The following is an excerpt from Jeff Bezos (CEO and founder of Amazon) and the annual letter to his shareholders:
“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”
That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.
I’m interested in the question, how do you fend off Day 2? What are the techniques and tactics? How do you keep the vitality of Day 1, even inside a large organization?
Such a question can’t have a simple answer. There will be many elements, multiple paths, and many traps. I don’t know the whole answer, but I may know bits of it. Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.
True Customer Obsession
There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.
Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.
What does this mindset have to do with education?
Some people will shun ANYTHING that comes from business because they will say “schools are not a business”. I agree to some point. Profit is not the bottom line of education, but if you can’t apply and learn from the lessons of success from others, and make your own connections, ultimately our students lose out.
The “obsessive customer focus” that Bezos speaks of, is the same reason I have been challenging people for years to start from the question, “Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?” This is not a one-off question, but something that we should ask ourselves daily. It should be something posted in our schools and classrooms. Even moving further, “What is the experience our students tell others about their time in school?” This ties into the first question, but it also helps others understand that the experience of school is something that every person in our organisations helps to create.
This is not asking what would work best for you (the adult). It is asking you to try your best to understand your students, their realities, their viewpoints, and take that learning and create something meaningful for them.
This is why I wrote about “8 Things to Look For in Today’s Classroom”. The term “today” focuses on what the students in front of you need. We talk about preparing our students for the future, but that often comes at the cost of ignoring who is in your room today. They need you to be your best, and at your “Day 1” right now. You only have one opportunity to work with the students you have this year. Today’s classroom is understanding to serve the future, you focus on serving your students in the present. They are the future.
I will continue to look at this image and think about how I can iterate it to move forward while digging deeper in each area:
What is irrelevant? What do we need to add or subtract? If I am focusing on “Today’s Classroom”, I have to be open to my learning changing as well.
Some people will take this as I am saying that schools are not good enough. I take this notion of “Day 1” as always growing. Remember, Jeff Bezos started Amazon out of his garage, by only selling books. They are continually evolving to become better, even piloting “brick and mortar” stores. This also doesn’t mean we need to revamp what schools do every single day. Remember, Amazon still sells books, but much of the company looks different from its original inception. We need to figure out when to go deep, when to iterate, invent, and/or reinvent. Focusing on who we serve first and moving backwards from there will always help you to figure those things out.
Innovate or die.
This isn’t about “are we good enough?”; the focus is on continuously getting better and understanding who you serve, and what you do to serve them. If you move backwards from there, you will always be at “Day 1”.
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