Skip to main content
Blog

Jeff Bezos, What Matters More than Your Talents, A Story of Kindness

By September 12, 2012August 10th, 2020No Comments
headshot of jeff bezos, ceo, amazon. sharing his story of kindness

I have seen Jeff Bezos speak on numerous occasions. He is always candid with his experiences, especially growing up with his brother Mark and growing up with his grandparents. In his graduation ceremony speech to the class at Princeton University (link below), Bezos shares an experience with his grandmother. Bezos’ first words bring us along on his journey. On a journey that changed his life at the tender age of 10. This is Bezos’, “What Matters More than Your Talents” commencement address.

Jeff Bezos shares his story, which I have called “Choose to Be Kind” and which, is his Better Tomorrow Message TM. Bezos has a very powerful phrase of “Cleverness is a gift. Kindness is a choice.” Notice the symmetry? Concept word starts, middle “is a”, and finishes with the comparison phrase of “gift” and “choice.”

Bezos makes us feel like we are in his grandfather’s car on our summer trip. When you StoryThink as we like to call it, you will reframe experiences into stories that address business issues. For example, “Choose to Be Kind” from Jeff Bezos, could be used as a culture story, a story for change, a story for healing, a recruiting onboarding story, and so forth.

This the transcript from the speech from Jeff Bezos.

Please note. Public speaking from a stage is difficult. During every live presentation, new and experienced speakers alike, will have some grammar missteps, use a few filler words, and have a run-on sentence here and there. To account for these, I have edited Bezos’ story just a little.

Choose to Be Kind, A Jeff Bezos Story

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 United States 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 a line, with 300 other Airstream adventurers.

I loved and worshiped 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. I’d figure out useless statistics on things like grocery spending. I’d been hearing an ad campaign about smoking. I can’t remember the details. Basically, the ad said, “Every puff of a cigarette takes some number of minutes off of your life.” I think it might have been two 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 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!”

Not What I Expected

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, had to figure out the number of minutes in a year, and had to 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?” I thought to myself.

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 to be clever.”

Kindness is a Choice

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.

Jeff Bezos, What Matters More than Your Talents Speech, Choose to Be Kind Story

MORE EXCELLENT BUSINESS STORIES TO READ

  • Stop Blaming Steve, from Brene Brown  (read/watch)
  • Be a Clock Changer, from Jeffrey Hayzlett (read)
  • Get to Know Dottie, from Walt Bettinger, CEO, Schwab  (read)
  • All story examples  (go now)

FURTHER READING ON BUSINESS STORYTELLING

  • Turn Your Everyday Experiences into Engaging, Powerful Stories  (read)
  • “Pause” with Purpose in Speaking, Training, and Storytelling  (read)
  • In Storytelling, Balance Emotion and Benefit  (read)
  • Add Suspense to Your Story with “Near-Impossible Goals”  (read)
  • Anaphora – Increase Impact with this Type of Word Repetition  (read)
  • All Business Storytelling Articles & Posts  (go now)

Photography Source:  Wikimedia
#chiefstoryteller #storytelling #amazon #storytellingforleaders #executivecommunication #jeffbezos

Ira Koretsky

About Ira Koretsky

Ira Koretsky has built The Chief Storyteller® into one of the most recognized names in communication, especially business storytelling. He has delivered over 500 keynote presentations and workshops in nearly a dozen countries, in more than one hundred cities, across 30 plus industries. His specialties are simplifying the complex and communicating when the stakes are high. He is also an adjunct professor in public speaking and storytelling at the University of Maryland's Business School. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after storytelling coach, global speaker, trainer, consultant, communication coach, and public speaking coach.