A word-based management style

Nervous Washington Post employees are wondering what life will be like under their new boss, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com.  So some of the newspaper’s reporters did a bit of investigative journalism on what Bezos is like to work for.  The article is worth reading for his exploration of the distinctive management style of the man Warren Buffett calls “the ablest CEO in America.”

After discussing such things as Bezos’ long-term thinking, his willingness to experiment, his disdain for bureaucracy, his demand for efficiency, and his high standards for performance (which allow for productive failures), reporters Craig Timberg and Jia Lynn Yang tell about this ultimate book-seller’s  belief in the “power of words.”

They warm the cockles of this English professor’s heart when they describe how Bezos doesn’t allow PowerPoint, thinking the bullet-point approach leads to simplistic thinking, making his workers write papers instead, since the very act of writing forces them to focus their thinking and to explore their ideas.

From Jeff Bezos, The Post’s incoming owner, known for a demanding management style at Amazon – The Washington Post:

Bezos also has agreed to keep the newspaper’s top executives in place, though they may need to work without a popular corporate management tool: PowerPoint presentations.

Bezos all but banned such presentations at Amazon around the time Edward Tufte, a computer science professor at Yale, wrote an essay saying that their bullet points encouraged lazy thinking. Amazon employees are required to write papers, known as “narratives,” that are no longer than six pages.

The idea for Bezos, former employees say, is that the act of writing forces people to focus their thoughts and think them through. Bezos’s faith in the enduring power of words is evident in his own annual letters to shareholders. His letter in 1997 is regarded as something of a founding document for Amazon, highlighting his obsession over serving customers and developing plans that take years to bring to fruition.

That consistent long-term view — he often talks of seven-year cycles for executing business plans — is the counterpoint to his minute-by-minute quest to avoid wasting time.

“Jeff has always been very efficient,” said Jason Kilar, who worked at Amazon from 1997 to 2006, rising to the level of senior vice president. “There is one very important thing he knows is not in abundant supply on Earth, and that is minutes.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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