At a management offsite in the late 1990s, a team of well-intentioned junior executives stood up before the company’s top brass and gave a presentation on a problem indigenous to all large organizations: the difficulty of coordinating far-flung divisions. The junior executives recommended a variety of different techniques to foster cross-group dialogue and afterward seemed proud of their own ingenuity. Then Jeff Bezos, his face red and the blood vessel in his forehead pulsing, spoke up.

“I understand what you’re saying, but you are completely wrong,” he said. “Communication is a sign of dysfunction. It means people aren’t working together in a close, organic way. We should be trying to figure out a way for teams to communicate less with each other, not more.”

That confrontation was widely remembered. “Jeff has these aha moments,” says David Risher. “All the blood in his entire body goes to his face. He’s incredibly passionate. If we was a table pounder, he would be pounding the table.”

At the meeting and in public speeches afterward, Bezos vowed to run Amazon with an emphasis on decentralization and independent decision-making. “A hierarchy isn’t responsive enough to change,” he said. “I’m still trying to get people to do occasionally what I ask. And if i was successful, maybe we wouldn’t have the right kind of company.”

Bezos’s counterintuitive point was that coordination among employees wasted time, and that the people closest to problems were usually in the best position to solve them. That would come to represent something akin to the conventional wisdom in the high-tech industry over the next decade. The companies that embraced this philosophy, like Google, Amazon, and, later, Facebook, were in part drawing lessons from theories about lean and agile software development. In the seminal high-tech book The Mythical Man-Month, IBM veteran and computer science professor Frederick Brooks argued that adding manpower to complex software projects actually delayed progress…

One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve gotta start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it. I’ve made this mistake probably more than anybody else in this room and I got the scar tissue to prove it.

Mistakes will be made by the way. Some mistakes will be made along the way. That’s good good because at least some decisions being made along the way. We will find the mistakes and we’ll fix them.

As usual in the PC business, the prize didn’t go to the inventor but to the exploiter of the invention.

It was the Work-Out program of the early 1990s that gave birth to GE’s voracious appetite for new ideas. This program put to rest the long-held view that only the CEO and GE’s senior management knew what was best for its employees. As chief financial officer Dennis Dammerman observes: “Historically, at GE, inventors and creators, rather than doers, were made into heroes. You wanted to take personal credit for everything good that happened, because that’s how you got to be a hero. Look at Thomas Edison. He wasn’t a very good businessman. It was J. P. Morgan who bailed him out in 1892, but it was obviously Thomas Edison, not J. P. Morgan, who was the hero of our company in the 1890s. Well, today, you get to be a hero not just by inventing but also by recognizing a good idea and having your team implement it.” If GE had to rely on Jack Welch for all its ideas, the CEO remarks wryly, “it would take only an hour for it to sink.

The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled.

People duck as a natural reflex when something is hurled at them. Similarly, the excellence reflect is a natural reaction to fix something that isn’t right, or to improve something that could be better. The excellence reflex is rooted in instinct and upbringing, and then constantly honed through awareness, caring, and practice. The overarching concern to do the right thing well is something we can’t train for. Either it’s there or it isn’t. So we need to train how to hire for it.

People will say a lot of great things about your business, and a lot of nasty things as well. Just remember: you’re never as good as the best things they’ll say, and never as bad as the negative ones. Just keep centered, know what you stand for, strive for new goals, and always be decent.

Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.

“There is something indefinable in an entrepreneur, and I saw that in Steve,” he said. “He was interested not just in engineering, but also the business aspects. I taught him that if you act like you can do something, then it will work. I told him, ‘Pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are.’”

[Discussing the factors that led to the disastrous AOL-Time Warner Merger in 2000]

There are few intoxicants like the prospect of easy money, and that’s what the billions in IPO dollars then raining down on nobodies in Silicon Valley must have looked like. Nor can be discounted the recurring theme of this book: the lure of information empire. In 2010, [Gerald] Levin described to me the condition of being a CEO as “a form of mental illness,” with the desire for never-ending growth as a kind of addiction. As he said, “there’s something about being able to say, ‘I’m the CEO of the world’s largest media company.’ “

We currently live in the most exciting economic times man has ever known. Today’s “Entrepreneurial Revolution” is overhwleming the “Industrial Revolution” of the late 18th and 19th centuries in terms of tapping into and unleashing man’s inherent ability to create, innovate, and prosper.