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Great Quotes, Volume 6: How Jeff Bezos Thinks About Change and Constants

By Motley Fool Staff - Oct 16, 2017 at 8:27PM

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Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner once again delivers some Foolish wisdom based on his favorite quotes -- and this one is express shipped to us from the CEO of

In this segment of the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, David Gardner reflects on just what it is that has allowed to become quite such a dominant force in retail and tech today. One part of it comes back to a piece of business philosophy that really worked for Bezos -- and can do great things for your portfolio, too.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Aug. 16, 2017.

David Gardner: All right, and now to quote No. 4. Again, four of five this week. And in fact five, I'm going to mention ahead of time, is one of my very favorite quotes. Maybe a top 10er for me personally. But this is a great quote from Jeff Bezos.

And I'm going to give it to you in a sec, but I want to say something Rule Breaker-y, briefly here, which is that as famous, now, as Jeff Bezos is, as impressive as has been, clearly is, and will be, it's remarkable to me how little most people know about him, and I include myself as well.

This is a little bit of an unfair comparison and possibly an invidious one, which is not the point of this, but think about all of the books written on Warren Buffett. There are innumerable books. So many people study -- especially if you're an investor -- so many people studying Buffett.

Buffett, I think, started buying Berkshire Hathaway shares as an investor and really kicked off his whole relationship with Berkshire Hathaway in 1962, and today Berkshire Hathaway, one of the largest and greatest companies the world has ever known, has a market cap around $450 billion.

Well, Jeff Bezos founded on July 5 of 1994, so about 32 years later. This comparison I'm about to mention really hurts. This was just one month before The Motley Fool would start online, and you can think about how big they've gotten and how not big we've gotten.

But Jeff Bezos started in 1994, and today Amazon's market cap exceeds Berkshire Hathaway's. So for every great thing that we all rightly think about Berkshire, with a 32-year deficit, giving Buffett a 32-year head start, Bezos has built something bigger, and frankly, looking at the relative growth rates, I think Amazon's going to continue to be even bigger than Berkshire -- although it's kind of like arguing which is bigger, the offensive tackle on the one team that weighs 372 pounds these days, if you're a football fan, and the defensive tackle on the other side who weighs 380 pounds. These are very, very large things, and I don't think a fine difference between them is worth talking about.

But I think my main point here, is a lot more of us should know a lot more about Bezos, and there should be much more scrutiny -- in a positive way, I mean -- and much more admiration and study of this remarkable entrepreneur, who, I often say when asked what my favorite company is -- and I even include my own company when asked this question -- I say Amazon. They've added so much to my life, not just as an investor, but yes, not every day do we find a 300-bagger stock. But really as a consumer. As a lazy bum who loves to click his mouse and look like he's either more generous, more energetic, or more on top of things thanks to delivery than otherwise I would be or appear.

So, Jeff Bezos -- here he is on strategy. I first found this one in Harvard Business Review. I think it was about 10 years ago or so, but these days it's often quoted more frequently as one of the ways that Bezos thinks. Here it is.

He says, "It helps to base your strategy on things that won't change." He goes on. "There's a question that comes up very commonly: What's going to change in the next five to 10 years?" But, Bezos continues, "I very rarely get asked what's not going to change in the next five to 10 years. At Amazon, we're always trying to figure that out, because you can really spin up flywheels around those things."

So that was a little bit more of an extended quote, and like most great quotes it kind of speaks for itself. I don't want to try to embellish or adorn it with much more than it already features, but I think it's a great point. I guess what I appreciate about it -- and this is the Rule Breaker, again, in me and you -- is I love it when things get reframed and when someone takes a contrary angle at something that sounds conventionally wise otherwise.

And so, yes, how many times do we see -- and I'm part of this, too, with my own tastes and interests -- the cult of the new? What's the new thing? What's going to change? What's the new, cool trend? What stock should we be buying, or what strategy should we be favoring because of what's expected to change? Not just five to 10 years. How about next year? Sometimes it's inside of a year. A very short-term orientation to these questions. So I love the Rule Breakers who encourage us, often, to look at the exact opposite viewpoint and say, "Hey, what's not going to change? Not over five or 10 months? What's not going to change over five or 10 years?"

I'm sure Bezos has more answers to that question than you or I might have. One that occurs to me is certainly a desire for convenience. Or how about just inherent -- I'll sometimes use the word "laziness" to refer to myself. But we could also just say that we're all kind of time starved, and there's a lot going on. We prize convenience, so I think that's something that's not going to change in the next five or 10 years.

And I guess that in this case I'm speaking to you, the entrepreneur. If you've got a new idea, think about Bezos's approach to strategy and ask yourself if you're setting yourself up for what's not going to change some years from now.

David Gardner owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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