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.When I mentioned the awesomeness of this idea on my Twitter feed, it sparked a remarkable level of interest, which is to say more than zero. A number of folks seem genuinely surprised by the concept. On the one hand, some suggested that mandatory reading periods are a waste of senior leadership's time. Others were transfixed by Bezos's radical new technology for improving corporate communication called getting people to read documents that are sent to them. As you can see from that phrasing, the second group provides the answer to the first. Yes, at first blush it looks like bit of a time sink to have senior executives sit around a table reading memos. But if the most likely alternative is that staff spend hours writing carefully crafted memos only to have senior executives (a) largely ignore them, and then (b) spend an hour pontificating in a semi-informed or ill-informed manner on topics addressed by the memos, that's an even bigger waste of company resources. Obviously if there were some technological means of ensuring that everyone carefully considered all meeting-related documents before the meeting takes place, that might be superior, but I'm unaware of such a magical device. It also might not be much of an improvement, since the reading session puts the memo in the front of everyone's mind. Reading the memo the night before means that you're trying to recall what you thought about it instead of hearing what others have to say.
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."
|I'm an occasional defender of PowerPoint, but it should not be the default
form of business communication.