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How Amazon Deals with Failure

Philip Green
Former CFO at Deliveroo & Finance Director, EMEA, Amazon

Learning outcomes

  • The power of building an organisation where failure is expected and managed as a risk
  • Creating an environment where people feel safe enough to take measured risks

Executive Bio

Philip Green

Former CFO at Deliveroo & Finance Director, EMEA, Amazon

Philip Green spent almost eight years at Amazon, culminating with the role of Finance Director of EU operations. He then took on the role of CFO at Groupon, followed by the role of CFO of Deliveroo. He currently is Director and CFO of theatre and entertainment producer Jamie Hendry Productions, as well as CFO of robotics and AR gaming business Reach Robotics, and advisor to several high-tech digital start-ups.Read more

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Interview Transcript

How do you cultivate self-awareness?

Failure is far and away the best and most humbling experience, revisiting what went wrong and why. You rarely fail from a lack of effort; it’s more skill or not being open-minded and aware enough of what’s happening around you. Those moments of failure and course-correcting are the best ways of doing that. Again, it comes down to experience.

In terms of frameworks to harness the lessons of failure, are there any patterns or general approaches you’ve been exposed to that you value?

Yeah, the conversation around, “Fail often, fail fast.” Don’t start with a mindset of, “I’m going to fail.” That’s absolutely the wrong mindset. You want to start with a mindset of success and cultivate a culture where failure is okay and expected.

If you’re trying hard things, you will fail. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a child that is born and starts walking immediately and has not fallen over. Walking is a skill, and you have to learn how to do it. Before you learn how to do it, you’re going to fall over many times. If we also got discouraged by a child falling, most people wouldn’t walk. As a race, we’d stay crawling.

Organisations are the same. If you’ve got an environment where you can’t fail, you’re going to build a crawling organisation, not one that can get on its feet, run, and keep developing. Thinking about these organisations that create this fear of failure — you’re holding your people down, keeping them on their hands and knees. Don’t be surprised if they don’t move very fast.

Again, it’s down to protection. If people feel safe, they’ll take risks. Not company risks. You don’t want to take too many of those. What you’re doing is taking measured risks. Then you can reinvest, and when you see things are working, dial it up a little bit and say, “Okay, at five per cent, this is working — what about fifteen per cent? This is still working. What about twenty-five per cent, thirty per cent?” Don’t always go straight to a hundred and realise, “Oh, wait a minute, we just bankrupted the company.” That’s the bad form of risk.

How do you make people feel safe?

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