Before meeting to discuss a new product or idea, Bezos would arrange for an executive to write a narratively structured six-page memo. While some leaders would try to write such a memo in just a few hours, Bezos said the best ones took at least a week to complete.
"The great memos are written and re-written, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with a fresh mind," Bezos once explained.
When it came time to meet, Bezos and his team would then sit together in silence for the first 20 minutes or so as they took time to read the memo, make notes, and prepare to discuss it. The better written the memo, the higher the quality of the discussion that followed.
This Amazon practice is just one of many that crystallizes an important lesson, one that can transform the way you think and communicate.
I like to call it...
The rule of writing.
The rule of writing is simple:
If you want to clarify your thinking, remember something important, or communicate something clearly, write it down.
Let's break down each of these benefits and see how you can make the rule of writing work for you.
It clarifies thinking
Have you ever experienced the following?
You have a question for a colleague, but when you ask it, they don't quite follow. You try to explain it, but as you do, you clumsily fumble your words -- only to discover you haven't completely thought through your question.
After experiencing this problem enough times myself, I've started writing down questions before asking them. Often when I do so, a funny thing happens:
- determine I actually need to ask a completely different question,
- no longer see the need to ask the question, or
- figure out the answer to the question myself.
There's a simple reason for this phenomenon:
Clear writing leads to clear thinking, and vice-versa.
It improves understanding, memory, and application
Experienced copywriters know that one of the best ways to learn to write great copy is to transcribe writing from other great copywriters. This practice helps you create your own style while borrowing from the best practices of others.
The reason this works is because when you write, you can't help but slow down and think. Doing so helps you internalize what you've written, while simultaneously increasing your own skill.
It improves communication
When attempting to put my questions into writing, I don't always figure things out on my own. But in addition to helping me think clearly, this exercise helps me to anticipate what questions my partner might have.
It also helps to walk away from what I've written and return to it later. As Bezos explained, this allows you to edit "with a fresh mind," and can help you further clarify your communication.
In this way, once you're ready to share your thoughts with others, you're setting the stage for a high-quality discussion, leading to better work moving forward.
So, the next time you want to:
...or better leverage the collective intelligence of your team, take a page out of Jeff Bezos's playbook, and follow the "rule of writing."
It'll make you better -- and make everyone else better, too.
(If you enjoy the lessons in this article, be sure to sign up for my free emotional intelligence course, where each day for 10 days you get a similar rule designed to help you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.)