Art of Bezos & Hsieh

Jeff Bezos knows how to create and perform. As the founder of Amazon, Bezos provides a great role model for leaders in the arts.

Bezos has added another customer guru to his stable. This week, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, sent an email to inform the company, their customers, and the public of Amazon’s acquisition of Zappos. For Hsieh, this was less of a story of corporate acquisition, than of two like-minded customer-driven companies coming together for better service.

Following his appearance at the SXSW festival, we featured Tony Hsieh’s applicable wisdom: What the Arts Need to Learn from A Shoe Salesman.

Now, we have Jeff Bezos’ keys to audience success. In a video he made about the acquisition of Zappos, Bezos offers his keys to business growth. Each key provides a roadmap to the best way to grow an arts institution and develop our artists.

His first key is so self-evident he doesn’t even bother to mention it, let alone write it on his low-tech paper flip-chart. It is also, perhaps, the one most surprising to arts leaders: be humble. When Bezos starts his presentation, he tells us that he is going to tell us, “Everything I know. It’s a very short list. It won’t take long. It’s complete, too!” Imagine: An arts leader who does not boast about the difficulty of creation; or, brag about the complexity of the undertaking. This is a man who has built not only one of the most successful companies in our era, but one which is essential to the distribution of literature and the proliferation of readers. Bezos speaks easily, directly, and simply.

Bezos’ first flip-chart lesson: Obsess over your customers. For the arts, each facet of the audience experience has to perform as well as, if not better than, what takes place onstage. As Bezos notes, “if you are truly obsessed over customers, it will cover a lot of errors.”

Second flip: Invent. This is our speciality, right? But, how many forget to ask themselves for whom they are creating — themselves or for an audience (real or imagined)? Of course, as artists we can’t predict the audience’s reaction, but we can push ourselves to create for the customer’s benefit. After all, whether it’s dance, theatre, or music, we are telling a story — communicating something — to others, live. The story, the invention, thrives when the audience discovers how much they needed to receive it.

Third flip: Think Long Term. In the Bezos realm, this “requires and allows a willingness to be misunderstood.” As we seed, create, fundraise, and sell, this strategy keeps the focus on how to develop the art and the customer together.

Final flip: It’s Always Day One. For Bezos, there is “always more invention in the future, always more customer innovation, and new ways to obsess over customers.” Aren’t the best rehearsals and the best staff meetings where everyone comes together as though it’s day one, again? Day two is when everyone focuses only on their own tasks, their own solo part, their own little world. Day three is when everyone wants to identify a problem that must be someone else’s.

Always Day One… a recipe for creation.

- Bill Reichblum

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One Response to “Art of Bezos & Hsieh”

  1. Amazon CEO apologizes for Kindle book deletions |
    August 2nd, 2009 00:20

    [...] KadmusArts - where culture speaks » Blog Archive » Art of Bezos … [...]

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