“As a company,” says Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, “one of our greatest cultural strengths is accepting the fact that if you’re going to invent, you’re going to disrupt. A lot of entrenched interests are not going to like it.”
Fortune magazine may think that the big online war is “Facebook vs. Google! BATTLE FOR THE FUTURE OF THE WEB” (that’s the cover line of its November 21, 2011 issue). But over at Wired magazine, the editors have seen the future of the Internet, and it’s dominated by a little Seattle company named Amazon.
In the December 2011 cover story, “Jeff Bezos Owns the Web in More Ways Than You Think,” author Steven Levy makes the case that “Bezos may well be the premier technologist in America.”
Levy cites the online retailer’s entry into the tablet market, its cloud services arm and its expansion into even a movie-making project, studios.amazon.com.
One of the most engaging parts of a wide-ranging Q&A with Bezos, who has a degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton University, is a section on how Amazon as a company and Bezos as its CEO embrace disruption:
Levy: How has Amazon been able to reinvent itself so consistently over the past 15 years?
Bezos: As a company, one of our greatest cultural strengths is accepting the fact that if you’re going to invent, you’re going to disrupt. A lot of entrenched interests are not going to like it. Some of them will be genuinely concerned about the new way, and some of them will have a vested self-interest in preserving the old way. But in both cases, they’re going to create a lot of noise, and it’s very easy for employees to be distracted by that. It could be criticism of something that we actually believe in. It could also be too much praise about something that we’re not doing as well as the outside world says we’re doing it. We’re going to stay heads-down and work on the business.
The idea of embracing disruption internally, not to mention being primed to act when confronted with it from a competitor, can be hard for a company to wrap its head around. Clayton Christensen, the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and an authority on disruptive innovation, told MIT SMR in a 2009 Q&A that “breakthrough innovations come when the tension is greatest and the resources are most limited. That’s when people are actually a lot more open to rethinking the fundamental way they do business.”
For a primer on adapting to disruption, take a look at “What to Do Against Disruptive Business Models (When and How to Play Two Games at Once).” This 2010 MIT Sloan Management Review article, by Constantinos C. Markides and Daniel Oyon, argues that responding to a disruption by adopting a second business model in the same market can be an effective strategy.