Book Review | Invent & Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos

Book Review | Invent & Wander- The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos

Highlights and Quotes from Invent & Wander: The Collective Writings of Jeff Bezos with an Introduction by Walter Isaacson

Ok, so first off. This is not really a book in the traditional sense.

However, there were three things that intrigued me and prompted me to buy:

  1. I had on my agenda to read all of the Amazon Shareholder Letters, and they are included in this book.
  2. I love Walter Isaacson’s work, especially around tech, so his name was a smart inclusion.
  3. The hardcover book is priced at just $4. Almost free!

So I ended up purchasing, and it was a fairly quick read. The first half is the shareholder letters, and the second half are other writings and speeches tied together to make some semblance of a book.

I’ll be honest…the shareholder letters if you haven’t read them are repetitive. There is a lot of great ideas and insights in them, but it is a bit repetitive. You can also find them free here.

If you prefer to read a hardcover book like I do, then the book is worth the $4. Is the book a promotion for Amazon of sorts? Yes. But it also has worthwhile business and life lessons.

I’ll get into more detail below, but overall the themes that run through the book which I love are:

  • Day 1 Mentality – Even ten or twenty years into building Amazon, Bezos and co are still pushing forward as if it is “Day 1”.
  • How to make better decisions.
  • Taking calculated risks
  • Long-term thinking always equals better profits.
  • Relentless customer focus.

All in all, I enjoyed reading through Amazon’s shareholder letters and getting a bit more insight into Blue Origin as well. The timing of this book couldn’t have been better for me as I finished it literally the day that Bezos took his flight into space.

Even though I only give this book a 6 out of 10 (because it’s not really a book… it’s worth reading the shareholder letters for some life and business lessons. Long-term thinking does indeed win in this crazy world we live in.

AR’s Book Score: 6 out of 10

Key book highlights from Invent & Wander: The Collective Writings of Jeff Bezos

Bezos first asks himself whether to start Amazon or stay at his Hedge Fund “Will I regret not doing this when I am 80?” – He realized he would regret not trying, and so he went on to launch one of the greatest and fastest growing companies in the modern era.

It was one of those decisions that I made with my heart and not my head, not wanting to pass up a great opportunity. When I’m eighty, I want to have minimized the number of regrets that I have in my life, and most of our regrets are acts of omission, things we didn’t try, the path untraveled. Those are the things that haunt us.

Jeff Bezos – Invent & Wander: The Collective Writings of Jeff Bezos

The big themes from the book are repeated over and over starting in 1997. Bezos truly had a vision for how to build a great company and executed on it year after year. In 1998 he says,

It is truly Day 1 for the Internet and, if we execute our business plan well, it remains Day 1 for Amazon.com

Jeff Bezos – 1998 Amazon Shareholders Letter

Nearly every shareholder letter and his Blue Origin writings speak to the “Day 1” mentality. “It’s still Day 1.”

If every company truly embraced this, we’d have a lot less corporate bureaucracy, and much better products and companies.

More themes from Bezos:

  • Customer obsessed focus: focus on customers not competitors
  • How to make better decisions
    • One-way doors (slow, thorough decisions)
    • Two-way doors (fast decisions)
    • “Disagree and Commit” – “Look, I know we disagree on this, but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?”
  • Taking calculated risks to truly innovate. You have to experiment often and be willing to lose more than you win.
  • Long-term thinking is always better for profits
    • Amazon Prime (horrible short-term idea)
    • Reviews (people may not buy these products with bad reviews)
    • 3rd Party Sellers (letting others sell on our platform)
  • On better meetings:
    • Six page memos over PowerPoints. Everyone sits at the meeting and reads the memo.
  • On hiring practices:
    • Set the bar high.
    • Hire missionaries over mercenaries

There are also some other bits of life advice sprinkled (which are very public at this point) such as getting 8 hours of sleep every night and only making decisions between 10 am to 12 pm.

Overall, from a business perspective, I appreciate the shareholder letters. There is a lot to be learned from the strategies and mentatilites that worked at Amazon to not only build a great online retail business, but now a streaming company and Amazon Web Services.

Best quotes from Invent & Wander: The Collective Writings of Jeff Bezos

Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.

Jeff Bezos – 1998 Amazon Shareholders Letter

We will continue to make invest decisions in light of long-term market leadership considerations rather than short-term profitability considerations or short-term Wall Street reactions.

Jeff Bezos – 2004 Amazon Shareholders Letter

We will make bold rather than timid investment decisions where we see a sufficient probability of gaining market leadership advantages. Some of these investments will pay off, others will not, and we will have learned another valuable lesson in either case.

Jeff Bezos – 2004 Amazon Shareholders Letter

Seek instant gratification-or the elusive promise of it-and chances are you’ll find a crowd there ahead of you.

Jeff Bezos – 2008 Amazon Shareholders Letter

Start with customers and work backward. Listen to customers, but don’t just listen-also invent on their behalf.”

Jeff Bezos – 2008 Amazon Shareholders Letter

When we’re at our best, we don’t wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to. We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to.

Jeff Bezos – 2008 Amazon Shareholders Letter

A word about corporate cultures: for better or for worse, they are enduring, stable, hard to change.

Jeff Bezos – 2015 Amazon Shareholders Letter

To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.

Jeff Bezos – 2015 Amazon Shareholders Letter

Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible-one-way doors-and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions.But most decisions aren’t like that-they are changeable, reversible-they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can re-open the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgement individuals or small groups.

Jeff Bezos – 2015 Amazon Shareholders Letter

The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?”

Jeff Bezos – 2016 Amazon Shareholders Letter

A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey.

Jeff Bezos – 2016 Amazon Shareholders Letter

Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70 percent of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90 percent, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.

Jeff Bezos – 2016 Amazon Shareholders Letter

I prioritize sleep unless I’m traveling in different time zones. Sometimes getting eight hours is impossible, but I am very focused on it, and I need eight hours. I think better. I have more energy. My mood is better. And think about it: As a senior executive, what do you really get paid to do? You get paid to make a small number of high-quality decisions.

Jeff Bezos – 2016 Amazon Shareholders Letter

Is this person a missionary or a mercenary? The mercenaries are trying to flip their stock. The missionaries love their product or thier service and love their customers, and they’re trying to build a great service. By the way, the great paradox here is that it’s usually the missionaries who make more money.

Jeff Bezos – Invent & Wander

The way you earn trust, the way you develop a reputation is by doing hard things well over and over and over.

Jeff Bezos – Invent & Wander

Innovative people will flee an organization if they can’t make decisions and take risks.

Jeff Bezos – Invent & Wander

All my best decisions in business and in life have been made with heart, intuition, and guts, not analysis.

Jeff Bezos – Invent & Wander

You can’t wait until the long-range problems are urgent to work on them. We can do both. We can work on the problems in the here and now, and we can get started on the long-range problems.

Jeff Bezos – Invent & Wander

We need to save our Earth, and we shouldn’t give up on a future of dynamism and growth for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

Jeff Bezos – Invent & Wander

Customers trust is hard to win and easy to lose. When you let customers make your business what it is, then they will be loyal to you-right up to the second that someone else offers them better service.

Jeff Bezos – Invent & Wander

More from Jeff Bezos

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6 comments

  1. Great post, definitely going to add this to my reading list and thanks for linking to the letters to shareholders!

    Agree the type 1 and type 2 decisions are an excellent way of viewing choices and helps to make quick decisions. Loving the collection of best quotes too!

    Currently reading the hard thing about hard things, great so far! Cheers!

    1. You’re welcome! I think quotes are key. It’s one thing to read something, but I want to keep coming back to it for advice and tips.

      I have The Hard Things About Hard Things sitting in my book backlog. The problem is that I always seem to find something to read before I can get to it! LMK how you like it once finished.

  2. Fantastic book review, AR! Bezos is a controversial character, but there are many lessons to learn from him. I really appreciated the quotes you listed. My biggest takeaways were the Type 1 vs Type 2 decisions and prioritizing 8 hours of sleep.

    1. Yeah, I agree. The Type 1 and Type 2 decisions thing really are a smart way of looking at things. I can’t tell you how many decisions I pondered too long that were Type 2 decisions. I would definitely go read the 2015 shareholders letter to digest a bit more on that!

  3. I agree with Jeff Bezos’ sayings about how he would have regretted it when he was 80 years old not starting Amazon…. On the other hand, he was 30, well established in his career (probably had a large savings account as well), and his parents invested $300k into his business for something like 6% of the company, I believe.

    I keep wanting to take a chance but also wondering if I should just put in a couple more years so that even if I fail, it doesn’t matter.

    Overall, great analysis! I had no idea his shareholder letters can get a little repetitive.

    1. I love the will I regret this when I am 80 as well! It is sort of another way of posing the “Hell Yeah! or no.” My advice would be that IF you have an entrepreneurial activity that is a hell yeah, or you would regret not doing it, then go for it. You almost have to.

      But if it’s not…if it is a “like,” but not a “love,” then put your head down, save your F-you money first, and then do it.

      Also, the shareholder letters are mostly repetitive, because Bezos was using the same overarching concepts for YEARS. I mean he was just thinking long-term and inventing from Day 1. And it was ALWAYS Day 1. Really brilliant and also goes to show that with the right core believes and execution, you can go very, very far.

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