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In support of narrative memos

This is not new. It has been reported on before. But I just finished reading this article about Jeff Bezos’ relentless commitment to “high-quality and high-velocity decision making” at Amazon.

Here are a couple of high level points:

– There are decisions that cannot be easily reversed (Type 1) and there are decisions that can be (Type 2). Knowing which is which is important. To help get better at this, they are very diligent about tracking the outcomes of previous decisions.

– Make decisions without all of the info you wish you had, because if you don’t, you’re probably moving too slow. Speed is paramount. If you’ve categorized your decisions properly (see above), being wrong may not actually be that costly.

– There’s a company philosophy centered around “disagree and commit.” It is about moving forward – since speed is so important – without full consensus. In other words: We may not all agree, but can we disagree and commit to this?

Perhaps the most interesting, and seemingly paradoxical, aspect of Amazon’s “high-velocity decision making process” is that it is built upon narrative memos, instead of PowerPoint decks. In fact, decks have been banned at the company since 2004.

The reason for this is that narrative memos are more difficult to write, which means you really have to understand what you’re talking about. It encourages deeper thought and it allows nuances and interdependencies to come through.

Apparently important meetings start with everyone just sitting in a room reading the narrative memo, which are often between 4-6 pages. Once everyone has read the memo and is on the same page, the meeting starts.

As someone who writes a daily narrative, this approach really resonates me. It would be a hell of a lot easier if I could just show up here every day and throw down a few bullet points. But then both of us would get far less out of this practice.

Writing takes time. Bezos has acknowledged that these memos cannot be written in a day or two. But clearly there’s a belief that more time spent up front translates into greater overall speed. Their market cap suggests that is working.

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