Amazon is one of the biggest retail innovators of the last two decades, arguably the 21st century. They seemingly dive into markets overnight and change the way things are done along with the public’s expectations. What wisdom can schools extrapolate from Amazon’s business practices to carry into the future?
The first lesson Amazon teaches us is that if you just focus on everything that changes, you can’t plan for the future.
It isn’t reasonable to expect to anticipate every new technology or methodology that will come in the next 10 or 20 years. So how do you keep your school up-to-date without wasting time by chasing the newest trends? According to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos,
“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.”
That isn’t to say adaptability isn’t necessary. It is. Technology changes, people change and expectations change. But there are always elements that remain the same. Focus future planning on those areas and implement better ways to reach those goals.
The second lesson that can be learned from Amazon is to capitalize on winning strategies. If a teacher develops a lesson with her class that does extremely well, how can it be adapted for other classes? Or, if certain degree programs have demonstrated success by making their course inclusive access, can that same model be rolled out to other programs?
“Part of company culture is path-dependent—it's the lessons you learn along the way,” Bezos said.
The third lesson is to build a culture that is right for your school. Your school’s culture is part of what sets it apart from other schools. Set your goals and value statements. Stay true to them. Many times since Amazon became a publicly traded company in 1998, it has been criticized or mocked for not making the kind of profit other businesses strove for. Instead, the company often chose to look to the future and reinvest capital into innovation. It’s a strategy that paid off better than expected. How were they able to accomplish this? By hiring individuals who understood and believed in their goals.
"We never claim that our approach is the right one — just that it's ours," Bezos said. "Over the last two decades, we've collected a large group of like-minded people. Folks who find our approach energizing and meaningful."
Share your school’s value and goals. Offering more transparency in what you hope to accomplish and why it benefits the school can achieve greater faculty buy-in and student loyalty. A shared goal helps to establish a vested interest in success.