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.