Empty chairs and Teddy Bears


Who’s the most important person in your meetings?

In Amazon, it’s an empty chair.

When Amazon was starting out Jeff Bezos , the founder, made sure that at every meeting there was an empty chair brought to the boardroom table to remind everyone present that the most important person was the person who wasn’t in the room-the customer.

Having that chair at the table was a visual reminder of customer purpose, which can very easily disappear in meeting rooms.

In HubSpot it’s a teddy bear called Molly.


The actual real Molly. Look at the nice box she has has to sit her on so she can see everybody. That’s customer focus right there.

At HubSpot they go slightly further and embody the customer as a teddy bear called Molly. Molly is a compulsory attendee and is required for quorum at all of their management meetings. They ask throughout, “But what would Molly think of this?

Both the empty chair and the teddy bear represent the missing customer, the person all activity should be aimed at but often isn’t.

I think if an empty chair was brought into my meetings, and we had to listen to the imaginary words, the missing customer would be telling us to just stop it and leave the meeting room and go and do something worthwhile instead.  Working in the centre of an organisation means we are very far from the customer indeed and lose sight of who they are and what matters to them.


There was some weird version of this in America, something anti-Obama.
This photo has been re-purposed to represent something more wholesome

I was going to declare today to be national Empty Chair Day.

That if you have a meeting at work today, drag a chair to the table and announce it as the Chair of the Missing Customer. When having your meeting, ask it questions.

Then I realised that was silly.

Not asking questions of an empty chair, but having to have a pretend customer in your meetings AT ALL. You’ve got real ones!

Don’t have that meeting! Go into the work, find those customers, find out what matters to them, what their purpose is, the problem that you really should be trying to solve.

Then there’s no need for the symbolic missing customer, because they aren’t missing. They never were, it was you that was missing from where you should have been in the first place. Not in a meeting room playing silly beggars with chairs and teddy bears.


Keep systems thinking, and have a lovely not-National Empty Chair Day!

This entry was posted in customer, knowledge, purpose and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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