Welcome to the Innovative Leadership Newsletter, brought to you by the Innovative Leadership Institute, where we bring you thought leaders and innovative ideas on leadership topics each week.
This week’s article is written by Maureen Metcalf, CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute. It is a companion piece to her interview with Beryl Tomay, Vice President, Last Mile Delivery and Technology at Amazon, on Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future titled To Err Is to Innovate, which premiered on December 5, 2023.
Short clip from the interview:
Link to the entire interview:
What can leaders learn from mistakes made along their career journey? Beryl Tomay, Vice President, Last Mile Delivery and Technology at Amazon, shares unique insights from over 18 years at the company.
Everybody makes mistakes and everybody will always make mistakes, Beryl reflects. Early in her career as a software developer, Beryl struggled with errors and failures. However, Amazon’s culture of learning and resilience helped her cope.
Within Beryl’s first six months, she made a coding change that broke Amazon’s “Thank You” purchase page. “I had a pretty tough time with that,” she admits. However, her team provided support to understand the root cause and prevent recurrence. “It kind of makes me better,” says Beryl.
When beating herself up over mistakes, Beryl has kept perspective by remembering two things. First, errors are inevitable at all career levels. Second, the priority is to learn from mistakes rather than dwelling on perfection. This mindset has served to build Beryl’s resilience over 18+ years.
Later, Beryl took the risk to lead business divisions she lacked deep expertise in. The intimidating meetings and decisions challenged her, underscoring the need for investment in rapid learning. However, by asking questions and gathering knowledge from those around her, Beryl succeeded in adding value.
She also continues to take risks via Amazon’s innovation efforts. “Think Big Days” encourage teams to brainstorm creative ideas without judgement. Though not every moonshot works out, big wins like their Alexa technology make failure worthwhile.
What did Beryl learn about mistakes, resilience, and innovation over nearly two decades?
1. Errors happen; focus on learning and prevention.
2. Build resilience through support systems and perspective.
3. Take risks and learn from failures to drive innovation.
4. Foster a culture accepting of mistakes to unlock creativity.
What was your biggest career mistake, and what did you learn? Share your stories and insights below!
ABOUT THE GUEST:
Beryl Tomay has been at Amazon for nearly 19 years having joined in 2005 as a Software Development Engineer. She was part of the small team that launched the original Kindle device and remained in the Devices organization for the subsequent 8 years. She joined the nascent Last Mile organization (the logistics business that gets packages through the final steps on their way to customers’ doorsteps) in early 2014 as one of its first employees, and today is responsible for all of Amazon’s Last Mile delivery businesses, including the Delivery Service Partner, Amazon Flex and Hub Delivery programs. In addition, she oversees the Last Mile product and technology teams covering areas such as mapping, routing, capacity planning, pickup points, delivery station and driver experience technologies. Prior to Amazon, Beryl received her undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Waterloo in Canada.
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