It's Always Day 1 at Amazon, but there is a Problem with this Philosophy

Debbie Madden
Nov 21, 2018

Jeff Bezos tells his employees that it will always be "Day One"  at Amazon. Is he right?

According to Bezos, "Day One" means that Amazon will always act like a startup. To act like a startup, Bezos requires Amazon employees to do these four things: 

  • Be obsessed with the customer
  • Focus on results over process
  • Make high quality decisions quickly
  • Embrace external trends quickly

Furthermore, Bezos believes that "Day Two" is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day One at Amazon."  I read this to mean always be innovating, because the alternative is to go out of business. To Bezos you either act like a startup or die. But is Day 2 Really stasis?

The answer is no. Amazon employs about 600,000 people. At this size, it's hard to stay nimble and agile. So, I understand and agree with Bezos's desire to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive. But, this doesn't make day two the beginning of the end.

If, instead of thinking of a company journey as a calendar, let's think of it as a lifetime. Day one is the first day of your company's life, and the last day of your company's life is it's death, let's say at age 95. I don't know about you, but I don't wish to remain an infant for eternity. If I had my choice, I'd probably wish to stay somewhere between 18 and 35 for the rest of my life. Not quite half way through, but old enough to know a few things.  

I get that it's not catchy to say "It's always day 16,570 at Amazon." But, an inactive state followed by decline doesn't happen anytime even close to day two. It's more like day 30,000.

You shouldn't strive for the beginning. 


I reject the idea that day one is the ideal goal for any company.

My company is four and a half years old. I can say with certainty that we are much better off today than we were on day one of our journey.  It's just too early of a time to strive to return to. On day one, were weren't obsessed with our customers. We weren't making high quality decisions quickly. We were scrappy and all over the place.

I do agree with the four tenants of Jeff Bezos' philosophy:

  • Be obsessed with the customer
  • Focus on results over process
  • Make high quality decisions quickly
  • Embrace external trends quickly

But, there is a real risk of getting all four of these things wrong if you try and do them too soon.

So, instead of aiming to retain day one, aim to retain your early adulthood years. Aim to take time to learn, to reflect on the mistakes you've made and become wiser about strategy and innovation.  And then yes, never stop innovating and striving to improve.  You'll have a few life lessons under your belt, you'll have wisdom of hindsight, and enough spring in your step to innovate in a meaningful way moving forward.

Originally posted on Inc. 

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