Amazon’s 6-page memos; How does it work?

Why memos over Powerpoint? Amazon famously has execs write 6-page narrative-driven memos instead of Powerpoint decks. The practice began in 2004 when Jeff Bezos noticed nothing was being decided after 60-minute long meetings with his inner circle (AKA S-Team).

1/ Amazon is well-known for its writing culture: ◻️ “Mock press releases / FAQs” for new product pitches ◻️ “6-page memos” instead of Powerpoint It force clear thinking and encodes a specific approach to innovation (especially for a post-Bezos world). Here’s a breakdown 🧵
2/ The “Working Backwards” philosophy Instead of creating a product then finding customers, Amazon asks “What does the customer need?” and works *backwards* toward the product. ✔️Customer need –> Create product ✖️Create product –> Find customer
4/ Press releases force big thinking You don’t write a press release for an incremental improvements. Creating a product worthy of a press release means really solving a customer problem and going after markets with large total addressable markets (TAMs).
5/ Include an FAQ in each “press release” Addressing every potential customer question can help identify hurdles to getting something to market…and also uncover other potential opportunities.
6/ Why memos over Powerpoint? Amazon famously has execs write 6-page narrative-driven memos instead of Powerpoint decks. The practice began in 2004 when Jeff Bezos noticed nothing was being decided after 60-minute long meetings with his inner circle (AKA S-Team).
7/ Memos > Powerpoint #1: More info density People read faster than people can talk meaning that — for a 60 minute meeting — reading a memo before discussing an issue conveys much more information (10x more per a former Amazon exec). Narratives are also much more memorable.
8/ Memos > Powerpoint #2: Ideas instead of charisma In Powerpoint presentations, a great presenter can sell a bad idea. Conversely, a poor presenter may be unable to sell a great idea. In a memo, the idea wins.
9/ Memos > Powerpoint #3: Better analysis Powerpoint’s hierarchical (and sequential) structure is not ideal to address complex issues. Narrative-driven memos can be multi-causal and provide a 360-degree view on a topic.
10/ Memos > Powerpoint #4: Focusses a meeting If every meeting participant spends the first 1/3rd of a 60-minute meeting reading, there is a huge transfer of information. It’s a forcing function to get everyone on the same page and makes the remaining 40-minutes high quality.
11/ Memos > Powerpoint #5: Shared understanding Whether or not one agrees with everything in a memo, focussed reading of a document provides a shared knowledge base with which to begin discussions. Further, someone can quickly “get up to speed” by reading past memos.
12/ Memos > Powerpoint #6: Decisions need narrative Powerpoint and Excel are great at communicating data. However, at the executive level, you are making complex decisions and leading. This requires a mastery of narrative (AKA memo writing) to persuade stakeholders.
13/ Writing is crucial for a company scale At 20 employees, Bezos could be in every meeting. At 1k+ employees, he needed a way to “inject his lens of thinking” into the organization. An archive of writing (e.g. annual letters) encodes thinking, especially now that he’s gone.
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