business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Financial Times has a story that compares - go figure - Jeff Bezos to Winston Churchill. The reason? They both loved/love a good story, clearly and concisely written.

Churchill, FT writes, once wrote that “the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.”

In other words, clear writing reflects clear thinking. And clear thinking results in clear writing.

(I happen to love this. It is exactly what I teach the students at Portland State University each summer.)

Amazon founder/CEO Bezos, for his part, feels the same way. His “recent letter to shareholders extolled the Amazon practice of starting all internal meetings by everyone present reading a memo of up to six pages, explaining what they are there to discuss … The principle is that an executive must refine his or her proposal so fully to express it in narrative form that everyone will be able to understand it. Reading the memo means that all those in the room are informed for the conversation that follows, and are not merely bluffing.”

Plus, he requires that at the beginning of every initiative, those who will be in charge of it have to write the press release that would be used at the end of the process, explaining the customer value of whatever the initiative happens to be. If you can’t do that, he reasons, then it is questionable whether Amazon should be investing time and money in it.

Clear writing reflects clear thinking. Clear thinking results in clear writing.

But here’s the Eye-Opening passage from the story, I think:

“The surprising aspect is his faith in narrative, rather than the data on which Amazon relies. You might have thought that data would rule decision-making at Amazon, but not so. He said: ‘We have so many metrics . . . and the thing I have noticed is that when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. There’s something wrong with the way you’re measuring’.”

FT goes on to say that “preparing a crisp narrative is much harder work than spraying around some sentences on a slide. It requires someone to pause and not only to think through the thread of the argument, but to shape it in a way that can inspire others. Churchill could do that on his feet; the rest of us must concentrate.”

In other words, “Clear writing reflects clear thinking. Clear thinking results in clear writing.”
KC's View: