If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details.
In some cases, things are inevitable. The hard part is that you don’t know how long it might take, but you know it will happen if you’re patient enough. Ebooks had to happen. Infrastructure web services had to happen. So you can do these things with conviction if you are long-term-oriented and patient.
It’s hard to stick to the long view. Not just because you have all sorts of short-term pressures to worry about, but because it’s really, really hard to have any idea what’s going to happen in five years.
But, it’s not so hard to see what people’s goals are. If you focus on the goals, and work backwards, life gets much easier.
People are always going to want to read on the go. If you could figure out how to make the book version of the iPod, this would be tremendously popular. The fact that the requisite technology didn’t exist to make that happen when the iPod came out didn’t mean that Bezos abandoned the goal, or the idea. It just meant he had to have a longer view of how to accomplish that goal.
And, as it usually does, taking the long view certainly paid off.