Amazon has unveiled Amazon Go, a shopping experience that dispenses with cash registers and checkout stations. At Amazon Go stores, shoppers simply take things from the shelves, put them in their bags, and walk out, bypassing checkout lines entirely. The underlying technology, at least four years in the making, is a combination of “computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion,” similar to what is found in self-driving cars, Amazon says.
Amazon Go illustrates, in thrilling fashion, three rules of the innovator’s mindset:
1. Find the invisible middleman. Identify the middleman everyone takes for granted — in this case, cash registers — and create a product or experience that removes that source of friction.*
2. Don’t dismiss fanciful thoughts. Pay attention to thoughts that start with,
“Wouldn’t it be great/cool/so much better if…”
In the case of Amazon Go, I’d imagine someone at the company said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just walk out of the grocery store without having to go through a checkout line?” The rest is history.
3. Adopt the disdain of a juvenile delinquent. As Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard observes, entrepreneurs and innovators are like juvenile delinquents in the sense that their thought process goes something like: “‘This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing'” (his word choice, not mine). Amazon Go epitomizes that mindset: Someone hated checkout lines and decided to make up a better version of grocery shopping.
I know that Amazon is a huge company with seemingly endless resources, so innovation might seem easier for them than the rest of us. But that’s not necessarily the case — size and scale often acts as impediments to innovation. I do believe these three rules of innovation are meaningful at the level of the individual. We can train our kids and students to cultivate the innovator’s mindset, setting them on the path to fulfilling, value-creating lives and careers.
*While eliminating the middleman has done great things for our economy as a whole — consider, for example, what the Internet did for publishing and advertising — I’m not blind to the human repercussions. Advances like Amazon Go replace human workers, and that’s a vital conversation too.