Hello, I’m Michael Sliwinski, founder of Nozbe - to-do app for business owners and their teams. I write essays, books, work on projects and I podcast for you using #iPadOnly in #NoOffice as I believe that work is not a place you go to, it’s a thing you do. More…

Jeff Bezos and Day 1 thinking and truth seeking


Recently I’ve listened to Lex Friedman interviewing Jeff Bezos and I have a few notes that stuck with me, specifically about his Day 1 mentality.

Jeff Bezos and Day 1 thinking and truth seeking

Every day is DAY 1

In his letters to shareholders of Amazon, Jeff Bezos highlighted that for Amazon, it’s still Day 1, because:

Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating painful decline. Followed by death. That’s why it’s always Day 1.

He explains this in the interview that it’s all got to do with the concept of rebirth and renewal:

Every day you’re deciding what you’re gonna do. You’re not trapped by what you were or who you were.

Day 1 thinking means:

We start fresh every day.

Exactly, we get to make new decisions every day. He argues that even self-consistency can be a trap (should you continue with what you did last time… or not?).

Tenets… unless you know a better way!

Whenever they start a new project at Amazon, they write down the main tenets1 for it. The main principles and rules. And they always finish with:

…unless you know a better way…

Jeff finds this idea key because he never wants to be trapped by dogma2 or history. It’s not that you should discard history, because it’s great that something has worked in the past, but you can’t be blindly following what you’ve done.

That’s the heart ❤️ of Day 1.

Skeptical view of proxies

When there’s a new project, apart from tenets, you also prepare some metrics to measure progress and impact. Which is a good business practice. However…

Metric is not the underlying thing - but it’s a reflection of what you’re optimizing for. The metric is a proxy for the real thing. So you might forget why you were watching this particular metric. Let’s say you have a metric that helps you assess customer happiness:

I don’t particularly care about this metric, but I care about customer happiness!

Sometimes the metrics are no longer relevant. Or are not indicating what’s really happening. Maybe they need revisiting. You have to constantly be on guard.

You have to use metrics but if you’re using metrics you don’t really understand, you’re slipping into Day 2 thinking.

Truth seeking - build a culture that supports that!

Humans are social animals. They are not inherently truth-seeking creatures because truths can be painful, awkward, challenging or inconvenient.

You have to talk about that and keep explaining to people that it takes energy to find truth, that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable sharing a truth. It’s not what we’re designed to do.

You have to seek truth, even if it’s uncomfortable!

We as humans survive by being social animals, by being cordial and cooperative. Science in theory is designed around truth-telling and even there it’s hard to find the truth.

Set up culture where the most junior person can overrule the most senior person, if they have data… or a hunch.

Jeff says he always speaks last. I have to be mindful of that. I don’t speak last all of the time. And I should. I’m the freaking CEO of Nozbe. He argues that if someone listens to another person, who they respect, utter an opinion, they can change their mind. And maybe they shouldn’t.

Data or hunch - because sometimes we feel something’s not right. We don’t have data yet, but we want to see, because something feels off. And we should have a space to check it out.

This is when “disagree and commit” comes in. Very often you might disagree but you want to move forward so you commit to the new decision and see where it takes you.

If there are two interpretations of a new set of data, and one of them is happy, and the other one is not, it’s good to be skeptical about the happy version. It might be good, but I’m gonna go with the “it’s bad” for now until we’re sure.

He quotes a story that encapsulates all of the above. In Amazon they had a metric that said that people on average didn’t have to wait long for a customer support rep to pick up the call. But they had a feeling that the metric wasn’t really reflecting the truth because customers kept complaining about it. So when they had their WBR (Weekly Business Review) meeting, Jeff told them to place a call right then. And they did, and there was an awkward wait for 10 minutes that drove the point home.

When the data and anecdotes disagree, the anecdotes are usually right.

Compromise is lazy

Instead of compromising, seek the truth. Find out what’s really there. It’s hard and it requires energy. When people fight about decision, the one who’s more stubborn very often wins. Or the one with higher status. Again, you haven’t arrived at the truth. Exhausting the other person is not truth-seeking.

You shouldn’t compromise when you can know the truth.

Big things and paper cuts. Deliberately focus on both!

At Amazon the big things are: low prices, fast delivery and vast selection. What are the big things for you and me?

Jeff argues that it’s great to have teams working on the big things, but in the process there are these customer experience deficiencies, which they call: paper cuts.

They have dedicated teams that fix paper cuts, because the teams that are focused on the big things never get to the paper cuts and very often these are the small things that piss people off and drive them away.

At Nozbe we work at 6-week cycles on big things, but then we dedicate 2 weeks on paper cuts. This way we can polish things and ship small improvements, not just new features with new sets of problems. We can’t afford to have a dedicated team for that but we just budget a time for it.

Let your mind wonder!

Jeff also mentions that he likes his mind to wonder, not just to work with maximum productivity but also to just wonder around.

This is why I like doing sports because then I’m running, cycling, swimming or shooting tennis my mind can relax and think about things and make new connections while I’m working on my physical strength.

Also meetings. At Nozbe we believe that Meetings are regular, optional and well prepared and that’s true, but I realized recently that sometimes you can let meetings be more less rigorous and give yourself time to discuss and wonder around during the meeting. I’ll write more on that soon.

It’s Day 1 for me!

Just because I listen to Jeff Bezos, or any other tech billionaire doesn’t mean I agree with all they share but I did take quite a few lessons from Jeff over the years and this interview was very good for me now.

It’s Day 1 for Nozbe and for me! Even after close to 17 years running it!

I even bought myself this Moleskine Smart Planner for 2024 (more on that later) and I’ve labeled it like this:

2024 is Day 1

Jeff Bezos and Day 1 thinking and truth seeking - smart planner

I encourage you to watch the interview or listen to it. It’s a little long and the beginning is all about rockets and his Blue Origin company, so I’ve embedded the whole thing below but started in the middle where Jeff talks about Amazon and the good stuff starts:

  1. Tenet is a principle, belief, or doctrine generally held to be true. 

  2. Dogma is something held as an established opinion, especially: a definite authoritative tenet (see above). 

Thursday, December 21, 2023 /day1/