In support of our mission to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, Amazonians work to create products and services that help make life easier for customers. From the Kindle and Amazon Go, to Alexa and Prime, we are dedicated to providing customers with the best experiences possible. How do we make it happen? By fostering a culture of innovation among our global employees. At Amazon, innovation doesn’t take place during a moment in time—like a hackathon or an incubator—it takes place as part of everyday work.
Our guiding principles lead us in innovating for customers.
Customer obsession is where we get our energy from… wanting to do the best for our customers. At every meeting and in the midst of every decision we make, one important person is not present: our customer. We have to vigorously advocate for him/her and earn their trust—and this drives our ambition to constantly improve the customer’s experience.
A passion for invention is what drives us. We love to invent for our customers. We are externally aware, looking for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.” As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time and may not always succeed the first time.
Long-term thinking is a core value cemented in Amazon’s history since our inception. We invest for the long term and continually refine and improve our offerings based on customer feedback. Our business today is evidence of this—some of our most successful business areas like Amazon Prime and Amazon Web Services launched many years ago. We always keep our focus on the long term value we can provide customers.
To mark our inclusion on Fast Company’s inaugural “Best Workplaces for Innovators” list, we’re taking a look at some of reasons Amazon is a great workplace for inventors.
Empowering innovators from every level and every team
Amazonians aren’t just encouraged to come up with the next big idea; they are empowered to seek out problems and build new solutions. This shows up everywhere from our customer service centers to the halls of our corporate offices. For example, when an Amazonian, at any level of the company, has a big idea, they start by writing a working backwards plan—called a “PRFAQ” with a press release that outlines the vision for a product at launch, an FAQ that explains the customer benefits, and answers theoretical customer questions. Our teams continually evaluate the idea throughout the concept’s evolution by sharing the PRFAQ with other innovators at Amazon. Once "baked," many of these ideas get funding and launch, and some have become programs that our customers love—including Prime Now, Amazon Go, and Alexa. Anyone can write a working backwards plan, whether it’s related to their job or not.
Thinking long term and embracing failure
To be truly focused on innovation, a company has to think long-term, and be comfortable taking calculated risks—which sometimes fail. Amazonians pilot, test, and try new products and services regularly—some succeed to great degrees, others fail and fold—but lessons learned set the stage for the next big idea. We consider Amazon “the best place in the world to fail.” Amazonians understand that if they aren’t pushing boundaries and taking risks, they aren’t innovating. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it's going to work, it's not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.
Making decisions based on “one-way doors” and “two-way doors”
Most companies make high-quality decisions, but do so at the cost of speed. Amazonians focus on making both high-quality and high-velocity decisions. To encourage this, Amazon talks about the importance of recognizing the difference between one- and two-way doors—or the difference between a reversible and an irreversible decision. Understanding this distinction fosters a culture of experimentation. Amazonians are comfortable trying new things, if they can agree that, in the case it doesn’t work out, the decision can be scaled back without a negative customer impact. At Amazon, we believe that most decisions are in fact two-way doors—they are changeable, reversible. If something doesn’t quite work, you don't have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through.
Supporting internal mobility
Amazon is a company of many startups, with teams and businesses diving into new customer creations around every corner—and we encourage employees to take advantage of the career opportunities this provides. Our Leadership Principle “Hire and Develop the Best” reminds managers to recognize exceptional talent and move them throughout the organization. Investing in broadening employee skill sets fundamentally breeds big thinking and best practice sharing. In fact, in 2018, more than 10,000 Amazonians moved internally to different businesses. Employees are empowered to chase their big ideas, sometimes by taking on, or even creating, a new role.
To keep thinking big and bringing new ideas to the table, Amazon recognizes that creativity and innovation go hand in hand. From the company’s Expressions Lab, which provides employees with opportunities to attend art workshops and creative classes, to the Amazon Symphony Orchestra, a nearly 100 member symphony orchestra comprised of employees who perform multiple times a year for the community, Amazonians have endless opportunities to keep their creative juices flowing. And, for Seattle employees (as well as locals and visitors), The Spheres provide a one-of-a kind opportunity to be in an urban center while keeping a direct link to nature. Employees can work or have meetings among more than 40,000 plants from over 30 countries, fostering creative thinking through connections with nature.
Cultivating the next generation of innovators
Having a focus on innovation means thinking beyond today. That’s why Amazon is working to help children and young adults have access to the resources and skills they need to be tomorrow’s inventors. With the Amazon Future Engineer program, the company is committed to expanding computer science education access for more than 10 million students from the start of their academic careers all the way through college, each year. The goal is to ensure more students have the chance to pursue some of the great opportunities that an understanding of computer science affords, so they can grow up to be the future generation of innovators within the healthcare field, arts, education, tech, and beyond.