Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has his share of people in love with Prime Day. Amazon just recorded the biggest sales day ever. He also has his share of people who hate his guts. Just Google “bad Jeff Bezos” and you can read for hours. Former employees, analysts, pundits, and leadership gurus all have their own perspective on whether Bezos is a good, or an evil, genius.
He recently explained his perspective at the Recode Conference to interviewer Walt Mossberg (video link below).
First, he says, realize that people who don’t make waves never get criticized. At least realize by being criticized, it means you’re in the game. “If you do anything interesting in the world, you are going to have critics. If you can’t tolerate critics, then don’t do anything new or interesting,” he said with a smile.
“Let’s say someone actually did wrong to you,” he shares. “Is that how you want to spend your time? Most people want to step back, take a deep breath, and go on to do great things–do amazing things in the future.” Even if what is said is totally wrong, he points out one of his favorite old sayings is, “Seek revenge and you shall dig two graves–one for yourself.”
He advises that “the best defense to speech you don’t like about yourself is to develop a thick skin. You can’t stop it. Move forward, it’s not worth losing any sleep over.”
Bezos has a thought experiment he does when comments get him simmering. “My advice if someone wrote something and hurt your feelings, is to stand on a street corner, and watch all the people walk by. I bet you none of those people are thinking about you.”
“The final thing,” he says, “is you always have to remember this country has vast free speech protections because of the Constitution and our cultural norms. You don’t want to erode those and create a climate of fear or chill with respect to free speech norms. The most important thing to remember about that is that beautiful speech doesn’t need protection. It’s ugly speech that needs protection, so that’s where the rubber meets the road.”
“If you step back and think about what a great society we have, a big part of it is the fact we have these cultural norms that allow people to say really ugly things. You don’t have to invite these people to your dinner parties, but you should let them say it.”
As a final observation, Bezos pointed out, “One thing I think is not appropriate that Donald Trump is doing, is working to freeze or chill the media that are examining him… it’s just a fact that we live in a world where half the population on this planet, if you criticize the leader, there’s a good chance you’ll go to jail or worse.” Bezos’ point is that protecting the right to say terrible things is a foundation of American culture and prosperity.
He related a story of how the previous Washington Post owner, Katharine Graham, was threatened with being “put through a wringer” if she published the Watergate story–which she went ahead and did, leading to Nixon’s impeachment. Today, Bezos owns theWashington Post.