Tag Archives: Words
It’s not a plan really, not a hidden secret message. It’s more of an expression of emotion. Maybe a realization of necessity.
In fact, while the text Amazon posted on its blog on February 14 runs 363 words, the most important part of this crucial passage is just four words long. But those four words speak volumes.
It starts with a dig at “state and local politicians” in New York, and a statement about how many New Yorkers supposedly supported the deal. Then, we get to the crucial part:
We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion–we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture–and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents.
There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams.
Those four crucial words? “We love New York.”
They’re not included by accident. In fact, I’ll bet this statement probably went through more writing, editing and rewriting than anything in Amazon’s history.
But the passage is crucial. It’s a recognition that even in a post-HQ2 world Amazon, still depends big time on New York. That’s why I think the company is at pains to reassure everyone that it isn’t going to try to just reopen the HQ2 search and do this elsewhere.
The brutal truth is: New York City is special.
I know people don’t like to admit this. I know that there are many trying to make political points, attacking union leaders and politicians who they say are to blame for Amazon running away.
But there is no other place truly like New York City, and Amazon isn’t really going to run — not completely. It’s not just chest-thumping; it comes down at least partly to sheer numbers. Here are three of them:
- By far, New York is the largest city in America, with 8.6 million people–almost as big as the second, third, and fourth largest cities combined.
- By far, it’s the largest metropolitan area: more than 20 million people. If it were its own state, it would be about as big as Florida — but much more densely packed.
- By far, it has the largest GDP of any metro area, at at $ 1.7 trillion. That’s nearly 9 percent of the entire country.
Was it ever possible that Amazon would direct a personal insult at the largest and most important market in the country, by jilting it for say, Nashville?
No offense to Nashville, the so-called runner-up. It’s a really great city too, but numbers don’t lie: it’s tiny compared to New York.
Remember, they just proved it at Amazon, too.
After staging a 14-month beauty contest, playing off more than 200 cities against each other, and keeping the terms secret so that none of them could know what they needed to do in order to win, the result was almost comically predictable:
Amazing n couldn’t do better than New York and an area right outside Washington, D.C.
You know what I think’s going to happen now? Amazon is going to redistribute those 25,000 jobs around a lot of different places. (Remember, it was only planning to create 700 jobs this year, and wouldn’t hit the full number until 2028 at least.)
Now, New York will still get the largest share, only without having to give an average of $ 120,000 per job in tax breaks to get them.
And, it will make up the rest and still more–because Amazon just did the legwork for every other company in America.
Especially if the state and city can come up with anything even approaching a small percentage of the deal they were willing to give Amazon, and offer it to a wide array of smaller employers, think things look pretty rosy.
No matter your size, and as long as you don’t try to squeeze completely one-sided terms out of the deal, if you want to attract amazing workers and expand in one of the greatest cities in the world, Amazon just proved where you should go.
Amazon loves New York. And a lot of other people do too.
The most powerful threat to greatness isn’t evil. It’s mediocrity.
Of all the colorful ways to articulate that truth, one of the best is what Elon Musk told Chris Anderson of Wired magazine, back in 2012.
They were talking about Musk’s space exploration company, SpaceX, which grew out of Musk’s “crazy idea to spur the national will” to travel to Mars–by first sending a private rocket to the red planet.
He tried to to slash the cost of his quixotic dream by buying Cold War Russian missiles to turn into interplanetary rockets. While negotiating that deal, he realized that it wasn’t lack of “national will” that held the U.S. back from exploring space.
Instead, it was a lack of affordable technology–and the high cost, he told Anderson, was the result of some “pretty silly things” in the aerospace industry, like using legacy rocket technology from the 1960s.
Anderson: I’ve heard that the attitude is essentially that you can’t fly a component that hasn’t already flown.
Musk: Right, which is obviously a catch-22, right? There should be a Groucho Marx joke about that. So, yeah, there’s a tremendous bias against taking risks. Everyone is trying to optimize their ass-covering.
That’s the quote that I liked so much, especially those last six words: a “bias against risk,” because everyone is “trying to optimize their ass-covering.”
It’s funny–but also poignant. And, of course, it applies to a lot more than space exploration.
It applies to the vast majority of successful companies that get stuck producing legacy products–because they can’t risk that innovation might upset their own profit models.
It applies to the service providers that make a mockery of the word “service” (say for example, big airlines and utility companies)–because cost-cutting with crappy service maximizes shareholder value.
It applies also to temptations in our personal lives, and in the lives of those around us.
Think of the colleagues you know who hold onto uninspiring jobs for fear of going after the careers or entrepreneurial dreams they really want.
Or think of the friend you might have (I think most of us do), who stays in a lousy relationship because he or she is more afraid of being alone than of living with less than they deserve.
We’re all a little bit afraid of risk. Yet, each day represents a new chance and a new beginning. At the start of the year, that sense is especially acute.
And sometimes we need a little inspiration to take the leap.
Whatever is the thing you’re afraid of trying–a new business, a new adventure, a new relationship–maybe now is the time to give it a try.
Cast aside your risk aversion. Be uncomfortable for a while as you try something new. Accept the chance that you’ll fail.
Don’t optimize your ass-covering. Instead, optimize your opportunities. And find your own mission to Mars.
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I’m writing this in a hotel room.
But that’s only because I’ve stayed at this hotel for more than 20 years and I’m a sentimental fool.
Oh, and I once had an indifferent Airbnb experience here in Miami. And the price difference between my hotel and the local Airbnb’s is negligible.
Usually when I’m booking a trip, I look at Airbnb first these days.
I’ve now had many good experiences, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Indeed, I’ve had truly wonderful Airbnb hosts — and apartments — in Oslo and Lisbon, especially — that made me never want to stay in a hotel again.
This doesn’t worry Airbnb CEO Arne Sorenson.
I know this because he told the New York Times’s delightful Ron Lieber that he’s never even tried Airbnb.
In my naïveté, I’d always thought that one of the principal jobs of a CEO was not just to know your competition, but to get your hands on its product.
Yet Sorensen explained that “his daughter has [tried Airbnb]. She told him he had nothing to worry about.”
What a relief.
Whenever I wonder about a product, all I do is ask one of my Starbucks baristas. If they don’t like it, I know it’s no good.
Sorenson, though, expanded his views on Airbnb: “They were the toughest competition when they were offering a true sharing-economy product. The more they get to offering dedicated units, which they’ve done as they’ve grown, the more they look like the competition we’ve faced for decades.”
However confident you might feel, the reek of complacency can incite the flames of arrogance.
It’s true that Airbnb has strategic challenges.
It may be that ultimately it becomes something different from its current persona.
What it surely does have, though, is millions of users who have been only too happy to get away from the disturbingly inflated pricing and the nauseating nickel-and-diming of too many hotel groups. (Hey, don’t you just love resort fees? In New York.)
These Airbnb users now have an emotional relationship with the brand. Yes, just as they might have once had with certain hotel brands.
I used to seek out the W Hotels (now owned by Marriott) in cities. I can’t remember the last time I stayed in one.
Airbnb guests are still prepared to forgive its occasional errors, partly because, as they travel the world, they find hosts becoming friends and apartment life becoming far more enjoyable.
Even if they have to make their own beds.
On my last stay in Lisbon, we had a gorgeous 800 square foot apartment in the middle of the city that was one-third of the price of nearby hotel rooms.
Still, some people at Marriott have apparently tried Airbnb.
The company’s global brand officer Tina Edmundson told Lieber that it was “OK” and “fine.”
I know that when my girlfriend tells me something is fine, it means it’s anything from dull to disgusting, depending on her precise intonation.
Edmundson expanded on her thoughts by admitting that “her standards might be particularly high.”
Or snooty, you might fear. Or just a touch OCD.
“I like the notion that someone professional has been in and cleaned it,” she told Lieber.
Coincidentally, here’s a disturbing headline I just read: “COURTYARD MARRIOTT. YOUR BEDS REALLY BUG ME …Allegedly Bitten Guest Sues.”
Here’s another one along the same lines.
Marriott isn’t, of course, the only hotel group to be subjected to such issues. Even Airbnb isn’t immune.
The point, though, is a simple one.
A new competitor comes along. It’s doing something different. People have warmed to it. Learn from that by really getting to know it and why people love it.
New competitors can be easy to dismiss. Ask then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Yes, that iPhone thing was a real joke.
Imagine what Microsoft shareholders and employees thought about those words a few years later.
Imagine, too, what Marriott — and newly-acquired Starwood — customers might think of Sorenson’s, um, (over?)confidence.
If you’re the boss, it’s incumbent upon you to experience, not just read or hear about, your competitor’s offering.
You never know what you might discover.
Humility, for example.