Writing = Thinking, Jeff Bezos Edition

Jeff Bezos likes to read. That’s a dog-bites-man revelation if ever there was one, considering that Bezos is the cerebral founder and chief executive of a $100 billion empire built on books. More revealing is that the Amazon CEO’s fondness for the written word drives one of his primary, and peculiar, tools for managing his company: Meetings of his “S-team” of senior executives begin with participants quietly absorbing the written word. Specifically, before any discussion begins, members of the team — including Bezos — consume six-page printed memos in total silence for as long as 30 minutes. (Yes, the e-ink purveyor prefers paper. Ironic, no?) They scribble notes in the margins while the authors of the memos wait for Bezos and his minions to finish reading.

Amazon executives call these documents “narratives,” and even Bezos realizes that for the uninitiated — and fans of the PowerPoint presentation — the process is a bit odd. “For new employees, it’s a strange initial experience,” he tells Fortune. “They’re just not accustomed to sitting silently in a room and doing study hall with a bunch of executives.” Bezos says the act of communal reading guarantees the group’s undivided attention. Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master. “Full sentences are harder to write,” he says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

From Fortune’s recent profile of Bezos.

(hat tip: Chris Yeh)

5 comments on “Writing = Thinking, Jeff Bezos Edition
  • I read that Bezos banished PowerPoint. That alone makes me want to work at Amazon. Is there any software so poorly utilized as PowerPoint?

  • “There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

    I agree and when it comes to leadership, there is no way to speak well on a subject without clear thinking.

  • Now, this is my kind of guy….. Having worked in the corporate sector (including as a strategy consultant), I’ve had to use Powerpoint to communicate pretty much every idea, issue, solution. And, while there’s something to be said for being able to distill thoughts down to a few key bullet points, I also think that it drives a lot of poor decision-making – not having the deeper understanding of complex issues besides talking points on a bunch of slides.

    That said, I can tell you that a lot of executives I’ve worked with over the years would roll their eyes at even a 1-page memo written in this fashion. It would be a hard culture to develop at a firm in today’s environment unless you’re the owner/founder/CEO and lead by example – as appears to be the case with Bezos.

  • It’s frustrating to me because PowerPoint isn’t useless or bad, it’s just overused. Walls of text, etc. People write novels on their slides, when it’s better used as a succinct visual representation of an idea (see Apple keynotes). If you’re going to force people to read paragraphs on slides, might as well just write memos, writing = clear thinking notwithstanding.

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