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Jeff Bezos revealed the one question he always asks himself before setting Amazon's vision for the next 10 years (AMZN)

Jeff Bezos 2019 IAF Award
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was asked about the company's 10-year vision during Wednesday's annual shareholder meeting.
  • He said it was important to ask yourself "what won't change" over the next 10 years before setting your goals.
  • For Amazon, that would include its intense focus on serving the customers, as that leads to other important leadership principles at the company, such as taking a long-term approach.
  • It's an oft-cited idea by Bezos, who shared a similar answer last year, when he said Amazon was focused on low prices and fast shipping because people would continue to want those even 10 years later.
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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says it's important to ask one question before setting your goals for the next 10 years: "What won't change?"
That was his answer when asked on Wednesday about Amazon's 10-year vision during the company's annual shareholder meeting. While many things will change in the next 10 years, it's more important to identify the big ideas that will be stable and focus on building upon those things when setting your goal, he said.
"You can build strategies around things that will be stable in time," he said. "In that 10-year vision, there's a bunch of things at Amazon that are not going to change."
One of them, and perhaps the most important, is Amazon's constant focus on serving the customers, he said. That customer obsession, he said, leads to other parts of Amazon's culture, like taking a long-term view on new projects and being inventive with a willingness to fail.
"The center of all of that, what pulls all of that along, is being customer-obsessed," he said. "And that is really protective of our culture — even in a 10-year time horizon."
It's not the first time Bezos has shared this idea. Last year at Amazon's re:Mars robotics conference, Bezos gave the same answer when asked to predict what the future would be like in 10 years. He said Amazon was focused on low prices, fast shipping, and a large selection because those are the things people will still want decades later.
"It's impossible to imagine people saying to me, 'Jeff, I love Amazon. I just wish you delivered a little more slowly.' Or, 'I love Amazon. I just wish your prices were a little higher,'" Bezos said at the time.
At Wednesday's meeting, which was held online because of COVID-19, Bezos answered other questions as well. He said he was "proud" of Amazon's response to COVID-19, despite the public criticism and employee protests over the company's worker-safety measures. He also said the firings of several employees who spoke out about Amazon's working conditions were not over the activism but because of a violation of internal policies.
Here's Bezos's full answer to the question about Amazon's 10-year vision:
Well, certainly in 10 years many things will evolve; technology will change. Machine-learning technology, in particular, will evolve very significantly over the 10-year time horizon.
But I would always encourage people, when they think about 10 years, to ask the question what won't change?
That's actually the more important question. You can build strategies around things that will be stable in time. In that 10-year vision, there's a bunch of things at Amazon that are not going to change.
One of them, maybe the most important one, is that we will stay customer-obsessed instead of competitor-obsessed. We will work on maintaining that culture.
We're patient, so we're willing to take time to do things.
We're inventive. It is very important to maintain that over the 10-year horizon. When you find yourself between a rock and a hard place, the way out is to invent your way out. This team is very inventive.
We are willing to fail. And that willingness to fail is not going to change in 10 years. The size of our failure should continue to increase as we continue to do bold things.
But the center of all of that, what pulls all of that along, is being customer-obsessed. And that is really protective of our culture — even in a 10-year time horizon.
If you're competitor-obsessed, and you find yourself a leader in some arena, it's very easy to lose your motivation. You're already ahead; why should you run? If you're customer-obsessed, if that's your motivation, that's very sustainable.
Even as a leader, your customers are always dissatisfied. They always want something better.
And so it is very motivating all along the journey. So that is, you know, we'll continue to work to get the right people. People who like that approach. People who are motivated by customer obsession. People who like to invent. They have beginners' minds, even if they're experts.
These are the things that will stay the same over 10 years.
If we can keep that culture, that customer obsession, then the 10-year vision will frame itself out over time.
So I'm super excited about that.
SEE ALSO: Amazon has an elite group of execs who are guiding the company through the coronavirus chaos. Here are the 23 members of Jeff Bezos' 'S-team.'
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