“It’s a long journey. It’s going to take us decades to solve it all but the world is going to be a very different place in a decade or two.”
David Limp is not a man who lives for today. As Senior Vice President of Devices & Services at Amazon, Limp’s focus is firmly on tomorrow. Says Limp, who was named to Forbes 2022 CEO Next List as a leader to watch: “If I could spend 100% of my day thinking about stuff that we would invent and deliver 12 to 24 months from now, that would be my happiest place.”
Limp has become a leading force in “ambient computing” – creating a technology-embedded environment in which Echo, Ring, Halo and other devices should interact seamlessly with humans and each other, through technologies like voice-enabled Alexa. He also oversees Amazon’s $10 billion Project Kuiper to build a network of satellites in low-earth orbit with the goal of delivering high-speed internet to hundreds of millions of people worldwide, as well as the autonomous robo-taxi service Zoox.
Although he has had the luxury of innovating within the growth machine that is Amazon, Limp’s division has not been immune to the challenges facing rivals — from unprecedented supply-chain disruptions to the economic headwinds that forced him to recently announce layoffs.
The business model around Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa has come under particular scrutiny amid growing pains, privacy concerns and the fact that consumers are currently more inclined to use it via devices like Echo to play music than make purchases. “We’re trying to build technologies that can help people’s lives,” he says. “It’s a long journey. It’s going to take us decades to solve it all but the world is going to be a very different place in a decade or two.”
To foster an innovative culture, Limp tries to “push decision-making as far down into the organization as possible” when it comes to decision making. He also pays particular attention when hiring for roles that don’t play to your strengths. “For the jobs I don’t love to do, I tend to over-hire for those jobs,” says Limp. “Get somebody who’s a bigger leader who’s much better than I would ever be in that job and give them the freedom to run those kinds of things themselves.”
For those at the other end of the career spectrum, he believes in giving them the freedom to move around. “When you’re early in your career, you want the beta to be a little higher,” he says. “You want to take more risk. You want to wander a bit.” One side effect of that wandering is discovering what you want to do — and what you don’t. For Limp, the latter camp included enterprise tech and being a venture capitalist when he was itching to be an operator.
But the most important factor in success, he believes, is for leaders to develop the learning mindset and curiosity needed to play the long game. “This is a golden age of machine learning,” he says. “If you don’t understand what modern machine learning can do, you can’t set a north star for what products can come from that.”