Jeff Bezos on Developing High Standards

Perfect Handstands

A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good. She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently this is an actual thing that exists. In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. “Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.” Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.

In his usual manner Jeff Bezos’s letter to Amazon shareholders takes the form of sharing a part of the company’s philosophy. This year he decided to focus on the topic of high standards. Are they intrinsic or are they teachable? He believes they are teachable.  Are high standards universal or domain specific? They are domain specific. In the highlihted paragraph above he shows how necessary it is to have realistic expectations if we want to achieve high standards.

Although in a different format part of what Jeff speaks about is similar to what is covered in The Compound Effect (I gave this book a 2.5 out of 5 rating because it contains way too much fluff.)  If you want to achieve anything great take small steps that compound. Trying to bite off too much at a time makes the likelihood of you quitting that much higher.

Another important thing not to miss is that you don’t need to be highly skilled in an area to achieve high standards of output. Developing the ability to recognize high standards is often sufficient. We can get help from others to achieve high standard outcomes.

The football coach doesn’t need to be able to throw, and a film director doesn’t need to be able to act. But they both do need to recognize high standards for those things and teach realistic expectations on scope.

I suggest you take a read of the letter here.  If you have the time check out this podcast by freakonomics radio on the topic as well.

Thanks for reading.