Why Jeff Bezos Says Writing a Memo is an . . . Important Skill to Master


About 2 weeks ago, I was watching Charlie Rose who was interviewing Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, one of my favorite companies. Bezos has just received two honors: Fortune named him as its Businessperson of the Year for 2012. GeekWire recognized Bezos as one of their Newsmakers of 2012. For those of us Amazon lovers, we know he has revolutionized the book and e-book business, and is now branching out to selling wine and fashion, among many other things.

Why Bezos Loves Written Memos for his Staff

He was talking to Charlie about meeting with his senior staff members for 30 minute get-togethers on a specific topic that is important to the Amazon business. Bezos calls them “study halls.” These get- togethers consist of a group discussion after all attendees read a 6 page memo for 30 minutes in silence with everyone in the same room. (Each memo at a meeting is written by one of the staff members, not Jeff Bezos. You do not get to read them in advance. You actually read them together.) Here is what Bezos told Charlie he loves about this process for his staff.

  • Writing is an. . . important skill to master because clarity comes when memo writers learn to write complete sentences.
  • Full sentences are hard[er] to write.
  • “There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”
  •  Bezos believes that by avoiding PowerPoint presentations, the Amazon six page memo gives the whole group time to read it and digest a topic deeply.
  • The author is pleased because everyone is reading the memo together.
  • The team probably will not have as many questions to answer, because it is all there in the memo instead of bullet points on a screen.

By the way, neither Bezos nor I are knocking PowerPoint. It’s a great tool, and has a large place for educating people. Bezos is saying that the written word shared by a group of people has tremendous power. This is the power I believe we can all tap into for our meetings with others:

  • Your group (2 or more people) has a chance to energize one another by being together.
  • The author has an opportunity to take the time to express herself/himself in a short number of pages. (The six pages are long enough to get a fairly large concept described, detailed, and defined).
  • You have a chance to consult with everyone at the same time, with the document in hand. This makes for a livelier discussion, and gives your members a chance to air their views with the intention of group solutions.
  • You have “just in time” learning, which gives your staff a chance to learn something of value, and put it into use in a short period of time, especially if strong consensus is built.
  • You will have the ability to build better consensus because everyone in the same room has an equal voice for suggestions, improvements, and changes. They may not get implemented, but they will get heard in an atmosphere where comments are welcomed.
  • Your team gets to know one another – how they think, what their hot buttons are, and what makes them make the recommendations they make. In other words, your team really becomes a team.

Advantages to Writing Memos for a Group Discussion

If I were Queen of the world, I suggest writing memos, or any relevant document that is needed,  and having a full group discussion is a real plus in today’s digital world. It offers all of us a chance to use real creativity by expressing our ideas fully and completely on paper. We can connect ourselves to others with a strong voice, and powerful words to obtain results that you cannot get by working separately. You will find unique solutions that come from a team to offer real value to your customers.

Advantages to Writing and Discussing Proposals, and Letters of Agreement for your Clients

It might also be a great way to work with a buyer when offering proposals, letters of agreement, and final plans by reading and discussing all statements with your prospective client to see if everything is accurate, fair, reasonable, and is clearly understood. Everyone has a chance to speak with a meaningful voice to focus on what is important, and what’s needed to be successful.

If Jess Bezos loves his staff to write memos for everyone on his staff to gain greater clarity, shall we all write more for ourselves, our teams, and our clients to find inspiration, guidance, and the right results?

Seems like a great idea to me!  I’d love to know what your thoughts are about sitting around a table reading and discussing memos, letters of agreement, and proposals!



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