There’s this company based not too far from me in downtown Seattle that routinely makes the Top 10 lists of Most Innovative Companies. You might have heard of it.
It’s called Amazon.
Amazon is run by the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos. Bezos took the crown away from the previous richest man, Bill Gates (who also lives relatively close to me, albeit in a slightly more upscale neighborhood).
So Jeff Bezos is one of the most innovative leaders in the world, and runs one of the most innovative companies in the world. And when it comes to innovative ideas — the big ones, the ones that could change the direction of the company — Bezos looks for three specific things before he’ll sign off.
As Bezos says, “We have to have a differentiated idea. It can’t be a ‘me too’ offering.”
Look, there’s nothing wrong with a “me too” offering if it’s truly a better way to do “me too.” Innovations come in all sizes.
But to truly be a game changer — at least in the eyes of Jeff Bezos — your idea needs to be something original.
When you’re a company as large as Amazon, you can’t think small.
Jeff Bezos: “We’re gifted with some very large businesses we’ve built over time, and we can’t afford to put our energies into something that if it works, it’s still going to be small.”
The world’s richest man is interested in building businesses that have a major, world-shaking impact and a major, world-shaking influence. He’s not interested in a blip on the radar, or the latest fad-of-the-month.
A Silicon Valley-worthy ROI
To put it simply, the return has to be worth the investment. Bezos puts it this way: “Even at substantial scale, it has to have good returns on capital.”
Often, the really big innovations — the game changers — require sizable investments: in time, money, and human resources. It just doesn’t make sense to put a billion dollars into an idea that’s only going to return a billion dollars and 14 cents.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with small innovations. I’m a huge fan of small innovations. They’re necessary, and can be of immense value within a limited context.
But if you’re out to create a breakthrough — a game changer — then you might want to follow the Bezos blueprint. Because, as the world’s richest man, he’s been there, and he’s done that.