A reading club with a view to the future

039 Colin Bryar, Bill Carr: Working Backwards

Learn how Amazon innovates, scales, and prioritizes customer needs from the employees who worked with Jeff Bezos for over two decades.

Colin Bryar, Bill Carr: Working Backwards


Working Backwards is a behind-the-scenes look at how Amazon works and innovates from the perspective of two of its long-time executives. The authors, Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, both worked with Jeff Bezos for over two decades, and in this book, they share the principles and practices that underpin Amazon's success. They provide examples of how Amazon prioritizes customer needs, tests and experiments, and scales quickly to stay ahead of competitors. The authors also describe the company's unique culture, hiring practices, and leadership principles that have helped Amazon become the giant it is today. Overall, Working Backwards is an insightful and practical guide for any company seeking to innovate and grow like Amazon.


Title: Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon

Author: Colin Bryar, Bill Carr

Year: 2021

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Length in hours: 10 hours and 41 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Customer obsession is the cornerstone of Amazon's success.
  2. Experimentation and testing are key to innovation at Amazon.
  3. The Amazon culture emphasizes ownership, bias for action, and a willingness to be misunderstood.
  4. Leaders at Amazon are expected to be hands-on and customer-focused.
  5. Amazon's hiring process is designed to identify and attract the best talent.
Colin Bryar, Bill Carr: Working Backwards

5 funny quotes

  1. "No one is coming to save us. It's just us and the gazelles out here."
  2. "The good news is that at Amazon, you can make a mistake that costs $5 million, and they won't even take away your parking spot."
  3. "At Amazon, you're never the smartest person in the room. Unless you're Jeff Bezos, and then you might be."
  4. "Amazonians have their own language. It's like a combination of a cult and a startup."
  5. "When you ask for feedback at Amazon, be prepared to receive it. In fact, be prepared to receive so much feedback that you'll never want to ask for it again."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "Innovation at Amazon isn't about gambling on high-risk, high-reward moonshots. It's about reducing risk by conducting thousands of smaller, low-risk experiments."
  2. "Amazon is a company that never wants to graduate from its startup mindset. Every day is day one, every idea is a seed, and every employee is an entrepreneur."
  3. "The true test of an Amazonian is their ability to turn good intentions into actual results."
  4. "If you can't explain your project to your grandmother or an eight-year-old, you're probably overcomplicating it."
  5. "At Amazon, we're always asking ourselves: what's going to change in the next 10 years? And then we're working to prepare for it."

5 dilemmas

  1. How do you balance long-term goals with short-term deliverables?
  2. How do you build a culture of innovation without sacrificing efficiency and accountability?
  3. How do you prioritize and make decisions with limited resources?
  4. How do you remain customer-focused while also considering your own business objectives?
  5. How do you manage rapid growth while maintaining company values and culture?

5 examples

  1. Steve Kessel, Senior Vice President at Amazon, led the effort to develop Amazon’s Kindle e-reader.
  2. Jeff Wilke, former CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer, was instrumental in launching Amazon Prime and overseeing Amazon’s delivery network.
  3. Colin Bryar, co-author of the book, helped Amazon build their first physical retail store and launched Amazon’s Prime Video service.
  4. Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos, was a key partner in Amazon’s acquisition of Zappos.
  5. Tom Szkutak, former CFO of Amazon, helped the company scale from $16 million in revenue to over $70 billion in revenue.

Referenced books

  1. "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" by Brad Stone
  2. "The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail" by Clayton M. Christensen
  3. "The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses" by Eric Ries

Share a quote

"Amazon is a company that never wants to graduate from its startup mindset. Every day is day one, every idea is a seed, and every employee is an entrepreneur."

Colin Bryar, Bill Carr: Working Backwards
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