I think the greatest masters go on to achieve a kind of selflessness.
— Paul Graham, Hackers & Painters (O’Reilly Media, 2004)
The best companies of a few decades ago were like good employees. You know the type. You can count on them to be pleasant, to do one thing well, to play their part, and to stay in their lane—“lane keepers” you might say. But the good employee is not a great business builder. And the best companies of the past—like Adidas, Anheuser-Busch, Coca Cola, Diageo, GM, HSBC, IBM, McDonald’s, Schibsted, 3M, Toyota, Unilever, Wells Fargo, and even Walmart—rarely veered out of their lanes.
Today’s best companies, on the other hand, were born as full-on “wall breakers.” And they continue to break down more walls. Amazon, for example, went from ecommerce, to logistics, to software, to entertainment. It uses the expertise gained in each category to add more value for customers in other areas. Furthermore, it converts customers into partners, who become creators by offering reviews, launching their own stores, creating entertaining content, and developing their own software. Amazon keeps building flywheels that expand its offerings and improve their quality constantly. As a result, it meets a growing number of needs for customers, saving them precious time and mental energy for other experiences.