Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon

Rate this book
Working Backwards is an insider's breakdown of Amazon's approach to culture, leadership, and best practices from two long-time, top-level Amazon executives.

Colin started at Amazon in 1998; Bill joined in 1999. In Working Backwards, these two long-serving Amazon executives reveal and codify the principles and practices that drive the success of one of the most extraordinary companies the world has ever known. With twenty-seven years of Amazon experience between them, much of it in the early aughts—a period of unmatched innovation that brought products and services including Kindle, Amazon Prime, Amazon Studios, and Amazon Web Services to life—Bryar and Carr offer unprecedented access to the Amazon way as it was refined, articulated, and proven to be repeatable, scalable, and adaptable.

With keen analysis and practical steps for applying it at your own company—no matter the size—the authors illuminate how Amazon’s fourteen leadership principles inform decision-making at all levels and reveal how the company’s culture has been defined by four characteristics: customer obsession, long-term thinking, eagerness to invent, and operational excellence. Bryar and Carr explain the set of ground-level practices that ensure these are translated into action and flow through all aspects of the business.

Working Backwards is a practical guidebook and a corporate narrative, filled with the authors’ in-the-room recollections of what “Being Amazonian” is like and how it has affected their personal and professional lives. They demonstrate that success on Amazon’s scale is not achieved by the genius of any single leader, but rather through commitment to and execution of a set of well-defined, rigorously-executed principles and practices—shared here for the very first time.

A Macmillan Audio production from St. Martin's Press

304 pages, Hardcover

First published February 9, 2021

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Colin Bryar

3 books25 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,942 (44%)
4 stars
1,718 (39%)
3 stars
590 (13%)
2 stars
103 (2%)
1 star
35 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 434 reviews
April 7, 2021

Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest

So, I actually haven't read that many books about business management-- most "business" books I read are about the history of tech and how human psychology influences consumer behavior-- so I'm not sure if this is a shining beacon of knowledge in its genre. I do know that while reading WORKING BACKWARDS, I was smacked with an idea of something I can do to improve my own work ethic, so that was cool. That said, it does seem to be more of a guide for managers and directors (think high level) and less a guide for people who might be lower-level managers/leads who don't directly impact the decisions of their company on the every day.

My favorite portions were actually the promised "stories and secrets from inside Amazon" because it was interesting to get that inside look at the Big Scary Company from which I order all my books. I'm old enough that I actually remember when it JUST sold books (and CDs). I liked reading about the growing pains, the decisions behind some of the major decisions they made, what they learned from their failures (Unbox), and those brief snippets of Jeff Bezos doing his Important CEO Things by asking all of the tough questions.

Another favorite portion of mine was when the two executives break down the development of some of Amazon's key features. OBVIOUSLY my favorite was about the Kindle, which I think is great. When I was working a minimum wage job, I wanted to blog about books like all of the cool kids out there, but I couldn't afford to buy shiny paperbacks fresh off the shelves. Waiting for ebook sales of Kindle books made reading new(ish) books REALLY affordable. Their prescient observation that digital was the way of the future when physical media was still selling well and comfortable was quite lucrative for them (and also, I love my Kindle-- it really is just like a book iPod). I also liked the story about Prime and how they found away to get around people's biggest deterrent in ordering online in the first place: shipping $$$. Free shipping is great.

Vast swaths of this book really didn't apply to me, but I still found it really interesting and I just skimmed the parts that were of less interest. I do want to again issue the caveat that this is first and foremost a book for people working in business (specifically tech business), and if you're not in management or you don't know much about tech, you're going to be sad because there really aren't enough "secrets" in here to tide over a dilettante. I also-- and the authors agree, based on their afternote-- want to issue another caveat that not all of the approaches in here are going to work for every company. Case in point: I love my PowerPoint slides and no big shot is going to convince me otherwise. *snarl*

That said, this book was way more fun than I thought it would be and is very accessible and down-to-earth for what it is!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

3 stars
94 reviews6 followers
March 31, 2021
I had no idea that Amazon's culture was so unique and such an integral part of the company before reading this book. The authors were two early high-level Amazon execs, and they do a great job of explaining the culture and mechanisms that make Amazon unique (first half of the book) and giving examples of Amazon's uniqueness in action (second half of the book).

Chapter 1: Delight the Customer

1. Customer obsession is KEY. It’s more important than anything else. (Long-term shareholder value is fortunately aligned with pleasing customers).
2. Ensure that financial incentives are aligned with desired results. In particular, you must make sure to not disincentivize collaboration and long-term thinking.
3. Operational excellence is a MUST. There’s no magic formula for this beyond planning well, working hard, and taking responsibility/ownership.
4. Leadership principles must be enforced via mechanisms and baked into every process/aspect of the company.

Chapter 2: Hiring

This chapter is a great "how-to" for creating a decent hiring process.

1. What makes a good process: it’s simple to understand, can be easily taught to new people, does not depend on scarce resources (such as a single individual), and has a feedback loop to ensure continual improvement.
a. The most interesting aspect to me is the feedback loop for improvement – the Core Bar Raisers train Bar Raisers, who in turn use the debriefing meetings as coaching sessions to engrain the process into interviewers.
2. The 14 Leadership Principles seem like a great way to assess candidates / maintain a corporate culture (as far as that is possible).
3. Hiring is really critical, and really hard, so it makes sense to devote significant resources to it and train a corps of “Bar Raisers” who are voluntary experts in the process.
4. Hiring is complicated, so you need to make sure that you develop a good process, maintain metrics on it, and learn the process really well.

Chapter 3: Organization

1. Organizing different capabilities into independent units is a must.
2. Building a company is about more than building a product – it’s about building an organization. The organization itself is a type of ‘product’ that must be experimented with, iterated on, documented, and improved.

Chapter 4: Communication

1. You need to make the most of your meetings. They need structure, they need to facilitate efficient information transfer between the presenters and the audience, they need to engage the audience.
2. Narratives help to accomplish these things.
a. Written narratives are much more information dense than slides.
b. The silent reading at the beginning of the meetings prevents interruptions.
c. They allow the efficient communication of complex ideas.
d. They don’t depend on presenters’ speaking skills, and their form allows them to be easily distributed and edited.
3. This meeting structure seems good:
a. 1. Silent reading of the narrative (1/3 of meeting)
b. 2. Get feedback from everyone in the room
c. 3. Allow questions/discussion
d. Must record all feedback and questions
4. What do you want to accomplish in a meeting?
a. Force the presenters to think deeply about what they are presenting. Writing a narrative accomplishes this.
b. Enable the audience to understand the idea and to provide useful feedback.
5. Narratives are iterative processes. They are also difficult. Writers must practice writing them, and audience members must practice giving feedback, over many cycles.

Chapter 5: Working Backwards

1. The PR/FAQ format itself sounds kind of gimmicky, but it’s as good as anything at achieving a great goal – forcing the team to focus on the customer while also enforcing due diligence on the business/product/tech development side.
2. The PR/FAQ format also has the same benefits of the narratives discussed in the previous chapter – it’s a standardized format that’s accessible to anyone in the organization; it’s a complete record of the idea that can be easily passed along, reviewed, and edited; and its written format enables a richer narrative and higher information density than a presentation.
3. There are three parts of the PR/FAQ: the PR (1 page, forces a perspective shift to the customer). The external FAQ (continues to force a customer perspective). The internal FAQ (due diligence on the business/product/tech side).

Chapter 6: Metrics

1. Running a company is eerily similar to setting up an optimization problem. You need to get the reward function just right, otherwise your optimization problem is going to give you unwanted results. It’s a little more complicated than this though. Although the output metrics are the final ‘reward signal’, since you don’t have direct control over these metrics, you have to define ‘controllable input metrics’ which are basically proxy reward signals for your employees. It is a difficult iterative process to make sure that the controllable input metrics are properly aligned with your overall goals.
2. They suggest using the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) process for making metrics.
3. The Weekly Business Review meetings are important for evaluating the metrics and using the metrics to detect anomalies/bad trends in the operation of the business. The authors give a lot of guidance on how to structure these meetings to be productive.
4. Looking at anecdotes and exceptions is a crucial complement to looking at the metrics. The anecdotes and exceptions are a reality check that help to expose flaws or oversights in the metrics.

The second half of the book is about how the Kindle, Prime, Prime Video, and AWS were developed. It was pretty cool to hear about these success stories, since they're a big part of what differentiates Amazon from other tech companies (the ability to consistently make successful new products).

The decision to leap into hardware creation for the Kindle was huge for Amazon, but it was carefully planned - they realized that they couldn't differentiate themselves from other e-book sellers based on their selection or price, as they had with physical books, so they had to differentiate via either their content creation process or the reading experience, and they chose the reading experience. Next, they didn't compromise on devising and following through on features that would make the Kindle a truly great reading experience - the E-Ink display, the free cellular internet collection that allowed you to download books from anywhere, etc.

The development of Prime was earlier and more haphazard than their other examples, but it's a good example of the Amazon process. They brainstormed a ton of different ideas, most of which were failures or only partial successes, before they finally found the winning formula with Prime. Furthermore, they weren't afraid to pivot even after devoting significant resources to a given strategy. The introduction of Prime guaranteed that Amazon's previous fulfillment strategy (building large fulfillment centers close to distribution centers) would become obsolete (they would need to build many smaller fulfillment centers closer to customers in order to have free two-day shipping), but they went ahead with it full steam anyway. Furthermore, they did it during the busy holiday season when they could easily have claimed they were too busy with other things to create this huge new feature.

Prime Video:
This was the most interesting story for me because it was so full of failure. Amazon's first attempt at video was Amazon Unbox, which was a disaster. Then they made Amazon Video on Demand, which also was not a success. Then they made Amazon Instant Video, which also didn't really go anywhere. Finally, they folded their video service into Prime, which made it a bigger success. Furthermore, they finally decided to go from being just a video aggregator to being a content creator and a device maker. On the device side, this line of thinking led them to develop the Fire Tablet and the Echo. On the content side, they have made a number of hit shows for Prime Video. This example really shows how persistence pays off, yet I think the authors don't highlight the causes of their failures enough. The authors mention that their team was almost entirely MBAs and engineers and no Hollywood people, and some of the key insights came from the rare team members with Hollywood experience - it seems pretty boneheaded to me to not hire more people with relevant industry experience. Also, it took them forever to stop being a video aggregator and instead go after content creation and device making. And finally, it took them forever to realize that the streaming business model was a game changer. They could have saved probably $100m's if they had had some more humility and had spent more time on self-reflection.

This chapter was disappointingly short. But AWS clearly shows just how far-sighted Amazon's leadership was. AWS was initially just a service for querying product info for Amazon's referral program, and it eventually become like an API for Amazon's web store. I think it took true insight to realize that instead of just providing an API to Amazon's web store, they could provide an API to Amazon's actual servers and computing power and that this would become an enormous market.

While reading this book, I was getting a lot of Julius Caesar vibes from Jeff Bezos and Amazon. When I was reading Caesar's Gallic Wars and Civil Wars (basically yearly reports of his military activities), I was amazed by how Caesar was able to successfully operate in literally every theater of the Mediterranean in every type of battle in every battle condition against every type of foe. Amazon strikes me as a company with a similar capability - an ability to successfully operate in almost any business. Not only do they have that ability, but they are not afraid to act on it and make big bets. The themes that I picked up on throughout the book were that Amazon succeeds because for them, the company/organization is one of their products, so they are constantly scrutinizing their processes, developing mechanisms to make their success repeatable and to prevent failures, and making long-term investments in both their businesses and their (high-level) employees. Furthermore, if you're really serious about something being part of your company culture, you need to bake it into everyday life at the company. For example, incorporating the 14 Leadership Principles into the hiring process forces the interviewees to use them in evaluating candidates. PowerPoint slides are literally banned for most important meetings. Salary compensation is capped at $160k so that most compensation is in the form of stock. Etc etc. Leadership Principles are corny talking points until you bake them into every aspect and mechanism of the company, and then they suddenly become a way of life.

The one thing that surprises me is that Goodreads can have such a god-awful UI despite the fact that it's owned by Amazon.
Profile Image for Karen.
374 reviews21 followers
February 17, 2021
I really wanted to finish this book and write the review before it was published, so I was trying to rush through it, but the thing is... it was too good to rush through! I had to slow down and take it all in. Trust me when I tell you this book is excellent.

No one can dispute that Amazon is a hugely successful company. It is known. Colin and Bill help explain what it is to be "Amazonian" by working "backwards". You don't even have to work in tech to use some of the strategies and techniques they describe. I work in marketing for a yeast manufacturer and several of these ideas would really help us innovate more, in less time, while making our customers happier.

Using a 6-page project brief in place of a tired PowerPoint presentation to present your ideas. Writing the press release *before* you start to design your next product. Changing your hiring strategy to slow down and really get the right people for your company and culture, even in the face of urgency. Moving to single-threaded leader-run autonomous teams. So many of these - seemingly backward - ideas are what led to the now-unstoppable success of Amazon, and many of them are relevant in almost any industry.

As a business strategy book, it was actually very interesting; not dry at all. Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Amazon, and a customer of many of their services. I am also fairly critical of corporate fairy tales. This book was well written, showing flaws as well as successes, and was realistic and succinct. Highly recommended.

Thank you to the publisher, St. Martin's Press, and NetGalley for this ARC.
Profile Image for Rishabh Srivastava.
152 reviews143 followers
March 31, 2021
This was a summary of Amazon's operational principles, written by two senior insiders. The first half of the book lays out these principles, while the second half talks about how they were applied within the organization

I found the first half super useful and well-written, but the second half was lacking. My main takeaways were:

1. Define operating principles for key leaders in your organization and make sure they stick to it

2. Ensure that you have a structured processing for hiring. In an interview, if you ask inane questions like: “Tell me something about yourself that isn’t apparent by reading your résumé.” You might as well just say, “Look, I don’t know what I’m looking for or how to find it, so can you please help me out?”

3. Ensure that your leaders and key teams are responsible for doing one thing and one thing only. The best way to fail at inventing something is by making it somebody’s part-time job. Have separable teams with single-threaded leaders. Separable means almost as separable organizationally as APIs are for software. Single-threaded means they don’t work on anything else

4. Using narratives and the written word to develop and communicate ideas can help you identify flaws in ideas before you execute them. Don't rely on oral, power-point based presentations. Removing the natural variance in speaking skills and graphic design expertise can help you get to the innate quality of an idea (unaffected by the charisma or lack thereof of the presenter) quicker

5. Start with the desired customer experience when coming up with new product ideas. Start by defining the customer experience, then iteratively work backwards from that point until the team achieves clarity of thought around what to build. Create the press release and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for a product before you put any engineering effort into it

6. Don't try to optimise for output variables (like sales, or valuation). You can't control them. Instead, create a strong model of how variables you can control (input variables) map to the output variables. Then, optimise the input variables that you can actually control

7. Use data and dashboards effectively to keep track of matrics. With so many metrics to review, written narrative or explanatory notes would undercut the efficiency of the read-through. Instead, stick to charts, graphs, and data tables.

8. Outsourcing can often have devastating long-term implications. Much of the knowledge and know-how accrues in the minds and methods of the outsourcer. Never outsource critical IP or knowhow. Specially when you need to continually iterate on the product
Profile Image for Sebastian Gebski.
933 reviews800 followers
November 7, 2021
I've read Working Backwards mainly because I was curious about how I'll perceive a book about Amazon, by (former) Amazonians, being an Amazonian myself.

TBH it's not the first book on Amazon or Bezos I've ever read ("Invent and Wander", "The Everything Store", "The Amazon Way"). I've learned a lot about Amazon's culture before I've joined the organization and it was one of the key reasons why I've decided to join AWS. Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't call it the best culture, the most successful culture, or the most future-proof one. But it's very strong, very well defined, and distinguishable (Amazonians call it "peculiar") and it simply resonated with me.

This book differs a bit from the former ones I've mentioned. Those ones presented the history of Amazon as a company - how it started, what was the role of J.Bezos in its success, how it developed to the size and position it has now. "Working Backwards" is focused on culture and the concepts that serve this culture, that had such a big impact on the organization. Well, the book is still very practical - there are plenty of examples of how these techniques and mechanisms were and are being applied in practice, but all the war stories are presented via these lenses.

How does the picture described in the book differ from the real-life in Amazon? In fact, it doesn't. I mean - my war stories don't involve J.Bezos, A.Jassy or W.Vogels, but:
* the leadership principles are what this company breathes in and out all the time
* the bar raiser recruitment program is still here, implemented across the whole organization
* all the specific concepts mentioned, like revolving doors (when making decisions), using mechanisms to support LPs, working backwards, creating narratives (and starting meetings with reading them in silence), single-threaded leaders, etc. - they all are present and used every, single day

OK, but from my perspective - what's the purpose of this book? Is it some cheap propaganda? Boasting with achieved successes? An attempt to please powerful people egos?

It's hard to judge. I wouldn't call it propaganda, but this is definitely the story of the success - because, well, Amazon is a very successful company. To be fair, mistakes and failures are presented here as well (e.g. Fire phone, but not only), but typically in a context of a lesson to be learned - as a part of long-term thinking strategy.

Personally, I think that this book:
* tells a good story (there were some anecdotes I've never heard about)
* does remarkably well, when presenting Amazon culture for the non-Amazonians
* is good food for thought for people who build their own organizations and appreciate the importance of cultivating a healthy organizational culture

Please keep in mind that I'm not saying this is a tutorial or a collection of recipes to copy from. I strongly believe that everyone has to carve their own path and what has worked for Amazon may not work for your company. But if you build enough internal awareness to build your own org. culture in such focused, attentive way as Amazon did, you may turn out unstoppable.
Profile Image for Sri Shivananda.
32 reviews286 followers
April 20, 2021
There are various things about the ways of working at Amazon I have only heard as headlines. This book was great to understand practices like bar-raisers, pr-faq, 6-pagers, long-term mindset, single-threaded leadership, failing fast, optimizing input metrics, and more - all expressed through the lens of how programs like kindle, prime, fire phone, prime video, and aws were executed. Scaling execution, excellence, and leadership take a principled and deliberate approach to ways of working. Repeatable rhythms and rituals can be created with mental models and cultural artifacts. This book shares how this execution culture was cultivated at Amazon over the years.
Profile Image for Mindaugas Mozūras.
287 reviews154 followers
February 23, 2021
The best way to fail at inventing something is by making it somebody's part-time job.

Working Backwards was written by two former Amazon executives. A lot of these sorts of books are not very practical. They focus more on the stories and achievements, and the helpful and insightful nuggets are few and far between. I had a much more positive experience with Working Backwards. A worthy disclaimer is that I work in a leadership role at a marketplace company.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on the leadership principles and various practices at Amazon. I've loved this part; it gave me insight into how Amazon is run and gave me ideas I'd like to try out at my current job. I found this part very practical - more so than I expected.

The second part is a collection of four stories to illustrate the principles and practices at work. I liked two of the four (Kindle & Prime), I wasn't moved by the other two (Prime Video & AWS). To be fair, I already had more knowledge of how Prime Video & AWS came to be.

Overall, I've enjoyed it and would recommend Working Backwards to anyone looking for insights into how one of the largest companies is run.
Profile Image for Haur Bin Chua.
195 reviews4 followers
September 19, 2021
Amazon is no doubt a great company and much of it has been due to it being in the forefront of e-commerce revolution. But for many who have analysed Amazon’s business model, it is clear that it owes much of its success to its cash cow, the AWS web services segment of the company. The mountain of cash enables the company to be more predatorial and experimental in other segments like the online platform, Kindle, Prime Movies. All of which, if looked on a standalone basis, are no where as spectacular vs competitors.

Against this backdrop, this book which is meant to share the wonderful work processes within Amazon milks the halo effect to its fullest. Some processes like no PowerPoint slides, working backwards and customer obsession are interesting but it’s not clear how much of which truly contributed to Amazon’s success. Take for example the successful AWS business, how much of it was ‘worked backwards’ given the truly revolutionary nature of this business segment.

Other than that, this book makes Amazon sound highly bureaucratic and unempowering. Take for example the supposed Bar Raiser process to improve hiring, even the hiring manager does not have empowerment over their own hire but reliant on a select group of people by the ‘S-Team’ to approve. Furthermore, months long business planning and budgeting process, 4 hours weekly meetings driven by metrics, metrics and more metrics, 14 (!!) leadership credos supposedly permeated down through the entire organisation. All of which make Amazon sound no different from any other big companies in the world.

The other thing that made me cringe every time the authors mention in the book is the concept of being ‘Amazonian’. I’m sure a minimum wage worker in one of their fulfilment centres have a different concept of being ‘Amazonian’ than the authors. The supposed Amazonian culture of bias to action, frugal, ownership and accountability, etc etc are nothing new from any MBA playbook.

One thing was clear was the cult around Jeff Bezos - the authors seem to suggest Jeff is never wrong. Jeff said this, Jeff was involved in that, Jeff rejected this. Jeff Bezos is a remarkably smart man, but a company built around one person’s brilliance can only scale so much.

That said, I’m sure there’s a lot more behind Amazon’s success. In another book ‘The Everything Store’ by Brad Stone reveals more about Amazon’s rise to success than this insider story. Perhaps the authors are being bound by NDAs or were commissioned as an Amazon propaganda, we’ll never know.
Profile Image for Daniel Wang.
1 review
February 23, 2021
I been at Amazon for 5 years. I learned more than I expected. The history of how various Mechanisms were invented often provides you with a deeper insight as to what problems they were designed to solve. Some of these techniques are so effective at eliminating some problems it so hard to understand why you are doing them.
Profile Image for Calin.
33 reviews1 follower
January 15, 2023
A great book which feels like an evolution and another angle to another book I read a couple of years ago: Idealized design by Russell Ackoff, to some extent I feel this book is the story of how those concepts can be put in practice operationally. There are few gems in here but without spoiling too much my favorite has to be the 6 page narratives.
Profile Image for Harsha Varma.
98 reviews63 followers
May 23, 2021
"Amazon SVP (aggressively sceptical): Exactly how much more money are you willing to invest in Kindle?

Jeff (turns calmly to CFO, smiling, shrugging his shoulders): How much money do we have?"

One of the best business books I’ve ever read. Amazon’s growth has been stunning and this book offers an inside view into its culture and decision making processes.

1. Amazon’s product development process is working backwards from the desired customer experience. Before building a product, write a Press Release to clearly define how the new idea or product will benefit customers, and create a list of Frequently Asked Questions to resolve the tough issues upfront.

2. Willingness to think long-term over short-term, in every decision.

3. For each initiative or project, there is a single-threaded leader whose focus is that project and that project alone.

4. Amazon would always underpromise and overdeliver, to ensure that customer expectations were exceeded.

5. Compensation at Amazon is simple and oriented towards the long term. As one is promoted at Amazon, the ratio of cash to equity compensation becomes more and more skewed towards long-term equity.

6. For serious presentations, replace PowerPoint slides with paper handouts showing words, numbers, data graphics, images together. High-resolution handouts allow viewers to contextualize, compare, narrate, and recast evidence. In contrast, data-thin, forgetful displays tend to make audiences ignorant and passive.

7. A six-page narrative is the method that best enables everyone in a meeting to get up to speed quickly and efficiently on a project, instead of a PowerPoint.

8. Narratives also allow for nonlinear, interconnected arguments to unfold naturally—something that the rigid linearity of PowerPoint does not permit.
Profile Image for Jessica Haider.
1,791 reviews239 followers
February 18, 2021
Working Backwards is a key concept in the Amazon development process. This involves thinking of what the end customer experience should be and working backwards from there to design and develop towards that end result. In this book, Working Backwards, two former Amazon VP's discuss Working Backwards and several other key ideas to what it means to be "Amazonian". They believe these concepts are a big part of Amazon's success. They cover everything from hiring practices, how they conduct meetings, and more.

This was a very interesting read. I have worked at enterprise software companies where we have done things much differently than what is described in this book. It was cool to get a peek inside of Amazon and how they operate. Amazon may often be bashed for being a monopoly and crushing small business, but this book did help show how they were able to achieve such dominance.

I recommend this book to anyone who works in hi-tech or is interested in the hi-tech market as an outside observer.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy!
Profile Image for Anu.
368 reviews53 followers
May 30, 2021
Working backwards explains how Amazon has evolved and applied a set of consistent principles that allows them to be faster, stronger and bigger than other companies over the long term. Unlike parochial retellings of successful companies’ mythologies, this book states the company’s beliefs and applications of those beliefs in both successful and failed cases. This is such an exciting and thought-provoking book, I read it like my favourite fiction - racing through it in one sitting on the first read and savoring it slowly on the second. Anyone building businesses, products and companies is sure to find something useful in the book.
Profile Image for Nabil.
81 reviews7 followers
March 22, 2021
Interesting book, but too much Kool-Aid and not enough detail on examples outside of what Colin worked on himself. There was probably lots of activity and discussions outside of the PR FAQ process or the lack of slides that made Amazon successful.
Profile Image for Denis Vasilev.
616 reviews87 followers
September 6, 2021
Книга о практическом применении принципов, о которых рассказывал Безос в своих письмах. Не думаю, что это универсальные принципы бизнеса на все времена. Не думаю, что книга будет долгосрочно актуальной, тем не менее есть что взять для применения в своей работе
Profile Image for Thiago Marzagão.
182 reviews23 followers
January 26, 2022
Outstanding. Best business book I've read since Netflix' "No rules rules". I learned a lot about recruiting, planning, monitoring progress, reducing communication overhead. Not sure I'm giving up PowerPoint any time soon, and I think they're a bit too top-down (they don't let reports interview their future managers, for instance), but I'm on board with pretty much all the rest.
Profile Image for Maukan.
42 reviews23 followers
September 6, 2022
Normally business books make me feel nauseous, filled with platitudes and survivorship bias. However, Amazon has a different level of respect. They have significant street cred. When I think about Amazon and what they have accomplished, it's terrifying to think about but I also can't help admire it. It's almost as if I am watching a volcanic eruption caught by the spectacle but I am within distance of the debris. For any company to immerse themselves in multiple industries is testament to a philosophy that is followed throughout a conglomerate. When organizations scale, this is when they fail, they find themselves not being able to keep in pace with the growth of the business or evolve in any way. We know a litany of companies that stayed static and thus become relics such as Nokia, Kodak and GE.

Before we get into this book, I think its important to say that Amazon's treatment of its working class workers is rather cruel, walking 10 miles a day in a warehouse, hiding injuries reported, making them so pressed for time that drivers go to the bathroom in the back of the van or get into accidents because of the stress with being pressed for time. At the same time, I disagree with the morality of their treatment of workers, that doesn't mean they cant teach me something about their business ideology which is why I picked up this book.

There are a lot of interesting insights in this book, most companies preach a philosophy and then never implement anything such as "We care about your ideas", "Please always bring us your thoughts" etc etc. I have been in a number of companies where executives will say this and then ignore you repeatedly thinking they know better. It's common as organizations grow, decision makers are further and further from the problem. They become siloed but still confident they understand the issues, this is impossible. To really understand the issues, you need to be immersed in the details of different departments. Let me give you an example, Bezos and another key executive visited a call center to take calls, already they're making the effort to immerse themselves in the mind of a customer or a business problem, most executives believe their titles are too prestigious to do entry level work. Not Bezos, you have to give him credit here because he listens to the call service rep as he shadows her, she brings up a brilliant solution to a problem. He realizes a way to connect this information with warehouse fulfillment's and provides a better solution to what existed but he needed to put himself in that situation first before he could solve the problem. Most executives would never do that because they're obsessed with jerking off to their titles and are so insecure to ever appear to not know something.

Creating a culture of psychological safety is also another hallmark of Amazon, (although I have heard rumors from friends that this is not true). Creating a culture where people can share ideas without having fear of being ridiculed is important. This way everyone shares ideas and they take ownership because they're invested in the success of the company or idea as well. When you have a top-down structure, it leads to workers feeling uninspired and disengaged from the role. I remember one company told me that I needed to earn their respect before I brought any new ideas. So I had to work for 6-8 months before I could tell them something about a certain process was wrong on day 2. How stupid is that? When you hire someone, you're already telling them we value you but apparently some companies think differently. Little things like this may not seem important but they're of at most importance. Organizations begin to decay if there is not a vibrant energy shared between all departments where everything is aligned.

Another interesting point was that Amazon had revenue and cash on hand, numbers were showing positive growth but overall a key metric was lagging. Even though they consolidated a nice chunk of profit, they knew if they kept going in this direction their business would fail. This is something we all should respect for organization to change course when it's profitable is almost unheard of, practically alien. This goes to their ideology of thinking long term, most organizations live for quarterly numbers forgoing what is to come down the road. Amazon has been so successful because they thought long term and were willing to accept the failure of being wrong amazon prime was amazon super saving shipping or some dumb name before it became Amazon prime. Amazon prime video was a failed video service called unbox before. So its these long term investments that were made with the acceptance of failure. This is why they were able to get a foothold in so many different domains. It takes extreme confidence and fortitude.

Another key takeaway was this realization Bezos said most times we have 40-60% of information on a topic when we need 90% information to make a decision. In some cases being wrong fast is better than being slow and doing nothing. This little gem is important because it gives you a sense of freedom to just say 'Okay fuck it, instead of waiting and waiting. Why don't we pick the area where we think is going to be the most successful approach and iterate, learn, fail, process lesson and then iterate again' most organization do suffer from analysis paralysis. Another philosophy you have to respect from the culture of Amazon.

Overall there are some corporate bullshit aphorisms at times from this book, they also imagine Amazon as a great place to work at. This is not true, Amazon out of the major tech companies from a software perspective has the lowest rating by a significant margin, the competitiveness and back stabbing is abundant and this is from employees who rate the company on Blind. An app where tech workers share stories about various topics. Not to mention Amazon, send executives texts at 2am to test how dedicated they're while publicly Bezos is saying you should get 8 hours of sleep. Thats fucking hilarious.

This book does have a lot of gems inside here, even though it reads sometimes a little MBAish which if you know me, you know that I am prejudiced against all MBA's. I think it's the one class of people we should be allowed to discriminate against. I think MBA's are the lowest form of human to have ever drawn a breath. I am just fucking with you but obviously I don't like MBA's. This books does have some philosophies which you can use and implement in your own businesses.
20 reviews
March 1, 2021
Easy-to-read vignettes of the authors' experiences at Amazon, although they try a bit too hard to codify it into "Amazonian wisdom". The authors have a very inside look at the process of creating Amazon's best products: kindle, prime video, aws (ish) and they share a high level view from the executive chair on how these projects got conceived and greenlit--spoiler alert: almost every story ends with an unsatisfied Jeff Bezos saying that more can be done for the customer and sacrificing short term revenue.

Highlights include the chapter on input metrics, a deeper dive into the press release process (I realized that my company which emulated this took it slightly out of context), and the single-threaded leader and team concept (more relevant for large companies).

There was one story where a customer service rep knew about a product being returned often because of damage from bad packaging. I would've developed a process but the customer service agent to provide feedback to the product team but Jeff Bezos developed a red button for the customer service to press that would take it off the site until the problem was fixed. This is why Jeff Bezos is the richest man on the planet. He makes bold moves.

All in all, the first part of the book was wonderful and the second part goes into a Barack Obama memoir style narrative of half justification and propaganda for Amazon products.
149 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2021
What a wonderful business book. Unlike many books that claim to be for business, this one hits the mark. It is not just a fluffy story about how great everyone was on the team and how they all made the best decision, every time. Colin and Bill give you real life processes and options for making decision, building teams and how the teams can be run. If you are like me, you will end up taking notes as you read this book. If you want or need assistance with growing your business or career, read this book.
Profile Image for Joel Bastos.
Author 1 book21 followers
June 16, 2021
It's easy to enjoy this book, which usually happens when the story is driven by the hindsight of a company's success against all odds. If the previous sentence resonated with you, probably "Transforming Nokia" should be your next book.

The book is split into two major parts. The first is much more focused on the core company practices. The second relies on stories about some well-known products, like the Kindle or Amazon Web Services, and how the practices mentioned previously had an essential role in their success.

"Working Backwards" reads somewhat like a manual, full of teachings gathered from the rise of the behemoth that is Amazon and what makes it tick. Some of the topics covered include decision hierarchy, performance metrics, project validation, compensation, communication and hiring.

Some concepts that stood out were, for example, the "6-page Memo", which forces the correct rationale for a product to be written down, shared and discussed in a meeting which time is reserved for reading the aforementioned memo. This approach removes all the usual bias from the equation, like PowerPoint "design" skills, public speaking prowess or even personal charisma, focusing exclusively on what matters most for the company, the product itself.

Another example is "Single-threaded Leadership", which ensures a culture of empowerment, responsibility and accountability. This approach to management prevents conflicts of interest or decision paralysis, always focusing on outcomes.

The last mention-worthy concept is the "Bar Raiser". These "Bar Raisers" would help to conduct interviews and ensure quality over quantity, pushing for a culture of excellence on any candidate and even the hiring managers involved. Feedback provided would be candid because the goal was clear, ensuring Amazon had the best staff technically and culturally.

You can agree or disagree with any of the previous concepts, but in reality, they were clear from the start, and that's a massive advantage in your success within the company. You knew where you were instead of figuring that out a year or more down the road, and just for that, I found it highly beneficial.

Amazon is unique in its story and its growth. Although I understand the "We are the Amazon of " syndrome, most companies have. In the end, hindsight is blinding, and each company, although free to mimic some Amazonian concepts, should write their own book instead of copying this one.

Anyway, a good book, valuable lessons, and delightful stories, I do recommend reading it.

Some memorable quotes:

"Sometimes it’s best to start slow in order to move fast."

"The best way to fail at inventing something is by making it somebody’s part-time job."

"Our culture is four things: customer obsession instead of competitor obsession; willingness to think long term, with a longer investment horizon than most of our peers; eagerness to invent, which of course goes hand in hand with failure; and then, finally, taking professional pride in operational excellence."

"When you encounter a problem, the probability you’re actually looking at the actual root cause of the problem in the initial 24 hours is pretty close to zero, because it turns out that behind every issue there’s a very interesting story."

"The Effects of Personal Bias and Hiring Urgency there are other types of cognitive biases that affect the hiring process. Another harmful one is personal bias, the basic human instinct to surround yourself with people who are like you. People have a natural desire to hire those with similar characteristics: educational background, professional experience, functional expertise, and similar life experiences."

"Another of Jeff’s frequent exhortations to his small staff was that Amazon should always underpromise and overdeliver, to ensure that customer expectations were exceeded."
Profile Image for Daniil Lanovyi.
380 reviews37 followers
May 29, 2021
What a comprehensive new employee's onboarding guide :)

Chapter titles in this book should not surprise anyone who ever wondered how Amazon does it? How is this enormous juggernaut continues to be one of the most innovative companies around? The particular techniques they use were known before. However, this book wraps them into a much needed context. You'll learn not only what Amazon does but also why and how they go about it. The book is mainly targeted at managers who seek inspiration and ideas to improve the way they work.

However, it will be tempting to simply copy the techniques described and then blame the authors when it inevitably fails. Because the biggest takeaway from this, and most other business books, is not about a particular method, but about your dedication to learning, experimenting and adapting on the way.
Profile Image for Lukas Vermeer.
302 reviews57 followers
October 8, 2021
Great insights into an iconic company. Lots of practical ideas and suggestions one can put into action. Some important details are being glossed over, but that is the price we pay for brevity.
Profile Image for Ana Carla.
19 reviews2 followers
April 6, 2021
Este livro é um manual de práticas da Amazon que, segundo os autores, são fundamentais para o sucesso e o alto nível de inovação da empresa. Das minhas favoritas, destaco: trocar slides por narrativas escritas em reuniões, pensar o produto de trás para frente (escrevendo PR/FAQ ainda na fase de ideação) e o processo de "bar raiser", que busca garantir que a barra de recrutamento nunca caia, mesmo quando se tem urgência para fechar a posição.

Meu único adendo é que quase todo exemplo de processo decisório bem sucedido descrito no livro passa em algum momento por um Jeff Bezos insatisfeito numa sala de reunião. Ainda que a mensagem original fosse de que não é necessário ter um Bezos para alcançar o mesmo sucesso com o jeito "Amazonian" de se trabalhar, minha impressão é que os exemplos na verdade apontam para o contrário, o que reduz a aplicabilidade da fórmula de sucesso descrita no livro.
Profile Image for Aksel Nooitgedagt.
25 reviews5 followers
August 11, 2021
Interesting stories from inside Amazon. The book is divided in two sections: first is about Amazon's processes and second is a historical description of a few of their products and how those Amazon processes worked in real examples. I liked the book, as they describe Amazon principles and processes in a way, that others can use it in their companies. Especially, I liked the concepts of:
- Bar Raise Process - when hiring new employees, there is a Bar Raiser, who has a veto power to not hire an employee. He is from the outside of the hiring team and his responsibility is that with each new hire, the bar raises on Amazon.
- Single-Threaded Leadership - every bigger project or product has a singe leader, who's working full time on that project only.
- Narratives and Six-Pagers - we already started using written narratives in our company (and that's why I actually wanted to read the book), but now it's more clear to me, how narratives are used on Amazon.
- Working Backwards - Amazon starts always with what the customer will get and works backwards to deliver it. They start with a Press Release and FAQ for their new products. This was an interesting concept, what I think we'll use for new products in our company.

My general impression is a bit worse than when I read Netflix's No Rules Rules. I feel a difference when the book is written by some managers (like this book) versus when it is written by the CEO and Founder (like the No Rules Rules book). But I'm very glad that I read it!
Profile Image for Koosha.
69 reviews28 followers
February 9, 2023
This book has two main parts. The first part describes the culture of innovation at Amazon, and how this culture evolved throughout the years in response to challenges they faced, and how the company integrated this culture through a list of principles and processes into its fabric.

The second part tells the stories of several key products at Amazon, such as Kindle, Prime, Prime Video, and AWS. I found the stories interesting and inspiring. They walked the walk when it comes to their principles. They stayed focused ton their mission, and built products and services that billions of people around the world use and love.
Profile Image for Seth Benzell.
199 reviews12 followers
May 3, 2021
Essays being better than PowerPoint is an interesting theory, not backed by any systematic evidence presented here.

It’s all either anecdotes or tautological “Amazon managers are really good because they have the virtue of being good at managing”.

A straight history would have been more interesting and the historical details are the most interesting parts of this book. Exactly the moment when they pivoted to make AWS for example.

The Bezos hagiography is also tiring.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 434 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.