Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Amazon Vs ObamaCare: Searchers Vs Planners: Success Vs Failure

From The Wall Street Journal, "Obama and the 'Amazon Experience': The president could use a download from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos." by Bret Stephens:
For an "Amazon-like" experience, it isn't enough to have a website that functions on the front end, the back end and in between. Nor is it enough to have a site that can handle 800,000 users a day without crashing, as the administration now boasts of the health site. Amazon.com handled 26.5 million purchases on Nov. 26, 2012, a company record and a rate of 306 items per second.

You also need an Amazon-like culture,
Sweating the details: "Bezos paid a lot of attention to the flow of the checkout process and the warehouse order processing software," writes biographer Richard Brandt in his book "One Click." "And everything had to be stable enough, able to handle enough traffic that it would not crash and leave customers stranded,
And here is Ms. Sebelius telling CNN's Sanjay Gupta about what the president knew, and when:

Gupta: "Do you know when he first knew there was a problem?"

Sebelius: "Well, I think it became clear fairly early on, the first couple of days."

Gupta: "So not before that?"

Sebelius: "No, sir."
Real-time accountability: ... during the 2000 holiday season when Mr. Bezos tested a claim by Bill Price, his vice president for customer services, who said hold times on Amazon's phone lines were less than a minute.

"'Really?' Bezos said. 'Let's see.' On the speakerphone in the middle of the conference table, he called Amazon's 800 number. . . . Bezos took his watch off and made a deliberate show of tracking the time. A brutal minute passed, then two. . . . Around four and a half minutes passed, but according to multiple people at the meeting who related the story, the wait seemed interminable." Less than a year later, Mr. Price was gone from Amazon.

And here is Ms. Sebelius at a press conference in late October on the subject of accountability:

Reporter: "Who has been fired? Senator Bill Nelson said people should be fired for the website not being up and running by October first. Who have you fired?"

Sebelius: "No one. No one has been fired. My goal is to actually get the website up and running."
Searching, not planning: The development expert William Easterly makes a useful distinction between "planners" and "searchers": The former come to a task with preset ideas about what should work, and then they go about implementing the plan. Searchers, by contrast, spend their time figuring out through trial-and-error what does work.

Amazon succeeds because it searches. How to reassure customers that their credit card information is safe? Should Amazon invest in warehouses or not? (Mr. Bezos at first opposed the idea, then changed his mind.) Should the site feature negative product reviews? Mr. Bezos gambled that customers would appreciate the honesty. And so on.

By contrast, the Affordable Care Act is the brainchild of planners, the people who always think they know best—and are always the most shocked when it turns out they don't. [Emphasis added]

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