Your Big Idea Doesn't Matter - Thinking Big is About Execution
The concept of thinking big is not about having big ideas. It's about charting a path to accomplish great and challenging things.
It looks like this chilly Junuary is coming to a close. The weather forecast out here in the PNW finally shows a series of sunny and warm days. We recently moved into a new home with more property, so the nice weather means finishing the chicken run, repairing the deck, replacing the fence, trimming many trees, and the rest of the unending tasks related to maintaining a home. As a kid, doing chores felt horrific. As an adult, with headphones on and an audiobook playing, I look forward to cutting wood for the deck. Funny how things change.
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What do you think of when you hear someone mention the Amazon Leadership Principle of Think Big?
The first iPhone? The Ford assembly line?
Those were absolutely examples of Think Big. But not in the way most people think.
When you ask people about an example of Think Big (for example, during an interview), many people explain a eureka moment.
"I have the best idea! We should build a way for Amazon to automatically buy things that customers might need, but those customers didn't know that they needed them. We can call it Amazon Autobuy. If we automatically have customers buy things every month, it could be worth billions per year."
Is the idea big? Financially, I'm sure it would be impactful if it worked (customers didn't hate it, it bought the right things). I'm pretty certain it wouldn't pass a customer obsession sniff test. But that's not the point of this article.
So yes, it's a big idea. Is it a unique idea? Yeah, I'd say it's an example of out of the box thinking.
Can you say that you were Thinking Big if you came up with this idea? No, that wouldn't match the definition of the Amazon leadership principle.
"But why not?!" you might ask, as you think your idea is financially big, complex, and an example of out of the box thinking.
Thinking big isn't about proposing a big idea.
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers. - Amazon LPs
It isn't about leaders having bold ideas. It's about leaders creating (and communicating) bold direction.
Is an idea a direction? No, an idea is an end state. A direction is a path, it's a way you achieve a goal.
What is thinking big?
It's about looking at an end state far in the future, and charting a path backwards to achieve that end state. You're considering what would need to be true for that end state to be possible, and then building a roadmap to make those things happen.
An end state far in the future
What does far in the future mean?
Too many companies chase the near term. Immediate stock price. This quarter's financial statements. Amazon (/Bezos) is famous for thinking of long term in a different dimension.
Bezos - "Friends congratulate me after a quarterly-earnings announcement and say, 'Good job, great quarter,' And I'll say, 'Thank you, but that quarter was baked three years ago.' I'm working on a quarter that'll happen in 2021 right now." Forbes
Aggressive goals sound impossibly hard if you're thinking on the timescale of a year or two. Small goals sound appropriately challenging if you're only looking forward 12 months.
Starlink and Kuiper want to have a network of satellites to provide internet access across the globe. This requires new ground and space technology, and a massive investment over many years.
If you are looking closely at the next two years, the idea of providing internet access across the globe sounds impossible.
Instead, if you said, "What would it take to provide internet access across the globe someday?" you have some interesting questions to answer.
This type of thinking isn't simply for product development. You can think big about reducing operations, hiring, employee training, diversity, efficiency, or cost-cutting. If there is a potential end state which sounds impossible, you can think big about it.