Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos started a ritual that few other business leaders require of their teams--and those who do have often copied it from Bezos. It's a habit that former Amazon executives say is fundamental to Amazon's innovation.
Since the early days of Amazon, Bezos has required teams to create a "future press release" well before launching a new product or initiative. It's a technique that will help you and your team create breakthrough innovations and leapfrog the competition.
When Amazon executive John Rossman joined the company in March 2002, he was required to write a press release for Amazon Marketplace, a business that accounts for more than 50 percent of all units sold at Amazon today. Rossman wrote his press release a full six months before launching the new business. The document wasn't meant for the public. It was written to motivate, engage, and empower his internal team.
"Writing ideas and proposals in complete narratives results in better ideas, more clarity on the ideas, and better conversation on the ideas," Rossman told me during an interview for his new book, Think Like Amazon.
Rossman's four rules of writing a future press release will give you and your team a competitive advantage no matter what stage of development your company, product, service, or initiative is in.
1. Set the release in the future.
A "future press release" means just that--it should be written as if the product has already launched, and, more important, is already a success in the marketplace. Rossman had just started at Amazon and was required to write the release for six months down the road.
Before writing your press release, ask yourself: How far in the future am I writing this for and what does success look like when we get there?
2. Start with the customer.
The press release should explain why the product improves the customer's experience, what it does better than any other product in its category, and how it delights the customer.
For example, in Rossman's future press release for Amazon Marketplace, he wrote: "A seller, in the middle of the night, can register, list an item, receive an order, and delight a customer as though Amazon the retailer had done it."
Amazon is obsessed with its customers--as you should be with yours. Being customer-obsessed requires that you always start with the customer experience and work backward. A future press release gives you and your team a specific description of how your product or idea will work when it's in the customer's hands.
3. Articulate audacious and clear goals.
According to Rossman, a future release must contain "clear, measurable results you've achieved, including financial, operating, and market share results."
Since we're approaching the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in July, I can't help but think about John F. Kennedy's future press release that he delivered in May 1961 in a speech to Congress. He set clear and audacious goals and spoke as if the mission had already happened--and succeeded. Kennedy said, "This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."
In a second speech at Rice University, Kennedy was even more specific. He said, "We shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys ... "
What's your moon landing? Make your future press release specific and bold.
4. Describe the hurdles you've overcome.
According to Rossman, you should "discuss the issues that need to be addressed to achieve success." This is where the future press release gives your team clarity on the problems they will have to solve to reach the goal.
Outline the issues your team must resolve, but don't worry about not having solved the issues yet. You've got time, says Rossman. The point is to give your team a sense of accomplishment and a clear description of how their world will look once the issues are resolved.
Bezos is famous for requiring a future press release of every team before they launch a new product or a new idea, or decide to enter a new market. Why? Because innovation is hard work. It's not about creating a product that marginally improves a category. True innovation, by definition, is introducing something completely new and different.
The future press release acts as a forcing function. It forces you--as a leader or entrepreneur--to clarify your vision. Get clear on your vision and watch your team step up to the challenge.