Jeff Bezos: What Matters More Than Your Talents Speech (Full Transcript)

Jeff Bezos

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ famous speech “What Matters More Than Your Talents” with ENGLISH SUBTITLES which was delivered at 2010 Commencement address at Princeton University.

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Below is the full text [verbatim transcript] of Jeff Bezos’ speech “What Matters More Than Your Talents.”


Jeff Bezos – Speech TRANSCRIPT

As a kid, I spent my summers with my grandparents on their ranch in Texas. I helped fix windmills, vaccinate cattle, and do other chores.

We also watched soap operas every afternoon, especially Days of Our Lives. My grandparents belonged to a caravan club, a group of Airstream trailer owners who traveled together around the US and Canada. And every few summers, we’d join the caravan.

We’d hitch up the Airstream to my grandfather’s car and off we’d go, in line with 300 other Airstream adventurers. I loved and worshipped my grandparents. And I really looked forward to these trips.

On one particular trip — I was about 10 years old — I was rolling around in the big bench-seat in the back of the car. My grandfather was driving and my grandmother had the passenger’s seat. She smoked throughout these trips. And I hated the smell.

At that age, I’d take any excuse to make estimates and do minor arithmetic. I’d calculate our gas mileage, figure out useless statistics on things like grocery spending. I’d been hearing an ad campaign about smoking. I can’t remember the details but basically, the ads said: “Every puff of a cigarette takes some number of minutes off of your life.” I think it might have been 2 minutes per puff.

At any rate, I decided to do the math for my grandmother. I estimated the number of cigarettes per day, estimated the number of puffs per cigarette and so on.

When I was satisfied that I had come up with a reasonable number, I poked my head into the front of the car, tapped my grandmother on the shoulder, and proudly proclaimed: “At 2 minutes per puff, you’ve taken 9 years off of your life!”

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I have a very vivid memory of what happened next. And it was not what I had expected. I expected to be applauded for my cleverness and my arithmetic skills.

“Jeff, you’re so smart! You had to have made some tricky estimates, figure out the number of minutes in a year, and do some division.”

That’s not what happened.

Instead, my grandmother burst into tears. I sat in the back seat, and didn’t know what to do while my grandmother was crying.

My grandfather, who’d been driving in silence, pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. He got out of the car and came around and opened my door, and waited for me to follow. Was I in trouble?

My grandfather was a highly intelligent, quiet man. He had never said a harsh word to me, and maybe this was to be the first time.

Or maybe he would ask that I get back in the car and apologize to my grandmother. I had no experience in this realm with my grandparents, and no way to gauge what the consequences might be.

We stopped beside the trailer. My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said: “Jeff, one day, you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”

What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift. Kindness is a choice.

Gifts are easy — they’re given, after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful. And if you do, it will probably be to the detriment of your choices.

This is a group with many gifts. I am sure one of your gifts is the gift of a smart and capable brain. I am confident that’s the case, because admission is competitive, and if there weren’t some signs that you’re clever, the Dean of admissions wouldn’t have let you in.

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Your smarts will come in handy because you will travel in a land of marvels. We humans, plodding as we are, will astonish ourselves, we’ll invent ways to generate clean energy and a lot of it. Atom by atom, we’ll assemble small machines that can enter cell walls and make repairs. This month comes the extraordinary but inevitable news that we’ve synthesized life. In the coming years we’ll not only synthesize it, but engineer it to specifications.

I believe you’ll even see us understand the human brain. Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Galileo, Newton, all the curious from the ages would have wanted to be alive most of all right now.

As a civilization, we will have so many gifts. Just as you, as individuals, have so many individual gifts as you sit before me.

How will you use these gifts? And will you take pride in your gifts or pride in your choices?

I got the idea to start Amazon 16 years ago. I came across the fact that Web usage was growing at 2,300% per year. I had never seen or heard of anything that grew that fast.

The idea of building an online bookstore with millions of titles, something that simply couldn’t exist in the physical world, was very exciting to me.

I’d just turned 30 years old and I had been married for a year. I told my wife Mackenzie that I wanted to quit my job and go do this crazy thing that probably wouldn’t work, since most start-ups don’t, and I wasn’t sure what would happen after that.

Mackenzie, also a Princeton grad and sitting here in the second row, told me I should go for it.

As a young boy, I had been a garage inventor. I had invented an automatic gate-closer out of cement-filled tires, a solar cooker that didn’t work very well out of an umbrella and aluminum foil, baking-pan alarms to entrap my siblings. I’d always wanted to be an inventor and she wanted me to follow my passion.

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I was working at a financial firm in New York City with a bunch of very smart people and I had a brilliant boss I much admired. I went to my boss and told him I was going to start a company selling books on the Internet.

He took me on a long walk in Central Park, listened carefully to me, and finally said: “That sounds like a really good idea. But it would be an even better idea for someone who didn’t already have a good job.”

That logic made some sense to me and he convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision.

Seen in that light, it really was a difficult choice. But ultimately, I decided I had to give it a shot. I didn’t think I’d regret trying and failing. And I suspected I would always be haunted by a decision to not try at all.

After much consideration, I took the less safe path to follow my passion. And I’m proud of that choice.

Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life, the life you author from scratch, on your own, begins. How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make? Will inertia be your guide or will you follow your passions?

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