The innovation-centric website, TED.com, recently posted a video of a commencement address given by Amazon.com Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos at Princeton University in May. The posting was part of TED’s “Best of the Web” series. The title of the video, “What Matters More Than Your Talents,” caught my attention so I clicked “play” to listen in.
In his 12-minute speech, Bezos talks about the difference between gifts and choices. He notes that gifts can be easy since they are either given or received. Choices are much harder he contends, because how we choose to use our gifts is what’s important, and the most challenging.
Jeffrey Preston Bezos, born in 1964, graduated from Princeton himself summa cum laude with a BS in computer science and electrical engineering. After spending several years on Wall Street and in banking in the computer science field, he started Amazon.com in 1994, which soon became one of the most successful Internet companies in history.
Bezos points out that we live in an astonishing time. We enjoy the many gifts that come from our inventiveness and innovative spirit, as evidenced in recent and nearly-realized medical and technology breakthroughs. “Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Galileo, Newton, all the curious from the ages, would’ve wanted to be alive most of all right now.”
Talents, like gifts, should not be wasted. They should be nurtured and appreciated, both as an individual and as an enterprise. And how an individual or enterprise chooses to use – or not use – these talents will help determine success or failure.
Bezos ends his speech by predicting the future. He says that someday, when we are 80, and reflecting back on our own lives, we will be judged on the series of choices we would have made.
“We are our choices,” he says. “Build yourself a great story.”