Over 2,000 mentors available, including leaders at Amazon, Airbnb, Netflix, and more. Check it out

Bias for Action: How to Ace this Amazon Leadership Principle

Bias for Action, a principle introduced by Jeff Bezos, is about action and thinking quickly. Jeff Bezos believes that the way to discover innovative opportunities for customers is by rapidly trying out new ideas. The same goes with finding what might be broken or amiss through rapid experimentation and learning from the results.

At MentorCruise, we will delve into the best ways to answer this Amazon interview principle. If you need coaching and mentoring help for your next Amazon interview, we have experts from the company ready to help you succeed.

The principle, in Amazon’s words

“Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk-taking.”

What does this principle mean?

This means that Amazon is a place where employees are expected to take action, not just sit around. The idea of being so customer-centric is for customers to have an easy shopping experience, which definitely wouldn’t happen if the employees were hesitant.

Managers are also expected to practice this principle. Instead of waiting for a perfect plan, managers should try out different things and see which one works best.

One example of where Bias for Action is applied is during the holiday rush. Jeff Bezos wants his managers to take risks quickly, even if it might seem like the riskiest thing ever.

Another example is when Amazon introduced its Dash buttons, which allow consumers to order products with just one click. While this seems like an easy way for people to buy more than they need, it has actually worked. This shows that Amazon managers are willing to take risks, even if sometimes they can backfire.

How does this principle work?

This principle works because Amazon is constantly thinking of what’s best for its customers. If Amazon were just sitting around waiting for an idea, that would probably mean fewer positive changes in the future. Amazon is always trying out new ideas to find more ways to make shopping easier for their customers.

The history behind the principle

Jeff Bezos started Amazon in 1994, and he had a clear vision of how the company was going to work. Jeff wanted employees to think differently from other companies because he knew this would help grow his company faster.

In 2002, a former executive described Bezos as a person who is “willing to be misunderstood for long periods.” This is true because, in the past, Bezos has tried out many different ideas that people didn’t understand at first. One example was when Amazon announced their plan to sell books online for less than book stores were selling them. A lot of people thought he was crazy for even thinking about doing this.

Additionally, Jeff Bezos believes that the long-term view is more important than focusing on short-term goals. He thinks that just because something isn’t completely perfect doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. This is why Amazon has so many great ideas - even if they don’t always work at first.

Why is this principle important?

Bias for Action is critical because it’s about acting quickly and thinking of great ideas. This helps Amazon be more creative in what they do, which can help them discover new things that will benefit their customers. It is about acting quickly to discover new customer-centric opportunities. This allows Amazon to become more innovative in what they do, which benefits customers in the long run.

How can bias for action improve leadership?

Bias for action is geared toward taking charge of a situation, project, or idea and bringing it to life. Without the usual hesitations that often go hand-in-hand with making decisions, bias for action can create a positive, ‘can-do’ mindset. This can, in turn, enhance leadership skills.

A study conducted by McKinsey that involved over 500,000 students, found that mindset was a huge factor in academic success. Interestingly, it had more of an impact on student performance than home environment and student behavior. In fact, the study discovered that students who adopted a ‘growth mindset’, as opposed to a fixed mindset, achieved 9-17% more.

With practice, this can-do mindset can boost leadership skills; a quality highly-sought after in business.

Here are three ways that bias for action can improve leadership in a company:

Seize fresh opportunities

Companies that encourage bias for action in the workplace help leaders identify and seize fresh opportunities as and when they arise. It provides an environment where employees feel comfortable enough to take action, even when they’re not certain of the outcome. The result is a fast-paced environment that strives for innovation and thrives on change.

Make decisions by shedding procrastination

By practicing bias for action, you are shedding procrastination in favor of decisiveness and action. The principle encourages employees to lead by proactively (and quickly) making decisions that impact the business.

Studies show that fear of failure causes procrastination in 7-16% of cases. Furthermore, a different study, conducted by Darius Foroux, concluded that 80% of employees procrastinate for one-four hours every day. The same study calculated that businesses waste around $15,000 per year on employees that procrastinate for 3 hours a day.

It’s no wonder why Jeff Bezos is keen for Amazon employees to adopt the bias for action principle and overcome procrastination in favor of decisive leadership.

Employee experimentation and growth

Bias for action involves feeling confident enough to step out of your comfort zone and lead others to do the same. It enables employees opportunities to experiment with new solutions, thus boosting creativity and innovation. With this principle, employees can get into the habit of viewing failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, instead of fearing it. This is a leadership skill that can take a business to new heights.

What are they looking for?

Amazon is looking to interview and hire employees who take the initiative and who aren’t afraid to try something new. It’s all about thinking outside the box, even if things might not always work out perfectly.

What should you be able to do?

You should be able to understand how this principle works and why it’s crucial. You should also be able to give examples of when this principle has helped Amazon in the past.

We’ve gone through some Amazon examples already. Not only should you be able to recollect these, or other examples, but you should also be able to get to the root of them. Consider how the bias for action leadership principle relates to the examples and what the specific advantages and growth opportunities were, even if the outcome was negative.

Bias for action in practice

We’re now going to go through some general examples of bias for action in practice:

  • Being keen to get stuck into projects, even if it’s not part of your job.
  • Employees are encouraged to quickly and clearly communicate issues with leaders. In response, they should expect a decisive solution based on the leader’s expertise.
  • Meetings are to update everyone and assign tasks, rather than just passing information back and forth.
  • Leave meetings with a definitive understanding of what you need to do.
  • Leaders don’t micromanage. Instead, they encourage risk-taking.

Here are some sample questions that you might be asked during an interview. Where possible, tie your answers in with the bias for action leadership principle:

  • Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were required to make a fast choice?
  • Tell me a time where you had to take a significant risk.
  • Describe a time when you acted outside of the box when it was not expected of you.
  • Tell me about a time when you found an opportunity that no one else saw.
  • What would the negative consequences be if Amazon took too long to do something?
  • Have you ever made a decision without consulting your boss? What happened as a result of your decision?
  • Describe a situation where you had to innovate to get a job done.
  • What problems does this principle solve?
  • What would be your reaction if you saw one of your team members steal an idea from another team?
  • What are some examples of when this principle could be helpful in the workplace?
  • Tell me about a time where you were expected to take a considerable risk.
  • Describe a time where your boss was pleased with one of your innovative ideas.
  • What would be the consequences if Amazon didn’t take action quickly enough?
  • Would you recommend that every company operates under this principle? Why or why not?
  • How would you implement this principle in your current role? How would you apply it to various business scenarios?
  • Tell me about a time where you took the initiative at work.

Tips on how to answer these questions

According to the data that we collected, most people who got an offer from Amazon responded positively when asked about this principle. If you want to try and ensure that you make it past the initial interview with Amazon, we recommend having a solid answer for each of these questions.

An excellent way to approach these questions is first clearly to define what they are asking. If you’re not sure, ask for clarification. For example, if someone asked, “Would you recommend that every company operates like this?” You might respond by saying something like the following: “I would recommend Bias for Action because it encourages entrepreneurs to think creatively and to try new things to see what works best. This is important because it means that companies will be able to discover better ways of doing things, which helps the company grow in the long run.”

A clear and specific answer like that would be an excellent response to this type of question. Remember that you want to show that you took the time to think about their question and how it relates to your skills and experiences. You want to demonstrate that you can explain complex principles in simple terms, so if you don’t understand something, be sure to ask for clarification right away!

Another helpful tip that we found is to use the STAR method. This is an excellent way to approach any question you’re asked to give examples of your skills and experiences. The STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. With this method, you describe the specific situation or context in which an example occurred; what was required of you; what you did, and then what you accomplished.

The STAR method puts the situation into context. It paints a clear timeline of events, helping the interviewer understand your thought-process in different or challenging circumstances.

Using STAR to frame your answers

Let’s look at some example answers using the STAR method.

Question 1: Tell me a time where you had to take a significant risk.

Your Response:

Situation: “For this example, I’d like to talk about a time when I was part of a project to overhaul our supply chain system.

Task: “The task that I had to complete was to analyze the existing supply chain process and recommend ways in which it could be improved. I have never done this before, and the wrong suggestions could have cost me my job.”

Action: “But I just went ahead, and I wrote up extensive documentation about how the current process worked, identified issues with particular areas in the process, and created a conceptual design for a new process.”

Result: “The final result was that we were able to reduce our shipping time by two weeks, improved the accuracy of shipments, and saved over $1 million per year in raw materials costs. In the end, because of my actions, the project went from being scheduled to be completed in 3 years to being completed in 6 months.”

Question 2: Tell me about a time when you found an opportunity that no one else saw.

Your Response:

Situation: “I was sitting in a staff meeting, and we were discussing our department’s growth projections. We expected decent but not great growth, and everyone seemed happy with that.”

Task: “But I was not entirely happy with that projection, so I wanted to look for ways in which we could improve our growth rate.”

Action: “It occurred to me that we should be checking out the other departments to find opportunities where we could help them grow faster. I reached out to various people in various departments and found a couple of key opportunities that we were able to seize on, and grow in tandem with the other departments.”

Result: “At the end of the day, our department was able to grow more quickly than we initially planned, and we worked very closely with other departments on some major initiatives. Everyone in the company ended up benefiting from this, and I think that my actions really helped show the value of looking for opportunities across different areas.”

Question 3: Describe a time where your boss was pleased with one of your innovative ideas.

Your Response:

Situation: “I was listening to a customer complaint about some challenges they had with one of the products we produce. I immediately started thinking of ways that we could improve our product and thereby solve their problem.”

Task: “My task was to find a way in which we could quickly resolve the issue while also improving the product itself for future customers.”

Action: “It occurred to me that we could easily solve the issue with a simple design change. I got our team together, and we had a few meetings with customers and ultimately came up with a great solution.”

Result: “The customer was pleased about the result, and they’ve since referred several other clients to us. And my manager was very pleased that I came up with a way to quickly fix a problem and improve the product for future clients. It really helped show the value of thinking outside-the-box.”

With these sample answers, you can see how the STAR method helps structure your thoughts and gives the interviewer a clear understanding of what happened.

If you’re going to be interviewing for a position at Amazon, you need to know how to answer questions about your experience. The STAR method can help you craft excellent responses that will impress any interviewer.

Tips for developing the bias for action leadership principle

Bias for action is a leadership skill that a mentor might be able to help you develop. Here are five tips to help you get started with enhancing the principle:

Take baby steps

Start your new, affirmative, bias for action journey with baby steps. Don’t expect to take immediate action with every issue in your life from day one. Instead, make small snap decisions at first and work your way up to the big ones.

Perhaps you would normally ask a coworker for advice on something trivial, such as whether you should hit the gym after work. Practice bias for action and just go. Allow yourself to make that decision - and take that action - without any input from anyone else. Once you begin taking actions that don’t have any major consequences, your confidence will grow with the bigger things.

Familiarize yourself with risk

There are very few situations in which you know every single detail, along with all the possible outcomes of every action. Most things come with an inevitable element of risk, even if it’s small. Familiarizing yourself with risk means to stop waiting for a risk-free scenario to present itself before you take action. Instead, base your decision on the most crucial information and then move forward quickly.

Avoid second-guessing yourself and trust yourself instead. Even if the results aren’t what you hoped for. Doing nothing will achieve nothing.

Don’t get distracted

Keep focused on the task at hand and avoid all distractions. Avoid the urge to scroll through social media, browse that online catalogue, or slip into a daydream about how your new-found leadership skills are going to change your life. You should also try to not get bogged down with unnecessary information that won’t help with your actions. Keep procrastination at bay and keep your mind focused.

Practice makes perfect

Don’t worry if all this seems a little overwhelming. The age-old cliche of ‘practice makes perfect’ rings true when it comes to action for bias. The more you do it, the more confident you will become.

Remember that it’s OK to fail. This is inevitable sometimes. You can treat your failures as opportunities to learn. Analyze your approach, along with the results, and adjust your actions accordingly next time. Doing this will help you overcome the fear of failure. You will develop resilience in your leadership role.

Go for it!

The best advice we can give is to simply go for it. Your confidence will grow as your decisions become quicker and bolder. You will realize your world won’t fall apart if you make a mistake. Mistakes are part of life and business. Part of leadership is to accept this and become resilient to intrusive thoughts that stop you making decisions and taking action.

If you want to hire a great mentor who’ll guide you through your interview process, and help you find the perfect job, click on the links below.

Find an expert mentor

Get the career advice you need to succeed. Find a mentor who can help you with your career goals, on the leading mentorship marketplace.