Day 1 Cultures for Associations

Jeff Bezos strives to keep Amazon a Day 1 company, his way of defining the future-focused and innovative culture he wants Amazon to keep despite two decades of impressive achievements and massive operational scale.

This Day 1 image is also powerful for well-established associations who strive to create a culture of foresight.

In his 2016 stakeholder letter, Bezos shared his response to an employee who asked what a Day 2 company would be:

“I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

Bezos does spend time thinking about this judging from two other points in that stakeholder letter that also ring true for associations wanting to create a culture of foresight.

“The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.

These big trends are not that hard to spot (they get talked and written about a lot), but they can be strangely hard for large organizations to embrace. We’re in the middle of an obvious one right now: machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

He goes on to describe the learning investments Amazon is making in AI and how that ultimately will benefit more than his company.

Rarely are the most important and challenging changes that hard to spot. Most associations can correctly name their strategic opportunity. They probably had the strategic conversation. Yet they too often find these opportunities “strangely hard” to embrace.

In the letter, Bezos turns to another attribute Day 1 companies must have: high velocity decision making. He says,

“Day 2 companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly. To keep the energy and dynamism of Day 1, you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions.”

He explains some decisions may have to be made with no more than 70% certainty or key people might simply have to “agree to disagree but commit” to gain this decision-making velocity.

Associations are definitely stymied by the “what if” and “but if” second-guessing as much as they are thwarted by having the financial and human capacity to seize a strategic opportunity. They are seeking a certainty that nonprofit organizations want out of an abundance of good stewardship and desire for internal harmony.

The future is simply not that certain. A Day 1 organization is as good at reversing a decision when new circumstances and information require it. This kind of flexibility and resilience is essential when the best plans underestimate what is required to execute a new idea or program in complex and volatile times. Past decisions do not trap organizations that are willing to look to the future and learn and innovate in the present.