Intelligent fanatics hit targets that no one else sees.
Jeff Bezos was able to see differently than nearly everybody else in the early 2000’s, and continues today, largely in part to his fanatical preparation.
In Jeff Bezos’ biography The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, childhood friend Joshua Weinstein recalled, “He was excruciatingly focused. Not like mad-scientist focused, but he was capable of really focusing, in a crazy way, on certain things. He was extremely disciplined, which is how he is able to do all these things.” Part of that focus and discipline was vacuuming up details from history. This vast storehouse of details has given Bezos the ability to frame his present situation with the best historical examples. In other words, by looking at the past he has been able to throw out all of the useless noise and draw accurate conclusions to how the future might unfold based on the past.
This phenomenon is perfectly observed in 2003 and is repeating again today.
Seeing Differently in 2003
“A lot of how we decide how we’re supposed to react to things and what we’re supposed to expect about the future depends upon how we bucket things and how we categorize them.”
– Jeff Bezos
First, lets look back to 2003 right after the dot com bubble had burst. Jeff Bezos did a Ted Talk on the proper analogy for the internet (found below).
When you think like everybody else thinks, don’t be surprised when you get what everybody else gets. Divergent thinking, and action, pays in business and investing. Jeff Bezos clearly demonstrated his early divergent thinking in this presentation. While others viewed the early internet’s boom and bust as akin to the gold rush, Bezos saw the evolution of the electric industry as a better analogy. This mental model provided him the proper framework to be “incredibly optimistic” about the internet’s, and his, future while everyone else was depressed.
As Bill Hewlitt and Dave Packard said, “The biggest competitive advantage is doing the right thing at the worst time.” Bezos was doing the right thing at the worst time, being incredibly optimistic of the internet’s future and investing accordingly.
Since we are now fourteen years into the future, we can observe with hindsight how correct Jeff Bezos was in his analogy. The internet, like the light bulb, connected the world. Both have been “thin horizontal enabling layers that go across lots of different industries.” Those who automatically believed the gold rush was the best analogy of the dot com bubble was sorely mistaken. 2003 was the very, very early days of the internet.
History rhymes. Bezos was only 39 when he did this presentation, however, his knowledge of both the gold rush and the electric industry’s evolution was as good, or better, than if he had personally lived through both time periods. Everyone else who followed the commonly believed gold rush analogy, had neither lived through the gold rush, nor possessed the requisite detail of that time or the subsequent evolution of the electrical industry. Simply, they didn’t properly prepare.
Seeing Differently in 2017
After having achieved his “lottery ticket success”, Jeff Bezos’ preparation tells him to invert his game plan. At first he was the beneficiary of significant prior investments that would allow the internet platform to be a reality. In May 2017 he said, “We didn’t have to build a payment system. It already existed and was called the credit card. Computers were already on every desk thanks to you know Microsoft, IBM and Apple.” Then you had the capital investment by telephone companies and cable companies to bring the connection of internet into the home. Such investments allowed himself and other young entrepreneurs, without capital, to come up with new innovations.
Again looking back to his previous presentation in 2003, his studies of history already prepared him on how to invest into the future. In 2003 he said:
“The killer app that got the world ready for appliances was the light bulb… They weren’t thinking about appliances when they wired the world… This was a huge – as you would expect – a huge capital build out. All the streets had to be torn up… The Edison Electric Company, which became Edison General Electric, which became General Electric, paid for all of this digging up of the streets. It was incredibly expensive.”
Jeff Bezos is now going to pay it forward by building the infrastructure for space, as explained in the recent video below:
“I would have such a good feeling if I could be an 80 year old guy, and laying there thinking about my life, if I could say look there are now a bunch of entrepreneurs in space because I took my Amazon lottery winnings and built the heavy lifting infrastructure that does take billions of dollars in capex to lower the cost of access to space.”
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is doing the heavy lifting that the Edison Electric company did over a hundred years ago for a multitude of industries. That way future generations will be given the same opportunities that were afforded to Jeff, and Elon, with the internet, only this time in space.
Not only is it necessary to build the infrastructure to space for a growing population of humans but it also helps an “everything store” like Amazon. Jeff said, “I also don’t want to stabilize population. I would love for there to be a trillion humans in the solar system.” Population stasis is not good for a retailer.
We can all see things differently than the crowd with the right preparation, just like Jeff Bezos. That preparation is stuffing our minds with relevant historical details. You want to know a wide range of historical details so well, that you know it better than people who actually lived through those experiences. Eventually, complex present situations don’t sound as complex anymore; they start to sound familiar to parts of your historical database. You then see like Jeff Bezos, and other intelligent fanatics.