Amazon Runs On Writing

(from Bond Cap’s April 2020 Report, “Our New World”)

Bond Capital’s message about the value of writing for companies relying on remote work during the global pandemic: Good writing led to better thinking and leading.

Amazon is famous for having assembled an infrastructure which transformed eCommerce. Writing code is how this giant was built but it’s not the whole story.

Amazon grew because of writing - it’s best employees could “code” in plain English.

There are people who can write code and focus on customers but Amazon succeeded because the best “coders” were in fact the writers - beginning with Jeff Bezos.

If you want to be a senior Amazon exec you better write 6 page dense but well-written memos for Bezos. No slide decks or fancy TED-talk style presentations. Just words.

If you want to know if an Amazon product under development would sell, try sending a pretend press release to your fellow Amazon employees:

Amazon does something clever when deciding which products to release: They draft a fake PR announcement as if the product were about to ship. Then they share it with their employees. If their employees aren't interested in buying the product after reading the announcement, Amazon knows to go back to the drawing board. 

The most important and most available writing from Amazon comes from Bezos.

Bezos’ Annual Letters are a guide to the deeper connecting threads of a company and its decades of “Day Ones”. His direct reports had to write clean and direct memos.

Some people read Jeff Bezos’ annual letters for Amazon - just as others did with Buffett’s annual Berkshire Hathaway letters for his investing and business wisdom.

Anyone can access two decades worth of Bezos’ thoughts easily.

No crystal ball was needed to know what Bezos’ intentions were. Just read his 1997 letter - 3 years after Amazon’s 1994 debut - you’ll see that he outlined a strategy that would last for decades.

Nearly a decade letter, Bezos’ 2006 letter was about  nurturing “tiny seeds” - which included the launch of Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2006. AWS was a “tiny seed” that would grow into a data infrastructure that many tech businesses and services, including Netflix, rely on to run their businesses.

Writing is not just for the founder of the “Everything Store”.

Writing can be understood as storytelling.

People understand the world through stories. Shared stories create brands, shape culture and fuel politics. A story only has power when it gets attention.

Why should we care?

We live in an “Attention Economy.” It creates and ocean of information, and a wide variety of goods and services but there have been problems. It’s become hard for a person to navigate through a constantly growing ocean of ideas and images. We need help.

We have become dependent on machines and we’re being influenced by them - including Amazon’s recommendation algorithms. There is a dark-side to Amazon’s success. Some of its writings have led to new problems for everyone else. A business as large and integrated in our lives as Amazon brings both benefits and problems.

A few words of warning about the Attention Economy, from REDEF:

"We have abdicated our responsibility for curating what is worthy of a fellow human’s attention to A.I. which, in turn, is optimizing only for immediate engagement and advertising margin"

"Attention... is...powered by the wrong incentives...vanity metrics that are poorly defined...“views” or “impressions” ... to keep advertising prices low."

"we have abdicated our responsibility for curating what is worthy of... attention”

What can we do about life in the Attention Economy?

Redef recommends “Stories” as a better feature, for a better future, for Attention:

brands... and media companies that understand... will become trusted curators and shape the future of culture and commerce"

“What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? …Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.” – “Game of Thrones”

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