The real power of the Jeff Bezos memo and how you can put it into practice (even if you don’t have any meetings)
There has been a lot of buzz around Jeff Bezos’ recent annual letter to Amazon shareholders. One of the topics that has received the most attention is how he insists on a no PowerPoint policy at Amazon:
We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos.
Much of the attention around this has been focused on how he uses these memos to run meetings and how every meeting starts off with everyone silently reading the memo to be discussed.
This is to be sure that everyone actually has an understanding of the topic before discussion begins and in his words to ensure that executives don’t “bluff through it like high school students.” (which may be surprising to people who have never worked in a big company before, but trust me, this happens a lot more often than you would think)
He also goes on to explain how it takes time to write a good narrative memo and how it is the whole team that should contribute…and there is a lot that can be learned here if you are running a large organization.
But what if you are on your own or with just a couple of employees starting out? What is it that you can learn from Jeff Bezos’ memos?
Don’t get sidetracked with all of the attention on running better meetings and think there’s nothing here that you can use.The key point is this:
Jeff Bezos doesn’t use PowerPoint or bullet point lists because writing a narrative forces you to explicitly state all of your assumptions and complete your thoughts. And this is something that we can all put into practice.
The power of the memo
When Jeff Bezos originally announced his no PowerPoint policy, he sent out an email that explained his rationale.
In it, he stated that PowerPoint style presentations and bullet point lists in general:
give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas.
And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.
How many times have you thought something was completely worked out in your head until you then tried to explain it to someone else or put it down on paper?
It is not until then that you realize you had quite a few holes in your thinking.
PowerPoint and bullet points in general allow you to conveniently leave out tough questions that you haven’t worked out yet. By writing out a full narrative, you force yourself to think through how everything actually fits together and where the real challenges will be.
It’s a way to keep yourself honest and to make sure that all of your ideas actually fit together into some kind of coherent story. You will be surprised how much you haven’t actually thought of yet until you try to write a few pages on it.
Putting it into practice
So what does this really look like in practice? I’ve already started doing this with great results and I’m sure with a little imagination, there are lots of other great applications as well.
Here are just a few ways you can get started:
- Startup ideas: you know that list of ideas you keep in Evernote or scribbled on a paper somewhere… how do you know which ideas are worth actually pursuing? Take the time to write 2–3 pages to really flesh it out. What’s the value you are creating, for who, how will you reach them, how are you different from the competition.
- Planning your writing: if you are a blogger or writer and are regularly creating content, take the time to write a paragraph or two that tells the story of your post. Rather than just keeping a list of potential titles and trying to write a full post from there, take the time to flesh out how it will flow and how the ideas actually fit together.
- Daily tasks: rather than a to-do list, try writing out a narrative of all of the things you want to get done in a day and how you will go about doing them.
- Goals: try writing a page about each of your goals rather than just having a list. Ditching the bullet points here will force you to think more about the motivations behind your goals and what it will actually take to achieve them.
I’m sure there are lots more things ways you can put short narratives to good use, but whatever it is I think you will be happy you ditched the bullet points and spent a few extra minutes to write down the whole story.