<!-- Content Here -->

Where content meets technology

Oct 15, 2023

Amazon: The Good Parts

I have been reflecting on my Amazon experience and, while the company has plenty of issues that I am happy to be free of, there are a few practices that I plan to take forward in my career.

Writing Culture

You may have heard about Amazon’s “peculiar” meeting style where the first half of the meeting is spent silently reading a document and the rest is for discussion. Writing out ideas is so much more effective than talking through bullet points on a slide or having a free form discussion. The writer is forced to think through their recommendation, fill in gaps, and fully support assertions with data. Clear writing requires clear thinking. While a deft speaker can gloss over inconsistencies or ambiguity, those deficiencies have nowhere to hide in a document. Documents accelerate the decision making process by organizing all of the inputs and making sure all of the decision makers are fully informed. A good document anticipates skepticism and brings supporting information into the conversation rather than requiring a follow up. You don't waste any time debating facts or jumping from topic to topic. Often the meeting ends with a decision, or at least a concrete list of factors to address. Plus, the reasoning behind the decision and related commentary is fully archived to revisit later.

Leadership Principles

Amazon’s Leadership Principles are the lingua franca of the organization. All Amazonian’s know the LPs by heart and use them in their reasoning. In a performance review or promotion, a manager might be asked to provide an example of an employee “Diving Deep” or “Inventing and Simplifying.” In a strategy discussion, you might consider which option demonstrates more “Customer Obsession.” The LPs seem simple and obvious on their surface, but you come to appreciate the nuance and tension between them. For example, “Bias for Action,” which might lead you to charge forward with an experiment, can seem in conflict with “Insist on the Highest Standards,” which counsels thoroughness and perfection. The LPs make you think and they give you language to discuss your ideas. As an example of how seriously Amazonian's take the LPs, I remember some great conversations about how the two newest ones ("Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer" and "Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility") lack the clarity and guidance of the others. So a group shared revisions that I think are much more useful: "Lead with Empathy" and "Build Sustainably." These versions were never officially adopted but I saved the definitions here.


Amazon was aggressively hiring for most of my time there. The process was designed for efficiency and effectiveness. Everyone on the interview team had a plan for what areas they were evaluating. They were responsible for finding supporting and contradictory evidence of proficiency in the areas that they were interviewing for. Interviewers were required to submit their notes and their conclusions (inclined or not inclined to hire) before the review meeting. During the discussion, everyone on the team was expected to challenge unsupported statements from their peers. For example, you couldn't say that the candidate "seemed aloof," you had you give an example where they tolerated substandard work and describe the implications of that behavior. By pushing each other and accepting feedback, the interview teams were able to identify and weed out unconscious bias. I was also impressed that Amazon was able to maintain high standards despite the hiring frenzy that all of the big tech companies were engaged in.

Amazon is a huge company and some groups only go through the motions rather than get the full benefit of these mechanisms. But the fact that everyone at Amazon is trained to use them is an incredible strength for an organization if leaders are able to walk the walk.