Amazon's Bezos: 'Even well meaning gatekeepers slow innovation'

Amazon's Bezos: 'Even well meaning gatekeepers slow innovation'

Summary: "When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried," says Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos delivered his annual letter to shareholders and he let customers do most of the talking. Bezos, however, distanced Amazon from rivals in the Web platform wars and noted that the company's self-service enables innovation to flourish.

In some respects, Bezos' riff rhymed with the Thousand Points of Light speech from President George H.W. Bush. The idea is simple: Enable a bunch of folks to throw ideas up against a wall and do good work and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how many shine.

Bezos quoted users of the Kindle Direct Publishing systems (disclosure: I've used it to publish an e-book), Amazon Web Services and Fulfillment by Amazon. The money quote of Bezos' letter boiled down to this (emphasis mine):

Invention comes in many forms and at many scales. The most radical and transformative of inventions are often those that empower others to unleash their creativity – to pursue their dreams. That’s a big part of what’s going on with Amazon Web Services, Fulfillment by Amazon, and Kindle Direct Publishing. With AWS, FBA, and KDP, we are creating powerful self-service platforms that allow thousands of people to boldly experiment and accomplish things that would otherwise be impossible or impractical. These innovative, large-scale platforms are not zero-sum – they create win-win situations and create significant value for developers, entrepreneurs, customers, authors, and readers....

I am emphasizing the self-service nature of these platforms because it’s important for a reason I think is somewhat non-obvious: even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation. When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried, because there’s no expert gatekeeper ready to say “that will never work!” And guess what – many of those improbable ideas do work, and society is the beneficiary of that diversity.

That gatekeeper comment is definitely worth noting, but it's safe to say Google would make the same argument that Bezos uses. The Web platform wars have a series of giant players: Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook. The company that creates the most win-wins carries the day. In other words, it's a strategic skill to not be an uber gatekeeper. Apple is clearly a gatekeeper. Google has a good amount of control over Android's use on devices even though CEO Larry Page gave Amazon props for its use of the mobile operating system on the Kindle Fire. Facebook is already the social gatekeeper. You get the idea.

Amazon will be tempted to be a gatekeeper too. The trick will be resisting the urge.

Via Geekwire.

Topics: Mobility, Amazon, CXO, Emerging Tech

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3 comments
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  • Apple is an uber-gatekeeper. But successful because ...

    They have made many decisions in their role as gatekeeper. But most of them have been right, leading to their ultimate success as they deliver the right things in the right market.

    There is a downside: if they start guessing wrong, their fall can be as meteoric as their rise. There will be nobody else to help them, no source of "improbable ideas" to mitigate the bad decisions. Innovators will quickly move to venues where there are less demanding gatekeepers if that's what it takes to be successful.
    terry flores
  • Apple doesn't do this

    I missed the announcement. Is Apple selling self-service data center capacity? Self service warehouse capacity with pick-and-ship services? Bezos is talking about giving fairly sophisticated people the ability to play with Really Big Toys to pursue their dreams. Apple isn't in that business. They "gatekeep" applications that are being sold to consumers. Amazon does the same thing. Google has been doing a lousy job of it, with the result that Android is becoming known as a haven for malware.

    There's a huge difference between selling raw capacity for use by people who know what they are doing, and selling finished goods to consumers. I don't even know why Apple was included in this article.
    Robert Hahn
    • The common thread is creating a marketplace.

      Apple and Amazon are alike in that they created marketplaces. Amazon has done it in multiple forms, including physical goods, digital goods, and back-end services. Apple has iTunes and arguably the widest distribution of digital goods.

      Both companies act as gatekeepers to their marketplaces; not everyone is allowed to participate, and they have rules as to what can be traded. They also have their own payment systems which allows them to enhanced control of the overall trading experience.

      The difference in how they control their marketplaces is the point of the article. In Apple's case, the marketplace is firmly and sometimes arbitrarily ruled by Apple, and innovation is limited to what Apple can provide. Amazon takes a different approach as Bezos noted. Case in point: Netflix uses Amazon's cloud services to deliver streaming video, in direct competition to Amazon's own video services. Can anyone imagine Apple allowing a competitor to use *any* Apple service in a similar way? No chance.
      terry flores