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E59 | Innovating Through Operational Excellence with John Rossman

Are you looking to innovate your business? To make it more agile? More effective? Then who better to receive advice from than the former Amazon executive who launched and scaled the Amazon Marketplace business, the guy who ran the enterprise services business at Amazon for 3 years? 

That’s right, today’s guest on Mind Your F**king Business Podcast is none other than John Rossman, the highly sought after analyst who worked for in its early days and who has since been featured by The New York Times and CNBC amongst others.

“I was an early person at Amazon, I was there from early 2002 through late 2005. I got to launch the Marketplace business. So that’s 58% of all units shipped and sold [on Amazon] are now on that Marketplace business.”

Today, John works with companies and leaders showing them how to innovate and operate better within their space, by teaching them new tools, techniques, strategies and leadership principles to do just that.

He’s also recently released a book called ‘Think Like Amazon – 50 ½ Ideas to Become a Digital Leader’. He talks at length with Dom about ideas in the book, as well as how operational excellence feeds into innovation, citing numerous examples of where Amazon have been successful. 

Seriously, this is the episode, as a business leader, you won’t want to miss out on.

On today’s podcast:

  • Why the best innovators are the clients in crisis
  • Why digital transformation is about personal leadership
  • How operational excellence feeds into innovation
  • How Amazon launched Marketplace
  • What didn’t go to plan with Amazon Marketplace 
  • Why John left Amazon
  • The importance of writing simple clear communications 
  • Why his books aren’t about Amazon, they’re about the reader


John Rossman has a digital and innovation business model strategy, and is known for not only talking the talk, but walking the walk too. He’s an advisor to companies and leaders working to innovate and compete with more agility and effectiveness.

“Leaders call me when they are looking to scale and improve digital or technology-driven strategy and operations. I help them envision and execute complex customer-oriented change, and differentiate themselves by the level of immediacy, control and customisation they offer customers. I often advise on the process and culture of innovation and how to take bets in their business”.

More recently, John has written his third book, Think Like Amazon – 50 ½ Ideas to Become a Digital Leader, which, at first glance, might look like another book about Amazon. But as John stresses it isn’t so much about the company, it’s about the reader and what they can learn from this billion dollar company. 

“[The book] is kind of all the little tricks and trades and mechanisms and tools that are authentically Amazon that I’ve used with my clients over the years, to help them operate better, be a better leader, and to innovate more in the future.

The shadow list of the Top 50 things that cause failure

John says his favourite clients are those whose companies are in crisis, because they are willing to do anything, they don’t let the past define their future, and they didn’t hold onto past traditions. The worst companies to get to innovate are the really successful companies, the healthy companies that say they want to innovate, who say they want to bet big, that they want to change, they just don’t commit to it.

“The hardest clients are always those that say they want to innovate, say they want to change, but they don’t really want to go through the hard and messy work in order to do it.”

Digital Transformation

To bring about digital transformation in a company isn’t about bringing in lots of new technology, it’s really about personal change, so says John. In order for a company to undergo a digital transformation the leaders have to be willing to work differently, to utilise new tools, new strategies, new time allocations. Leaders have to be willing to get their hands messy. It’s their habits that the rest of the organisation pick up on. 

“I [look to see if] the leader is willing to really change their habits in order to get some different results. Like that to me is the thing I’m trying to zero in on, because if they aren’t, if they are like, ‘I want everybody else to do the hard work, I don’t really want to change’, well that is really bad, that’s a strong predictor that they aren’t really going to change how they operate.”

The importance of writing simple clear communications

One of the key things that John took away from his time with Amazon was their approach to communications. Amazon spend time simplifying and clarifying what all of the parties are doing. Simple, concise communication about the important specifics is what John encourages leaders to practice. 

“It’s easy to write convoluted long things. It’s easy to write overly simple, wrong things. But it’s really hard to write simple and clear, concise communication. And that’s one of Amazon’s real secrets. Amazon don’t allow PowerPoint in the organisation. All projects, all proposals, all ideas get written out first, as a narrative, a six page narrative, that helps a team get precise and clear and simple direction on what the idea that is being proposed is. You circulate that to others to read, and the senior team meeting starts with 15 minutes of silence where these documents, these narratives are read. And then conversation ensues.”

John can’t emphasise enough how important it is to write out ideas. Not only will they allow you to think things through much better, but you’ll be able to pass them on to others much more easily and more concisely, and ultimately, it’ll help you scale.

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