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Guest Post: Amazon vs. The New York Times

August 27, 2015

Our Guest Post today comes from Lawrence M. Miller, at

Last week the New York Times published an important article on Amazon and its very competitive, demanding culture. (Jay and Barry’s OM Blog summarized the issue on August 18th). I think the Times piece and the response to it from Jeff Bezos are important reading. Here is my take:

Amazon has grown in the highly competitive Internet and technology environment and is daily competing to bring new products and services to market. They have succeeded so far because of the intensity of their culture. They have been in the conquering “barbarian” stage of expansion and they are deliberately trying to hold on to that culture beyond the point at which it normally drifts into a more stable and comfortable state. Culturally, it is still a start up! And start-ups, fighting for their lives and to grab a piece of market territory that they can call their own, live at a level of intensity that makes many extremely uncomfortable. They are at war!

My guess is that Amazon is straddling the Barbarian and Builder/Explorer stage of my life cycle model. This is a good place to be in an external environment that is filled with rapidly emerging competitors and changing technologies. If you aren’t conquering you are probably about to be conquered!

Managing the culture of a company is like tuning a stringed instrument: over tighten and it makes a squealing sound; under tighten and it sounds dead. What is too much pressure for one person is not for another. If a company wants to grow, it needs to maintain that “creative dissatisfaction” that drives employees to innovate and perform at a high level. On the other hand, it wants a culture that does not drive away the most creative and capable. Amazon could not have succeeded as it has if its culture was driving away its most talented. It can’t be that bad!



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