How Narratives Enhance Concepts And Selections

How narratives improve ideas and decisions

The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it took place. ~ George Bernard Shaw

How do those responsible at Amazon decide what to do and what not to do? How do they develop and rationalize ideas? Similarly, they hire the best people. They use the narrative process to answer these questions and to capture and explain their ideas.

The killer feature: clarity

Michael Porter, Harvard Professor of Strategy, said: “Strategy is about making decisions, making compromises. It's about being consciously different. "By developing clarity and simplicity in what you do and what you don't, you improve ideas, make conscious decisions, and gain a common understanding in the organization. The fundamental mistake managers make when developing digital strategies is not looking for clarity, especially with regard to the customer experience. What will inspire the customer? Which operating model supports this experience? Which data and technologies support the operating model? How will we measure?

Achieving clarity can be uncomfortable. It can be annoying. People tend to avoid conflict, work together and basically accept all ideas and formulations. This tactic does not require the best thinking and avoids the sensitive issues in the sense of "livelihood". A well-written narrative, on the other hand, requires the accuracy of the correct wording, compels to highlight risks and sensitive issues that need to be addressed to achieve the goal, and requires clear and simple language to ensure that everyone understands the most important Points. A well-written narrative and the process of writing will force the teams not only to be polite but also to gain insight.

One of Amazon's guiding principles is to “invent and simplify”. Striving for clarity of thought through a written narrative is a key operational approach to achieve both inventions and simplifications. "Almost every meeting where a business decision is made is driven by a document," said Llew Mason, Vice President of Amazon. "One of the great things about a written document is that it brings a lot of clarity to the process." Ah, clarity of thinking. poeticbusiness about what you choose. poeticbusiness about how the idea affects users and companies. A long-time business partner of mine who has worked with me both before and after Amazon has often told me that he sees me doing things with my customers, which he found extremely helpful and that I always try to simplify and clarify the communication. I learned that at Amazon.

What is a story?

At Amazon, executives write reports of all plans, suggestions, services and investments. PowerPoint is not used (insert applause). A lot has been written about how PowerPoint disrupts or endangers a company. In his 2017 letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos wrote: “We don't make PowerPoint presentations (or other slide-oriented presentations) on Amazon. We write narratively structured six-page memos, ”continues Bezos. "At the beginning of each session we read one in a kind of" study room ". Not surprisingly, the quality of these memos is very different. Some have the clarity that angels are singing. They are brilliant and thoughtful and prepare the meeting for a high quality discussion. Sometimes they come in on the other end of the spectrum. "

Narratives at Amazon are two- or six-page documents that are written in full sentences. A narrative must be specifically tailored to the situation, based on the topic, the time of the initiative, and the audience. It has to flow in a way that makes sense in terms of the topic and the audience. Throwing excessive bullets or transparencies into the narrative is prohibited. Data, charts and diagrams can be included, but must be explained in the narrative. Attachment material is also permitted. I believe that the discipline of writing ideas is at the heart of Amazon's innovation process and can be repeated in the same way. As explained by Greg Satell:

Amazon's innovations focus on the six-page memo that starts everything the company does. Managers must write a press release with hypothetical customer responses to the product launch. This is followed by a series of FAQs that anticipate questions that customers and internal stakeholders may have.

Managers in the company have emphasized to me how the process forces you to think. You can't gloss over problems or hide behind complexity. You actually have to work things out. All of this happens before the first meeting. It is a level of rigor that few other organizations can try, let alone achieve.

The process of a narrative

Why do programs and projects take too long, exceed budgets, inflate and fail to deliver? Execution and project management techniques can be reasons, but the main cause is that the final state is not precisely defined at the beginning. Teams want to get started quickly and start designing, building, and testing. If you take the time to write a narrative, the definition of the tasks to be done will improve significantly and be as small and precise as possible so that it can be carried out faster, cheaper and more agile. But writing stories takes time, so they're done when they're done. It is difficult to predict how long it will take and how much effort it will take. It is perfectly reasonable to set a deadline. "You have a week to write a story" might be appropriate.

Narratives can be written by one person, but it is often a group work because several people and teams contribute to the idea. Forcing people to share the story has tremendous advantages when it comes to putting the best ideas on paper and building a common understanding and relationship through authorship. Part of Amazon's storytelling practice is not to include the author's name or names in the stories. This sends the signal that the narrative is a community activity.

When the narrative is finished, think about the review sessions and the decision-making process. Who needs to deeply understand and agree with the narrative before making a decision? Who are the main decision makers? At Amazon, review meetings typically take 60 minutes. You start with a 10-15 minute silence to read or "grok" the proposal and vision thoroughly. This is followed by a discussion in which the advantages, options, suitable next steps and decisions are discussed.

The process of creating, reviewing and deciding must be carefully considered. It has to be strict. It has to take time and effort. It's done when it's done. What are storytellers doing wrong? You don't spend enough time writing. Bezos wrote: “They mistakenly believe that a high-standard, six-page memo can be written in a day or two, or even a few hours, if it really could take a week or more! . . . The great memos are written and rewritten, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a few days and then reworked with new brains. . . . The key point here is that you can improve results by simply teaching – a great memo should probably last a week or more. "

The structure of a narrative

A narrative must consist of complete thoughts, complete paragraphs, and complete sentences. You can insert diagrams, numbers and diagrams, but these elements must be explained in the description. Other than that, there are no rules for the structure, and the structure that the authors choose depends on the topic, the timing of the discussion cycle, and the audience.

The first sections of the narrative are usually customer-oriented. "Who are the customers? What advantages do we bring them? What problems do we solve for you? Why should you be enthusiastic about this idea? “Subsequent sections can include customer experience, dependencies or requirements, metrics to measure success, business case and key risks.

An example narrative

By now, I hope you understand the importance of writing ideas fully and clearly. Leave the PowerPoint presentations behind for your projects, investments, strategies and leadership topics and force the teams to write down their ideas and plans. The meetings begin with 10 to 15 minutes of silence to read the narrative. Phones and computers stay outside. Then discuss the merits of the narrative. Don't be afraid to ask for the narrative to be improved or to write a subsequent narrative.

Don't make a mistake. Creating narratives requires skill, experience, commitment and patience. You can't speed up great stories because you can't speed up great thoughts and communications. It takes practice. Writing is less an artistic exercise than a practiced skill. It is less a matter of self-ignition than a methodical construction – like building and rebuilding the perfect bird house. Do you have the discipline and commitment to write your most important ideas and suggestions in simple English?

Other executives and large corporations are realizing that writing, as a compelling function of clarity, is key to innovation. JPMorgan Chase, with whom I have been able to talk about many of these ideas, uses narrative as one of the ways to be literary, more like Amazon. "Mr. Bezos is known to have banned slide presentations to keep Amazon in startup mode and instead asked employees to create six-page documents with a press release and FAQs. In the past 18 months, JPMorgan, under Gordon Smith, Co -President and co-chief operating officer of the bank, started a similar practice in his consumer businesses. “Are you able and willing to commit yourself to hard habits like storytelling to change culture, speed, pace and innovation?

Writing ideas and suggestions in full narratives leads to better ideas, more clarity about the ideas, and better conversation about the ideas. You make better decisions about what to do and how to do it. The initiatives will be smaller and less risky. Narrative writing is difficult, takes a long time, and is an acquired skill for the organization. High standards and an understanding of how to build this skill over time are required.

Questions to consider

1. Do your ideas and plans suffer from incomplete thoughts?
2. Are your projects inflated to size and unnecessarily complex?
3. Do your managers understand and influence the details of a proposal sufficiently to make an informed decision?

Contribution to the Branding Strategy Insider by: John Rossman. Extract from his book Think Like Amazon, 50 1/2 ideas to become a digital market leader (McGraw-Hill)

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