The world is changing faster now than at any time in its history. Never before have people and businesses had to adapt to so many changes at such a fast pace. Despite the stress and chaos of it all, Amazon.com founder, Washington Post owner, and Blue Origin creator Jeff Bezos has been successfully leading new businesses in new frontiers.
His latest project, Blue Origin, moves him from the online retail industry to the newest space race. This project is attempting to take millions of paying customers out of this world – literally. Here are just a few management lessons from his commercial space ship program that can apply to even the most down-to-earth businesses.
Passion Often Trumps Experience
It is simple enough to see there is very little in common between an online retail company and manufacturing space ships. Jeff Bezos attended college at Princeton where he studied electrical engineering and computer science. There is nothing in his educational background to suggest that he was prepared to invent a new method of reaching low earth orbit, though studying engineering at all helps.
Blue Origin is a perfect example of how drive and ambition can overcome the most glaring experience gap. Although rocketry wasn’t on his resume, Bezos had a passion for the field. This passion has driven him to learn, experiment, and hire the best support teams, giving him the ability to be successful even when many said he couldn’t do it.
Focus Your Energy on a Small, Carefully Selected Team
Talent is what allows a company to succeed across all levels of the corporate hierarchy. Bezos has shared that he has an organizing principle to use once he has found the individual talent he needs, his “Two-Pizza Rule.” Essentially, he believes that teams should never get so big that they can’t be fed with two pizzas. (Richard L. Brandt, “Birth of a Salesman,” Wall Street Journal)
Although this doesn’t mean that a business should slim down necessarily, it means that teams of five to seven are ideal for managers to get the best outcomes from their decision-making committees. Any larger, and communication and personality disputes start to slow down the process.
Don’t Wait, Anticipate
Although Jeff Bezos had a lifelong personal interest in space and technology, Blue Origin wasn’t formed until the year 2000 – despite the fact that the U.S. Space Shuttle Program still had a monopoly on human space flight. (Joel Achenbach, “Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin to Supply Engines for National Security Space Launches,” The Washington Post)
Even though he had no market, Bezos saw the potential opportunity and took a calculated risk in developing the first Blue Origin spacecraft, the New Shepherd. By the time NASA’s aging shuttle program was formally retired, Blue Origin had already built a radical new design for a working spacecraft, far in advance of his competitors. So, when the time came, they were prepared to compete for the first round of private contracts to replace the Shuttle Program.
Be Flexible, But Determined on Your Business Goals
In a 2011 Geekwire interview Bezos said, “We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.” Despite several failures in the process of creating a commercial space flight program (the crash of the New Shepherd in 2011 and the failure to compete for the International Space Station contracts), Bezos continued to “patiently and step-by-step, lower the cost of spaceflight so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system.” (“Flight Test – Goddard Low Altitude Mission,” Blue Origin)
Although the goals have remained the same, the tactics have stayed flexible. Instead of going straight to the Space Station under a NASA contract, they are marketing to private individuals and universities to reach the easier destination of suborbital flight. In essence, instead of giving up, they are looking to give their customers a valuable experience, but at a price point that is beneficial to both Blue Origin and its consumers.
Their tenacity has resulted in a huge government contract to supply rockets for the United Launch Alliance (Steve Wilhelm, “Rockets Blew Up, Blue Origin Got Real: Seattle’s Year in Space”, Puget Sound Business Journal)
Create a Culture of Invention and Risk
Whether you are a small business owner, online retailer, or rocket-builder, you need to find ways to feed new ideas. As Bezos said, “If you decide that you’re going to do only the things you know are going to work, you’re going to leave a lot of opportunity on the table.” (Kevin Maney, “Last Founder Standing,” Upstart Business Journal).
In a company like Blue Origin, where risk is essential to success, Bezos is able to foster a sense of safety amongst his staff. Speaking of Amazon, another of his companies, he has said his job is to encourage “bold bets” in pursuits of big payoffs that compensate for small failures. (Austin Carr, “The Real Story Behind Jeff Bezos’s Fire Phone Debacle,” Fast Company)
Managers who encourage risk-taking are more likely to get the best ideas, products, and revenues from their employees.
Manage Your Spin
Blue Origin is notorious for secrecy. There is very little information that leaks out about the status of progress, and official releases are seldom produced. Although this approach to information can potentially create suspicion, tight policies regarding information are critical for any industry with intellectual property. Hackers and pirates in the United States and abroad, are mining servers to extract massive amounts of information and wealth.
Even if you don’t work with highly classified information, Blue Origin is a great example of a company that has effectively managed its online and offline reputation. According to the New Space Journal, Blue Origin is a “notoriously secretive company,” which has added to the mystique of their unusual product. The takeaway? When master entrepreneur Bezos finally is ready to show his cards, he’ll likely have a truckload of buyers just waiting to ease the suspense to the tune of $250,000 a pop.
What do you think?
We find ourselves in a time when entrepreneurs can move into industries that didn’t even exist just a few short years before. There are few useful templates that businesses can easily use and succeed. Although the instability of our constantly changing world can be intimidating, it makes examples like Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos even more important. It is reassuring to see that success can be found in diverse fields by staying flexible and adapting to changes.