The Brilliance Behind Amazon’s Hercules Project

​Amazon's next generation ​fulfillment center robot is a real powerhouse. At just 7.75 inches tall,​ "Hercules" or "H-Drive" for short, can lift a whopping 1,250 pounds--500 pounds more than its first generation brother! 

​Hercules is a stroke of engineering brilliance. ​But what's even more impressive is ​the story of how H-Drive came into being. ​

In this article, I decode the specific tactics that allow Amazon to innovate for the long-term, while they simultaneously pursue the next big disruptive idea.H

One of Amazon's Leadership Principles is "Invent and Simplify." And that's exactly what Tye Brady, who is the Chief Technologist at Amazon Robotics, put into practice with the Hercules project.


Tactic #1: The Competitive Spirit.

Nothing gets "smart creatives" more fired up than a good ole' fashion competition. That's the first behavior that led to the success of the Hercules project.

“I’m always looking for ways to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit among my team and figure out how to weave it into everything we do,” said Brady.

The winning engineer of the Hercules project was Dragan Pajevic. Starting with a simple paper sketch, Pajevic's team delivered a bot that was smarter, faster, and stronger than its predecessor.

​Need more "Smart Creatives" in Your Company?

​In my new book, Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, ​I provide leaders with more than 25 tools for building future-ready organizations that are full of highly talented, smart creatives. ​​​​​​

Tactic #2: Relentless Simplification.

Pajevic's team not only built a smarter, faster, stronger robot, they created a robot that was 35% shorter, thus taking up less space in a fulfillment center.

In addition, Hercules has 50% fewer components making him easier to maintain and repair.

"Complicated things are not necessarily better than simple things," Pajevic said. "And sometimes it's more difficult to design things to be simple versus complex."

Tactic #3: Crush Bureaucracy.

I can't stand bureaucracy. I see it kill innovation in companies everyday. The very orgin of the term itself explains why bureaucracy stifles innovation. It's a combination of the French word bureau (meaning "desk") and the Greek word kratia (power or rule).

Nothing is more deadly to an organization's entrepreneurial spirit than "ruling the desks" of the smartest and most creative people in the company. Yet, it happens everyday in large companies.

Amazon has managed to crush bureaucracy by removing hurdles to innovation and incentivizing smart creatives like Pajevic to earn patents. Amazonians receive a clear puzzle piece for each patent application filed. When the patent goes from pending to approved Amazonians receive a blue puzzle piece.

​Amazon crush's bureaucracy by not "ruling the desks" of their most creative team members. There are no high-level review committees ​for patents. Instead, Amazonians are ​empowered to approve their own inventions for patenting.

Hercules earned Pajevic and team 7 patents--these were his first-ever. That's pretty frickin' cool!

​Crushing bureaucracy has led to thousands of Amazon patents, putting them ahead of more "mature" companies like Toyota, Ford Global Technologies, General Electric, Toshiba and Fujitsu.


Photo by Zak Brickett

​So there you have it: Amazon's innovation playbook for the long-term. 

​1. Practice the leadership principles that you preach (i.e., "invent and simplify")

2. Foster a competitive entrepreneurial spirit

​3. ​Simplify ​relentlessly, and

4. Crush bureaucracy

There's no secrete to this type of change. You just have to change yourself and change your team.

If you want to learn more about what leaders can do to foster innovation and build future-ready companies, check out my new book on​​, write me a book review and let me know what you thought about, or leave a comment on the blog below. 

And, as always....

See you in the FUTURE!

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Chris Groscurth, Ph.D.

Chris Groscurth, Ph.D., is author of Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For the past 20 years he has worked as a researcher and strategic advisor to leaders across healthcare, finance, manufacturing, government and education. In addition to his consulting work, Chris addresses thousands of leaders annually through speaking engagements and workshops. Throughout his career, he has held leadership positions with Gallup, the University of Michigan, and Trinity Health. Chris currently leads Stryker's global learning design and development team, shaping the future of leadership in a high-growth medical technology company. Chris received his doctorate in human communication processes from the University of Georgia and has bachelor's and master's degrees in human communication studies from Western Michigan University.

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