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Six-page memo explains Jeff Bezos's plan to end era of a Microsoft Office giant

  • Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos writes a closely watched annual letter every year.
  • Among the Amazon Way secrets in this year's letter: The tech giant's teams do not use Microsoft Powerpoint to share ideas.
  • They actually write, and read, six-page memos.
Taylor Hill | Getty Images

Amazon has the power with one rumor about a new business effort to sink entire sectors of the market, far beyond the retail industry it has has already upended. It also may have the power of the word to finish off the era of Microsoft's corporate meeting monolith.

"We don't do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon."

That was among the kernels of Amazon wisdom in the closely watched letter to shareholders released by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos on Wednesday.

Powerpoint has always had its detractors, being compared by some to Soviet propaganda tools and even implicated in NASA's inability to figure out what went wrong in two Space Shuttle disasters, Columbia and Challenger. President Trump's Defense Secretary James Mattis once said "PowerPoint makes us stupid." So Bezos — and all the corporate cubicle drones — are not alone.

But PowerPoint has still held on in corporate meetings around the world that, in most cases, go on too long themselves. Microsoft has found itself challenged on many fronts in the office, from richly valued start-up Slack's rise as a challenger to email and Google Docs. And a few months ago when the Wall Street Journal ran a piece saying chief financial officers were instructing teams to stop using Excel, finance operations around the globe were rocked — as rocked as finance teams can get rocked.

What does Amazon do instead to share ideas and plan strategy? Read and write at length, according to Bezos.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Emmanuel Dunand | AFP | Getty Images
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

"We write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of 'study hall.' Not surprisingly, the quality of these memos varies widely. Some have the clarity of angels singing. They are brilliant and thoughtful and set up the meeting for high-quality discussion. Sometimes they come in at the other end of the spectrum."

The difference between a great memo and an average one is one of the few things that Bezos says he finds it difficult to identify, but "much of the time, readers react to great memos very similarly. They know it when they see it. The standard is there, and it is real, even if it's not easily describable."

"We write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of 'study hall.'" -Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon

What do memo writers do wrong? They don't spend enough time on their writing.

"They mistakenly believe a high-standards, six-page memo can be written in one or two days or even a few hours, when really it might take a week or more! " Bezos wrote. He went on: "The great memos are written and re-written, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with a fresh mind. ... The key point here is that you can improve results through the simple act of teaching scope – that a great memo probably should take a week or more."

And maybe also kill off Powerpoint, once and for all.

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