Writing Culture at Amazon

No other business leader has harnessed the power of narrative like Jeff Bezos. In a famous email that he sent out to all employees banning the use of PowerPoint presentations, he says the following:

“The reason writing a 4-page memo is harder than “writing” a 20 page powerpoint is because the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s more important than what, and how things are related.”

It is clear what Bezos wants from his team: clarity of thought. He’s also cognizant of the fact that ideas are never linear but interconnected. Most meetings follow a procedure where the first 10-15 minutes are reserved for reading, followed by 30-40 minutes of QnA. A go/no-go decision is then taken or postponed. 

If writing memos for meetings and decision making shows ingenuity wait till you read about how Bezos uses narrative as a forcing function to align priorities within the company. 

A few of my favorite links on the topic of memos at Amazon:

The Beauty of Amazon’s 6-Pager
(A VP at Amazon explains the upside of having memos for meetings)

How Jeff Bezos Turned Narrative into Amazon’s Competitive Advantage
(Looks at writing and narrative as a strategic tool)

Discussion on HN
(Some really interesting conversations on the above article in the comment section here)

Writing Docs at Amazon
(How to write a good memo from an Amazon employee)

Compress to impress
(Eugene Wei, again ex-Amazon, write about how Bezos uses rhetoric to compress his philosophy and ideas which are then amplified throughout the company)

Bezos: A CEO Who Can Write
(Snippets from the Shareholder Letters that highlight his writing prowess)

Exploring Cognitive Engagement in Amazon’s Six Page Narratives
(An Amazon employee uses Daniel Kanheman’s ideas on cognitive load to explain why narratives require more engaged thinking and why that’s a feature not a bug)

The Evil Genius of the Amazon Six Page Narrative
(Some more discussion on the structure of the memo and its construction)

And if you haven’t read the Shareholder letters yet, you can find them here as a single file, thanks to Austen. 

Amazon Shareholder Letters

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