulldozer or doing his own veterinary work. He taught me that you can take on hard problems.

When you have a setback, you get back up and try again. You can invent your way to a better place.
— Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO

The statement by Bezos to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary is remarkably personal. That was my favorite paragraph.

More Important Than Raw Ability

Richard Feynman, considered one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, had an IQ of "only" 125 — about the lowest of anyone who's ever won a Nobel Prize. The belief that problems are solvable, and solvable by you, is more important than raw ability.

It's the opposite of throwing your hands up and saying, "This is too hard!" or "I can't figure this out!" or "I just don't get it!" or "I'm not good at math!" or whatever.

Shining Light on Amazon Culture

This is interesting not just because it shines light on Bezos, but also because it shines light on Amazon's culture. It's very clear that this underlying belief — that we can solve this thing, whatever it is — permeates throughout.

It's one of those cultural traits that is hard to model, put into a spreadsheet, and value monetarily, while at the same time is an unbelievably competitive advantage.

Failure inevitably comes along with invention and risk-taking, which is why we try to make Amazon the best place in the world to fail.

The whole piece is worth reading.

Politicians Gonna Politic

If you want my opinion on the antitrust hearings — with a big "I am not a lawyer" caveat — in general: Politicians gonna politic, and for reasons it is in the zeitgeist for them to attack "big tech.”

There are possibly cases to be made about Google and Apple — though frankly relatively minor ones — and nothing against Facebook or Amazon (at least in the U.S. with U.S. antitrust law). This is pretty much theater absent new legislation from Congress.

Benedict Evans, Ben Thompson, and others go into more detail if you're curious for more than my TL;DR.