Amazon’s Dangerous Genius

I am marveling at the Genius of Amazon and Jeff Bezos but also concerned about their future direction. 


Traditionally, they have invested for the long-haul!


For years, Amazon never made a dime, actually operating at a loss.


But all the time making long-term investments in infrastructure (warehouses, supply chain, logistics, etc.) and in customer acquisition. 


Their great selection, reasonable pricing, free shipping, and easy return policy lured hundreds of millions of people to drop the brick-and-mortar stores and even other online retailers to go Amazon all the way. 


Most people I know get virtually everything and anything on Amazon these days. 


Of course, the fear always was that Amazon would become such a dominant player and monopoly that no one else could compete. 


For a long time, they didn’t even charge sales tax!


It seems people can’t even imagine not having Amazon–where in the world would they shop and get all their stuff in 2-days or less (Prime Customers) and still be able to return all the crap they don’t even want. 


So here is the rub.


Now that Amazon is so dominant, guess what?  They are raising the Prime Rates and cutting back on returns–with customers actually being banned for returning too much. 


Ah, the lure, bait and switch. 


Amazon got us all as their slave customers–and we let them and love them for it. 


And after they snared us with all the convenience and security of being able to return stuff, they pull the rug and what can you do, but cry foul?


I love Amazon for their genius and what they have done for eCommerce, but I don’t like that they’ve built in a sense a dark empire to prey on their loyal customer base. 


Mr. Bezos, here is my message to you…


Please stay true to your ideals of customer-centricity and long-term investment in the company that has been the foundation for what you have built into such a retail juggernaut.  


Keep valuing your customers and serving them well and not trading them in for short-term profit gain.


In the end, that is a winning strategy that won’t land you in either regulatory hell and/or antitrust action to then force you to bend your knee or your ultimate breakup. 


Remember, you have one chance to make the right decision for Amazon or I fear that it’s not product returns that you’ll be for long worrying about. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Our Forefathers Were Planners And So Are We

Thank you to Rabbi Haim Ovadia for his speech today at Magen David Synagogue on the topic of how our forefathers in the Bible were planners and so are we today. (Note: some of the thoughts below are directly from Rabbi Ovadia and others are added by me.)


In the Biblical story of Jacob, there are numerous examples teaching us the importance of planning.


1) Shepherds vs Hunters:  Jacob was a shepherd versus his brother Esau who was a hunter.  Shepherds have a long-term outlook with their animals, tending to them and caring for them over the long-term, while hunters go out for the kills to eat for that day. 


2) Working for Rachel and Leah vs. Selling the Pottage:  Jacob worked for 7 years for Rachel and another 7 for Leah–this was the long-term view and commitment to work for Lavan in order to marry his daughters. In comparison, Esau came in hungry from the field and sold his birthright for the immediate gratification of a bowl of pottage.


3) The Plan to Take Esau’s Blessing: Rebekah worked with Jacob to prepare meat for Isaac and put hair and clothes on Jacob that made him look and seem like Esau, so Jacob could get the blessing from Isaac, while Esau was still out hunting in the field. 


4) Dividing his Camp in Two: Jacob sent messengers (i.e. reconnaissance) to see and plan for what Esau was doing in coming to meet him. When the messengers returned with word that Esau was coming with 400 men, Jacob planned for the worst, dividing his camp in two, so should one peril the other could survive. Additionally, Jacob prayed and sent rounds of gifts to Esau and also presented himself to Esau before his beloved wife Rachel and son Joseph in the safety of the rear. 


Long-term planning has been fundamental to the Jewish people throughout history and to modern times:


1) “People of the Book” – The Jewish people are known as “the people off the book” for the devotion to Torah study, learning, and continually investing in education, which is a view for long-term investment and success.   


2) Good Deeds to Inherit The World To Come – Fundamental to Jewish belief is that this earthly world is just a “corridor” to the World to Come.  We do charity and good deeds, not only because it’s the right thing to do (certainly!), but also because we believe that these merits will help us long-term when we pass, and go to the spiritual next world, Heaven. 


3) Believing and Praying for the Return to The Promised Land – For 2,000, the Jewish people never gave up hoping and praying on the deliverance of G-d’s promise to return them from exile to the Promised Land.  This was a long-term view that helped sustain the Jewish people throughout their far-flung exile and through millennium of persecution and genocide.

Ezekiel 11:17: “Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”

4) Waiting 6,000 years for the Messiah: For 6,000 years, the Jews have maintain faith and plan for the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the Temple and the ultimate redemption of the world.  

“(Ani Ma’amin) I believe in complete faith in the coming of the Messiah…Even tough he may tarry, none-the-less, I will wait for him.”

Like our forefathers, it is critical to maintain faith in the Almighty and practice long-term planning as keys to success in life. 


If we take the long-view, we can overcome so many short-term challenges, obstacles and even suffering–believing, praying planning, and doing for a better, brighter future. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Tiptoeing Or Delivering A Knockout Punch

Russia (and many others countries) develop some really kick-a*s weapons–especially, when they are so simple, yet so devastatingly effective.

Like this TOS-1A heavy flamethrower system–it is a multi-rocket launcher mounted on a T-72 main battle tank chassis.

The TOS-1A carries 30 (newer version 24) 220-mm incendiary or thermobaric unguided rockets that it can shoot up to 3 km (newer version 6 km), and it destroys everything within 300 square meters using high-pressure and temperature.

What is cool is that the technology seems boiled down to the basics–shoot and eliminate. And when multiple TOS-1As roll unto the battlefield–they unleash what looks like a ruthless barrage of destructive fire.

Of course, precision targeting weapons have the added benefit of mitigating civilian casualties–but from the looks of things, that is not what this weapon is all about.

The question is do you go half way or finish the job–do you hit below the belt or keep it a clean fight?

In war, if you leave the enemy intact or with fighting capabilities, then you may just have to fight them another day.

While the rules of war protect people from the cruelties of all out hostilities, we need to make sure that in the end, it keeps them safe over the long-term, and does not just prolong the inevitable cat-fight.

Good, kind, and just people often don’t feel comfortable delivering a knockout punch, but sometimes (not all the time) that is just what is needed to restore the peace. 😉

The Bottle Revolution


How many of you feel sort of disgusting every time you take out the trash with bottles and containers?


According to Earth911, only 27% of plastic and 25% of glass ends up getting recycled, with the majority ending up instead in landfills. 


This is one reason that I really like the new eco.bottles made by Ecologic, a sustainable (i.e. green) packaging company.


The containers are made of two parts:


– The inner plastic pouch that holds the liquid and snaps into the second part.
– The outer shell made of 100% recycled cardboard and newspaper (and in turn is 100% recycable again). 


These containers result is a net 70% plastic reduction!


Yet, they have the same strength and functionality of plastic containers, with comparable results in drop, ship, and moisture tests.


And companies like, Seventh Generation, a leader in sustaibable cleaning, paper, and personal care products have signed on and is using eco.bottles, and they have seen sales increase 19% with it. 


In a Bloomberg BusinessWeek (25 October 2012) article, the chief operating officer of The Winning Combination states: “The minute you look at it, you get it. This is a bottle that’s good for the planet.”


Like these eco.bottles, we need more of our decisions to be driven by what is good for us long-term, so this is not just a revolutionary green bottle, but perhaps a true sustainable evolution in our thinking and behaving all around. 

Leadership Now!

Now

There is a very good interview in the Wall Street Journal today (14-15 July 2012) with George Shultz, former Secretary of State, Treasury, and Labor.

Shultz talks primarily about our countries devastating financial situation today.

On the economy, he states bluntly: “We have some big problems in this country.”

But according to the interview “the policies for revival are obvious with the right leadership.”

Shultz gives an example of former President Reagan (who I blogged about previously (24 June 2012) in It’s The Right Thing To Do] as someone who had what it took to lead us out of difficult times.

“It took long-term thinking…[Reagan] knew and we advised him you can’t have a decent economy with the kind of inflation we’ve got…The political people would come in and say ‘You’ve fot to be careful Mr. President…You’re gonna lose seats in the mid-term election.”

And as Shultz reminds us, what was Reagan’s response?

“And he basically said, ‘If not us who? If not now when?”

The article goes on that “it took a politician with an ability to take a short-term hit in order to get the long-term results that we needed.”

Reagans words and deeds remind me of the Jewish teaching from the Book of Avot (“Ethics of Our Fathers”) from more than 2,000 years ago which reads in 1:14–

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
And if I am [only] for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?”

Reagan was in tune with this ancient wisdom of our forefathers, that we have an obligation to take the appropriate actions to care for ourselves and others and not to put off these actions unto others or for later.

This is one of those true leadership qualities that made Reagan one of the most popular and favorite leaders on the 20th century.

Reagan acted based on principle and not based on votes–the long-term health and outcomes for the country was more important than the minute-by-minute polling.

Of course a leader needs to represent the will and wishes of the people, but he must do so with the bigger-picture and long-term view in mind for the nation to survive and thrive.

Similarly Peggy Noonan writes today about how we need a “political genius” to get us out of the mess we are in as a nation.

She too uses Reagan as an example and explains how he used to state about congress that: “when they feel the heat [from voters], they see the light,” and it is the President’s job to help the people understand and “galvanize them.”

As Ms. Noonan states about a real leader: “he’s direct and doesn’t hide his meaning in obfuscation, abstraction, cliches and dead words.”

A leader who knows and believes as in the wisdom of fathers, and like Ronald Reagan, “If not us who? If not now when?”

(Source photo: here with attribution to Tom Magliery)

Governing the Internet Commons

Overgrazing

Recently, I’ve been watching a terrific series called America: The Story of Us(12 episodes)–from the History Channel.

It is a beautiful portrayal of the the founding and history of America.

One theme though that repeats again and again is that as a nation, we use the common resources and deplete them until near exhaustion.

The show portrays an America of lush forests with billions of trees that are chopped down for timber, herds of 30 million buffalo slaughtered for their hides, rollings plains of cotton for a thriving clothing industry that is over-planted, a huge whaling industry used for oil that is over-fished.

Unfortunately, as we know, the story is not just historical, but goes on to modern-day times, with fisheries depleted, whole species of animals hunted to extinction, energy resources furiously pumped and mined to a foreseen depletion, city streets turned into slushy slums, and national forests carelessly burned down, and more.

The point is what is called the “Tragedy of the Commons”–where items held in trust for everyone is misused, overused, and ultimately destroyed. With private property, people are caretakers with the incentive to maintain or raise the value to profit later. However, with common property, people grab whatever they can now, in order to profit from it before someone else gets it first.

This phenomenon was first laid out in the Torah (Bible) with a law for a “Shabbath Year” called Shmita mandating that people let fields (i.e agriculture) lie fallow for a full year every 7 years and similarly, the law of Jubilee (i.e. Yovel), that slaves be freed and loans forgiven every 50 years. I think that the idea is to regulate our personal consumption habits and return what the historical “commons” back to its normal state of freedom from exploitation.

This notion was echoed by ecologist Garrett Harden in the journal Science in 1968, where he described European herders overgrazing common land with their cows to maximize their short-term individual profits at the expense of longer-term term societal benefits. Harden suggested that regulation or privatization can help to solve the “Tragedy of the Commons.”

In the 21st century, we see the modern equivalent of the commons with the Internet, which is an open, shared networking resource for our computing and telecommunications.Without protection, we have the Wild West equivalent with things like spam, malware, and attacks proliferating–clogging up the network and causing disruptions and destruction, and where some people use more than their fair share

Here are some examples of the Tragedy of the Internet:

Symantecreports that even with spam decreasing with the shutdown of spam-hosting sites, in 2011, it is still 70% of all emails.

McAfeereports that malware peaked as of the first half of 2010, with 10 million new pieces.

Kasperskyreports that web-based attacks were up to 580 million in 2010–8 times the amount of the previous year.

Verizon Wirelessreports 3% of their users use 40% of their bandwidth.

If we value the Internet and want to continue using and enjoying it, then like with our other vital resources, we need to take care of it through effective governance and prudent resource management.

This means that we do the following:

1) Regulation–manage the appropriate use of the Internet through incentives and disincentives for people to behave civilly online. For example, if someone is abusing the system sending out millions or billions of spam messages, charge them for it!

2) Privatization–create ownership over the Internet. For example, do an Internet IPO and sell shares in it–so everyone can proverbially, own a piece of it and share financially in it’s success (or failures).

3) Security Administration–enhance security of the Internet through public and private partnership with new tools, methods, and advanced skills sets. This is the equivalent of sending out the constable or sheriff to patrol the commons and ensure people are doing the right thing, and if not then depending on who the violating actor(s) are take appropriate law enforcement or military action.

Only by managing the Internet Commons, can we protect this vital resource for all to use, enjoy, and even profit by.

(Source Photo: here)

Are You A Moses or A Seagull?

I have a new article called “Leadership for Lasting Change.””Usually organizational turnaround don’t happen by themselves. They are steered by change agents, people unafraid to take the reins and move forward. Like Moses liberating the Jewish people from slavery, a strong leader shows his [/her] people the way.”Read the article at Public CIO Magazine, Winter 2012.Hope you enjoy it.

Andy

(Source Photo: here)