Amazon's Written Memos

The a16z podcast published a great episode yesterday.

The episode interviews Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, who are the authors of a new book called Working Backwards (Insights, Stories and Secrets from Inside Amazon.)

The part of the episode I liked the most was when they discussed how Amazon’s leadership team (lead by Jeff Bezos) created a “no PowerPoint” policy.

If you had to make a presentation, deliver a message, or make a point, you had to do so in written form with a 6 page memo.

I love this.

In the interview, Bryar and Carr spoke about the strategic advantages of developing a company culture that celebrates writing.

Some key points…

  • PowerPoint is a bad medium for business presentations. Slide presentations highlight good presenters and make it easy for a bad idea to be well presented.

  • The best ideas write the best memos. The studies found that even people who are traditionally thought of as poor writers (engineers, coders, etc) were able to write great memos by displaying the information clearly. The data is able to speak for itself in a written memo.

  • Memos have much better economics of information. You can fit much more information on a memo than in a power point presentation. People read faster than they listen. By and large, the executives at Amazon had a huge strategic advantage because they understood the data across all departments better than their competitors.

  • Better dissection of ideas. Memos create a better form of dialog because everyone can comment on the memo directly (through Google Drive or Microsoft Office), which creates an archive of points and counter points.

This is an oversimplification, but as a writer, I celebrate this concept.

I especially loved the idea of asynchronicity. I’d love to implement this in Stodzy.

For instance, if we have a problem to solve, one of us can write a memo on Google Drive and then the rest of us can go into the doc and comment on it. This way, we won’t constantly run into scheduling conflicts.

I’m going to try it out.

I’m also looking forward to reading this book.