Whether you are a fan of the company or not, Amazon is the force in commerce, technology and even logistics today. Entire industries are being created, challenged and disrupted by the Seattle behemoth. Their success is unequaled, their reach is unprecedented and their potential is unfathomable. Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles and the practices that support them stand as a beacon toward which many companies sail. What’s wrong with trying to emulate Amazon’s Leadership Principles and supporting practices — and what should you do?

Amazon’s prominence provides many good reasons for companies to want to adopt their practices. The reality, though, is that there are also many reasons not to. Attempting to copy the surface behaviors of any role-model — especially Amazon — without a deep assessment of your organization’s readiness, puts you not only at very real danger of failing to achieve the desired results, but also in danger of causing very real damage to your business. For example, if you don’t have the right data-driven culture and appropriate supporting metrics process, you may not know something you are doing is making things worse — until it’s too late. It takes real time and experience to develop these organizational attributes. Amazon’s path was authentic and not an “exercise” to develop them. They were discovered, defined and refined over years.

I’m a strong proponent of the Amazon Principles of Leadership, and like many Amazon alumni, I yearn for and advocate these practices when I’m in an organization that lacks them. However, it is too often ineffective — even counterproductive — to cherry-pick Amazon principles and practices as a silver bullet to fix what ails your organization.

If you think your organization can benefit from applying the principles and practices of Amazon, you are right. But, how do you decide which to apply, and how they can be effectively employed in your environment? Unfortunately, the answer is not as straightforward as we would all hope.

One of the most valuable aspects of Amazon’s principles is that they are cross-reinforcing. An organization operating at a high level across disciplines, with an established change-culture, and financially capable of absorbing disruption is going to see many benefits. However, adopting these principles arbitrarily, in conflict with your current culture or operational capability, or attempting to institute them precisely as applied at Amazon puts you at very high risk of wasting time, confusing and frustrating your people, and not getting anywhere close to the intended results. Possibly worse.

If you want to go on this journey — and I strongly encourage you to do so — you’ll need to take a soundly reasoned approach. Understand how the developmental stage, operations, culture and resources of your business influence how far and how fast you can proceed toward any one discipline. Consider how your team’s strengths and weaknesses influence where you need to focus first. Then, plot a course that incrementally builds up layers of increasing competence across multiple interrelated disciplines.

If this path sounds difficult and fraught with peril… it is. But, clearly, standing pat is not an option. The effort is necessary and will be worth it. Change is the only to way find your unique path. You may not be Amazon, but you can find your own “inner Amazon,” and both you and your company will be better for it.

Have you considered or started on this journey? I’d love to hear your hopes, fears, challenges and successes. If you’re not sure how to get started, share your thoughts in the comments below, or reach out to me.