Hatching Free Range Ideas

Write clearly. Read deeply. Think better. Together.

In Business, How we learn and think, Jumpstart thinking on May 14, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Tim just sent me a short article on Amazon banning PowerPoint in meetings, which happened in 2003. The article was written in November of last year, just after a Charlie Rose interview with Jeff Bezos. As a purveyor of the written word, the beauty of his approach to meetings spoke directly to me.

Bezos requires that the person presenting an idea, first write a 6 page “narrative.”  (I assume that a BIG idea justifies the kind of work that a 6 page description/argument/idea history represents.) The paper is distributed in the meeting. Then for the first 1/2 hour of the meeting, everyone reads the paper, making notes and writing questions. After the silent reading period, the discussion begins with everyone prepared to contribute. It distributes the control of the presentation content to the group. I really like this idea!!!!

Really BIG ideas are often mushy when they are first released. Depending on the level of the organizational hierarchy, the thinker can get away with more or less mush. Higher = mushier. Writing complete sentences in a structured argument means you have to think through the details with a greater degree of discipline. BIG ideas, ideas that transform experiences, deserve discipline.

When the group has a clear presentation of your thinking/thought process, each member can contribute meaningfully. I’ve been in too many meetings for too many years where someone stands up (or not), and says, “I think we ought to do X.” That’s bringing the entire meeting audience in at the final scene. The only thing we need to do at that point is applaud, I suppose. Then for the rest of the meeting, it’s all flashbacks but with no meaningful sequence. Think about stories you’ve heard that ramble their way from one thread to the next and back again.

Even worse, if the group likes the idea, they try all sorts of questions in order to uncover the rationale behind it. If they don’t like it, they come up with a million reasons why it won’t work.

It’s a HUGE time waster that rarely leads to tactical action beyond handing it off to a sub-group to perform feasibility studies. . .or worse, to develop prototypes. Idea owners are the best people to study feasibility! Dammit! It’s a lot like Steve Blank saying, “Owners have to get out of the building; not researchers.” Those who are invested in an idea should develop it before handing it off. Dammit!

I learn as I write. I think on the screen or on paper.

I read most deeply on paper where I can make notes and jump back and forth to supporting points that came before. I can see an argument or a case unfold in front of me.

Jeff (because I’ve adopted him on my team for this ONE reason alone, I’m going to refer to him as if he were my friend, by his first name) agrees. “When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences, complete paragraphs it forces a deeper clarity.”

According to an ex-Amazon employee, the structure is:

1. the context or question
2. what was done before to answer the question
3. how your attempt at answering the question is different or the same from previous approaches
4. The benefits of the approach (what’s in it for the customer, the company, and
5. how the answer to the question enables innovation on behalf of the customer? (I’m not sure I understand this one)

Andy Grove said, “Writing the report is important; reading it often is not.” I think he’s half right. Maybe it’s ’cause he doesn’t read stuff that is very good. Or maybe he can’t find the time to read all the stuff that comes across his desk. Hence, study hall.

Some people don’t think in words, so what about them?


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