Monday, September 04, 2006

Collective delusion and Amazon.cult

I love this quote from Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist at the Stanford School of Engineering, about "the obsessive work habits of some Silicon Valley start-ups":
They are temporary cults.

Any time you isolate people, bind them together and work them like dogs, it's very powerful.

You can get an enormous amount done when you create a place of such total focus and collective delusion.
Sounds like the early days at We used to jokingly refer to the company as "Amazon.cult".

One of the Amazon engineers even did a parody T-shirt for the 1998 Amazon summer picnic. The original shirt looked like this front and back:

It says, " Play long, hard, and smart. At, you can't do two out of three."

Here is the parody:

It says, "Amazon.cult: Work long, hard, and smart. And please pass the Kool-Aid."

A bunch of us were wearing the parody version during the 1998 picnic. Fortunately, Jeff Bezos thought they were hilarious.

[Robert Sutton quote found via Findory -> SJ Mercury News]

Update: Don't miss the new details from Joshua, the creative mind behind the 1998 parody T-shirts, in the comments to this post.


Anonymous said...


FYI, the images are not making into the feed.


Joe Goldberg said...

You should point out the significance of the brooms to your non-amazon readers.

Greg Linden said...

Yeah, just a game called Broomball. Rules are a little like hockey, but you use a big ball and brooms to knock the ball around.

Anonymous said...

As the designer of those t-shirts I thought I'd clarify something. 1998 was the second year I did parody (and the real) t-shirts. The 1998 ones were much more professional than the 1997 shirts, owing to the fact that I was able to slip in an order of 50 into the overall order for the real shirts.

If you remember, in 1997, the real t-shirts said "get big fast... have another hot dog" (with a big hot dog on the back and the amazon logo on the front). So corporate. So boring. The parody shirts said "get drunk fast... have another beer". There were only 25 of them made, all of which I ironed on the logos myself and took orders from a small internal mailing list (which I can’t remember if you were on or not). I’m sure they’re now highly sought after collectors items 

The parody shirts also had a charicature of Jeff Bezos' head on fire on front. I'll have to see if I can dig up the original images, given that I no longer have the shirts.

And Jeff was great at that whole "faux cheer" thing at the picnics. He participated a little too eagerly in broomball, or the dunk tank, IMHO.

Anonymous said...


When I was at AltaVista working like a mad man we had an inside joke. At the company parties we would introduce our wives as members of the AltaVista Widows Club. Of course we had a good number of women at AltaVista as well so we had to change the name to AltaVista Orphans.

Anonymous said...

I worked at JD Edwards (before they were "known" as an ERP company) and it was the same way. People worked all hours of the day (and night), we had dinner together, drank together, met each other on weekends. It wasn't that is was necessarily "encouraged" - it just seemed you more in common with these people.

Anonymous said...

Here are the original images from the 1997 shirt.

And here are the 1997 parody shirt images:

(Jeff's head shamelessly stolen from a "" image and then modified by me to add the fire).

Only 25 of these were made and distributed to early engineers. Not sure who still has them.