- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was a smart and enterprising kid, as Brad Stone writes in his 2013 book “The Everything Store.”
- In sixth grade, at 12 years old, he practiced statistical analysis by designing a survey so students could rate the teachers.
- However, his teachers later said that he wasn’t “particularly gifted in leadership,” a funny claim about the man at the head of a worldwide retail giant.
- Smart kids are more likely to hold leadership positions as adults, according to research. But it’s still possible for kids who struggle academically to become successful.
Before Jeff Bezos was Jeff Bezos, he was “Tim.”
As Brad Stone wrote in his 2013 bestseller, “The Everything Store,” that was Bezos’ pseudonym in the book “Turning on Bright Minds,” which explored a gifted-education program in Texas where Bezos was a student.
Bezos’ teachers told the book’s author, Julie Ray, that he was “not particularly gifted in leadership.” Decades later, that claim is at odds with the man who leads his company according to 14 exacting leadership principles, and who is at the forefront of American innovation like space travel.
Something must have changed since middle school.
Yet Bezos demonstrated his precociousness in other ways, like when he designed a survey to rate the sixth-grade teachers at his school, in order to practice statistical analysis for math class.
Ray wrote that the survey was, according to Bezos, designed to evaluate instructors on “how they teach, not as a popularity contest.” When Ray visited the school, Bezos had distributed the survey to classmates and was now graphing the teachers’ relative performance.
Stone pulls out other telling tidbits from Ray’s book. Bezos was competitive – he was trying to keep up with a classmate who claimed she read 12 books a week – and enterprising – he was creating a more affordable version of a contraption he’d seen in a store that created an illusion of an endless tunnel.
Yep. Sounds like the Bezos we know.
Smart kids are more likely to become leaders as adults
The fact that Bezos was such a remarkable kid also fits with current research on the predictors of success in adulthood.
One small study, conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University, found that 320 students who had scored above the 1-in-10,000 level on the SAT before age 13 held more prestigious jobs at more prestigious companies by age 38 than the rest of the population on average.
Another study, from researchers at Stirling University in the UK and University College Dublin, looked at a sample of 17,000 people and found that 10- and 11-year-old kids who demonstrated high cognitive ability were more likely to hold leadership positions as adults. (So much for Bezos’ teachers’ insistence that he didn’t have leadership potential.)
Bill Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, was similarly talented as a pre-teen. The Wall Street Journal reported that he read the entire World Book Encyclopedia series at a young age. By age 11, Gates’ father told The Journal, Gates began asking his parents about topics like international affairs and business.
The moral of the story isn’t that if you weren’t such an impressive kid, you’ll never achieve Bezos- or Gates-style success. You might! There are plenty of successful people who struggled academically or otherwise as children. Likewise, just because you’re a smart kid or teenager doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go onto become a CEO.
Still, it’s worth noting this pattern.
It’s also important to remember that Bezos was enrolled in a gifted and talented program when Ray met him. If teachers hadn’t recognized his potential and he’d stayed with his “average” peers, he might never have blossomed into one of the most powerful people in the world.