Now that Jeff Bezos presides over one of the most valuable companies in the world and has amassed a personal fortune of around $150 billion, folks are turning to him for advice on how he became successful. And while there’s no doubt he’s a very smart guy, he didn’t make Amazon into the company it is today singlehandedly. He surrounded himself with highly intelligent people. Which begs the question – how does Jeff Bezos decide someone is smart?
Steve Jobs is famously quoted as saying: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”. But identifying smart people isn’t that easy.
In a recent article, Jeff Bezos was asked how he identified smart people. Surprisingly, it wasn’t their knowledge that he focussed on. Rather, it was their ability to change what they think based on new information.
Bezos “observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking”.
If you think about that, it’s a critical skill often lacking in many people. Experts can be heavily invested emotionally or in some other way and aren’t able to update their opinions easily. They struggle to adapt when new data changes the assumptions upon which they’ve based their knowledge.
That’s not to say fitting in with the culture of an organisation or having the requisite hard and soft skills aren’t important. But the ability to adapt and change opinions based on new information is a critical skill and one that Bezos values highly.
The article Bezos is quoted in goes into some of the science behind this and why “intellectual humility” is an important and valuable trait. And it notes that a good question to ask people isn’t how often they’re right or wrong but when they last changed their opinion.