In addition to a human tragedy of epic proportions, Covid-19 has proven to be a a huge business challenge and — for some — a growth accelerant. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has written many times — such as in this 2016 shareholder letter — the outcome all depends on how you orient yourself to what he mildly calls external trends.
In reading this letter recently, I was struck by how well his advice on how to fight complacency — particularly in regard to external trends — could help leaders trying to decide how best to position their companies to capture the growth opportunities and avoid the threats presented by Covid-19.
1. Sustain intellectual humility.
The most fundamental element of Bezos’s strategic mindset is his realization that a leader should not assume that what worked for a company in the past will continue to work in the future.
Unless a leader looks at every day with a fresh mind – what Bezos calls Day 1 – the company will begin to fail. As Bezos has been writing in his shareholder letters, “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
What should business leaders do about this? First up is to admit how they are feeling about the Covid-19 — namely, admit they are afraid, feeling pressure to come up with solutions, and that they have no roadmap on the right way to respond.
After that, leaders should make a list of all the key questions for which they lack answers and form a team of experts to investigate the answers and come up with options.
2. Obsess over customers.
Bezos’s Day 1 philosophy works because it puts a leader’s primary focus on adapting the company to changing customer expectations – rather than being on the cutting edge of technology or obsessing over competitors.
The reason customer focus is so important is that Bezos sees customers as a source of corporate vitality because they are “always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied…they always want something better.”
An essential process for a company with a Day 1 mindset is to keep trying new things. That means companies should “experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when [they] see customer delight.”
Leaders should focus their experiments on how to delight customers coping with the Covid-19 pandemic.
3. Fight bureaucracy.
If your company has been around for long enough, it has developed processes and routines that may have had a useful purpose when the company was started.
But if those processes are keeping your company from finding and capitalizing on new opportunities — especially the ones created by how customers are changing their lifestyle to respond to the pandemic — then find out what’s wrong with the current processes and make them better.
4. Embrace external trends.
Bezos argues that leaders should position their companies to turn strong trends outside the company into tailwinds that propel a company’s growth.
In 2016, Bezos saw machine learning as such a trend and in light of the success of its autonomous Prime Air delivery drones; its Amazon Go convenience store that used machine vision to eliminate checkout lines; and Alexa, a cloud-based AI assistant, it is clear that Bezos embraces external trends.
Covid-19 is the latest such external trend. To turn it into a tailwind, position your company to offer customers an irresistible value in a world where people are staying socially distant.
5. Make high quality decisions quickly.
Decisions are the primary product of senior leaders. Bezos urges leaders to make good decisions quickly — with 70% of the information they need — and then learn and improve on those decisions after executing the decision and getting feedback from customers.
While you may not have clear answers to how your firm can compete during the pandemic, you should use your knowledge of your customers evolving needs to focus your brainstorming process. Try out the ideas that top your list, get feedback, build on what works and fix what doesn’t.
Follow these five tips from Bezos and you may turn Covid-19 into a growth opportunity for your company.