| / (AMAZON)


Six-Page Narratives
We dont do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of study hall. Not surprisingly, the quality of these memos varies widely. Some have the clarity of angels singing. They are brilliant and thoughtful and set up the meeting for high-quality discussion. Sometimes they come in at the other end of the spectrum.

In the handstand example, its pretty straightforward to recognize high standards. It wouldnt be difficult to lay out in detail the requirements of a well-executed handstand, and then youre either doing it or youre not. The writing example is very different. The difference between a great memo and an average one is much squishier. It would be extremely hard to write down the detailed requirements that make up a great memo. Nevertheless, I find that much of the time, readers react to great memos very similarly. They know it when they see it. The standard is there, and it is real, even if its not easily describable.

Heres what weve figured out. Often, when a memo isnt great, its not the writers inability to recognize the high standard, but instead a wrong expectation on scope: they mistakenly believe a high-standards, six-page memo can be written in one or two days or even a few hours, when really it might take a week or more! Theyre trying to perfect a handstand in just two weeks, and were not coaching them right. The great memos are written and re-written, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with a fresh mind. They simply cant be done in a day or two. The key point here is that you can improve results through the simple act of teaching scope that a great memo probably should take a week or more. 

Beyond recognizing the standard and having realistic expectations on scope, how about skill? Surely to write a world class memo, you have to be an extremely skilled writer? Is it another required element? In my view, not so much, at least not for the individual in the context of teams. The football coach doesnt need to be able to throw, and a film director doesnt need to be able to act. But they both do need to recognize high standards for those things and teach realistic expectations on scope. Even in the example of writing a six-page memo, thats teamwork. Someone on the team needs to have the skill, but it doesnt have to be you. (As a side note, by tradition at Amazon, authors names never appear on the memos the memo is from the whole team.)

Benefits of High Standards
Building a culture of high standards is well worth the effort, and there are many benefits. Naturally and most obviously, youre going to build better products and services for customers this would be reason enough! Perhaps a little less obvious: people are drawn to high standards they help with recruiting and retention. More subtle: a culture of high standards is protective of all the invisible but crucial work that goes on in every company. Im talking about the work that no one sees. The work that gets done when no one is watching. In a high standards culture, doing that work well is its own reward its part of what it means to be a professional.
And finally, high standards are fun! Once youve tasted high standards, theres no going back.
So, the four elements of high standards as we see it: they are teachable, they are domain specific, you must recognize them, and you must explicitly coach realistic scope. For us, these work at all levels of detail. Everything from writing memos to whole new, clean-sheet business initiatives. We hope they help you too.


It reads:
A little more to help with the reason "why."
Well structured, narrative text is what we're after rather than just text. If someone builds a list of bullet points in word, that would be just as bad as powerpoint.
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.
Powerpoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the innerconnectedness of ideas.



Jeff Bezos admits Amazon has 'the weirdest meeting culture you will ever encounter - 
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explained during an on-stage interview on Friday the strange meetings Amazon holds.
  • Every meeting requires a well-crafted six-page memo which the whole room sits and reads at the start of the meeting.
  • Bezos banned PowerPoint years ago and explained why the memo-driven meeting is far superior.

If you go to work as an executive at Amazon, no matter what your expertise, you will be required to become a good writer, and a good reader, in order to lead the meetings necessary to do your job. 
And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos fully admits that this will likely be 'weird,' he explained during an on-stage interview at the George Bush Presidential Center on Friday. 
"No PowerPoints are used inside Amazon," he said. "When we hire a new executive from outside [we warn], this is the weirdest meeting culture you ever encounter." 
He explained, "For every meeting, someone from the meeting has prepared a six-page, narratively structured memo that has real sentences and topic sentences and verbs. It's not just bullet points. It's supposed to create the context for the discussion we're about to have." 
Everyone then sits and reads the memo silently, which often takes a good half-hour. And then they discuss the memo. 
These meetings are "so much better than the typical PowerPoint presentation for so many reasons," he said. He didn't go into the reasons why on stage, but he had discussed his views on memo-driven meetings in his recently published annual letter to shareholders. (And he has, in years past, explained his ban on PowerPoint.)
In the letter, he explained that writing a brilliant, long memo requires the writer to understand the subject well. It also requires the writer to "improve results through the simple act of teaching scope." By that he means doing a great job requires effort, not speed. "A great memo probably should take a week or more" to write, he said in the letter.
On stage on Friday, Bezos explained that since it takes so much time to create a great memo, he uses a foolproof method to ensure everyone reads it. 
"We read [the memos] in the room. Just like high school kids, executives will bluff their way through the meeting as if they've read the memo. So you have to carve out time so everyone has actually read the memo they are not just pretending," he said. 
Ultimately "a brilliant and thoughtful" memo will "set up the meeting for high-quality discussion," he explained. 
There might be another reason for this "weird" meeting culture. Bezos is a book lover who started Amazon as an online book store. Reading is in the company's DNA. 

. , .