Bezos and the Six-Page Meeting Narrative

A Fortune profile on Jeff Bezos reveals how Amazon’s senior-executive team presents, consumes, and prepares to discuss plans and information:

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 (AMZN) 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.”

Interesting. And people love to bash email, but working to refine and articulate a specific point or goal in writing (including in Basecamp) is valuable for everyone. 

On Quora, a former Amazon staffer gives his (unverifiable) explanation for how these narratives are structured:

Like a dissertation defense:

1) the context or question.

2) approaches to answer the question - by whom, by which method, and their conclusions

3) how is your attempt at answering the question different or the same from previous approaches

4) now what? - that is, what’s in it for the customer, the company, and how does the answer to the question enable innovation on behalf of the customer?

Stephen Schenkenberg @schenkenberg