The value of considered thought (and what Jeff Bezos is doing about it)

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 01-07-13

How are your meetings run?

If they are anything like many of the meetings I observe, they are filled with presentation of pre-determined opinion, sharing from participants of more pre-determined opinion, and then a little time left at the end for consideration and decision-making.

That might be fine for something like whether to run overtime through the weekend, or what price to offer a key customer. But is it really how we want to be making critical and strategic decisions?

Imagine if you told people how much time you wanted them to put into thinking about and considering a decision. You can guess the response, whether spoken or not, would be wondering why you are being treated like a child. After all, you can manage your own time and your own mind, can’t you? Yet, too many important decisions get about as much mindshare as a lunch order.

Jeff Bezos, founder of and a strong lean thinker, has a solution. Check out how he ensures careful consideration, from a Fortune magazine profile:

Jeff Bezos likes to read. That’s a dog-bites-man revelation if ever there was one, considering that Bezos is the cerebral founder and chief executive of a $100 billion empire built on books. More revealing is that the Amazon CEO’s fondness for the written word drives one of his primary, and peculiar, tools for managing his company: Meetings of his “S-team” of senior executives begin with participants quietly absorbing the written word. Specifically, before any discussion begins, members of the team — including Bezos — consume six-page printed memos in total silence for as long as 30 minutes. (Yes, the e-ink purveyor prefers paper. Ironic, no?) They scribble notes in the margins while the authors of the memos wait for Bezos and his minions to finish reading.

Amazon (AMZN) executives call these documents “narratives,” and even Bezos realizes that for the uninitiated — and fans of the PowerPoint presentation — the process is a bit odd. “For new employees, it’s a strange initial experience,” he tells Fortune. “They’re just not accustomed to sitting silently in a room and doing study hall with a bunch of executives.” Bezos says the act of communal reading guarantees the group’s undivided attention. Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master. “Full sentences are harder to write,” he says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

Now, consider that he is Jeff Bezos and if that’s how he wants to run things, its unlikely that someone will ignore him. But imagine the improved thought, consideration, and dialogue that goes into important decisions. Isn’t that worth the investment?

Reflection question: Are you willing to force process on people to ensure thoughtful consideration? Can you afford not to?