Amazon-style narratives – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from The Everything Store by Brad Stone..

A few years into building Amazon, Jeff Bezos wanted meetings to be more productive. So, he decided to ban PowerPoint presentations since he felt they communicate very little real information. Instead, meetings at Amazon were to be structured around memos (with a maximum of 6 pages), called narratives. Bezos believed writing necessitated rigorous preparation from meeting organizers, forced a deeper clarity of thought, and ensured they went beyond the numeric facts to the story.

So, to this day, meetings of Bezos’ team of senior executives begins with participants quietly absorbing the memo. They spend as long as 30 minutes reading and scribbling notes in the margins. Bezos says the act of communal reading guarantees the group’s undivided attention.

The Amazon meeting idea is being adopted by many companies. Here’s to giving it a shot.

Amazon style narratives
Source and thanks to:

 Full sentences are harder to write, they have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.” | Jeff Bezos

It’s fine to get an MBA but don’t be an MBA

As I’m two days away from getting started on my graduate school education, I thought I’d share a blog post that happens to be one of my all time favorites written by Hunter Walk (thank you for the great post, Hunter!), a venture capitalist and former Google/YouTube product manager. While the post’s title is directed at MBA’s, I think it is just as applicable for anything you consider an accomplishment – getting promoted to Vice President, raising funding for your start-up from an A-list venture capital firm, IPO-ing your firm, working at a blue chip company, etc.

I hope you enjoy the post as much as I did..

The “MBA: good or shitty for entrepreneurs” debate flares up regularly here in Silicon Valley. Having attended business school at Stanford, I certainly have a horse in the race, but I’m also not one to insist it’s (a) the best choice for everyone or (b) required for success. At the same time, let’s dismiss the notion that any legitimate entrepreneur would never go to business school – ie that the act of even thinking an MBA is worthwhile proves you’re not a real hacker or hustler.

Key to all this talk is a more fundamental issue which most people gloss over — the notion of letting an experience define you versus it becoming part of who you are. And thus my take is that it’s fine to get an MBA, but not cool under any circumstances to be an MBA.

Getting an MBA means you’re curious to learn broadly about theories and explore how these techniques can be applied to various businesses. Being an MBA means you think you’re getting taught the one right answer to problems – to a hammer everything is a nail – and that only MBAs know these dark arts.

Getting an MBA means offering your perspectives and experiences to your classmates. Being an MBA means looking at your peers as networking targets.

Getting an MBA means thinking about your degree as just another attribute of who you are – I have brown hair, a wife, work at Google, enjoy citrus fruits and possess a Stanford degree. Being an MBA means you are “Hunter Walk, Stanford MBA,” elevating the matriculation to a level of undeserving primacy.

Getting an MBA means you shoot out of school wanting to prove yourself and see what you can contribute to others. Being an MBA means thinking the world owes you something and that your value 10x’ed just from spending two years on a campus.

At the end of the day, just be who you are, which is a collection of skills, abilities, successes, failures, fears, dreams and hopes. The most important degree you possess is Human University.

By the way, the “get, don’t be” applies not just to business school but any accomplishment that causes one to define their identity vis a vis an entity or action. This just as easily could have been titled “fine to go to MIT, don’t be an MIT” or “fine to work at Facebook, don’t be a Facebook.”

Allowing for serendipity

Louis Pasteur discovered vaccination by accident. The idea that the same bacteria that caused disease would be the key to becoming immune to it was so ahead of its time that it would have been impossible to get there by logical thought. An accident was required.

Louis Pasteur did not get there by accident though. He was one of the most accomplished germ researchers of his time and was experimenting on germs every day. He worked hard to create the circumstances that allowed the accident to take place and, when it did, he was open enough to consider what the accident could mean. There were other doctors and researchers who had observed similar germ behavior before him but they brushed it away. Louis Pasteur’s openness to serendipity combined with his acquired skills is what made vaccination possible.

Serendipity and luck have a funny way of showing up when you are most prepared and still open to a new idea that might change all your assumptions.

We don’t find serendipity. Serendipity finds us. We just have to be open enough to allow it to happen..

The importance of imbalance

It is an idea that is easy to forget when you work hard on happiness. We like both routine and variety and it is, thus, important to let ourselves go and become a bit less obsessed with keeping things exactly as we like them.

So, every once in a while, say yes to more than you can do, take on more than you can normally do, let loose and stay up the whole night and let it mess up your routines.

Often, that’s when magic happens.

Yes, we lose balance. But, life is about the balancing, not just about being balanced. Sometimes.. just sometimes, it is worth giving our lives a slight tremor ourselves to keep us alert, active, and prepared for life’s big (and unusually unexpected) tremors.

2 day shipping

Students have a free 6 month trial of Amazon Prime with 2 day shipping on most items on I’ve already used this a few times and can’t help but wax lyrical about its awesomeness. It is one of those ideas that doesn’t need a marketing team – it just sells itself.

Having read ‘The Everything Store’ by Brad Stone, I know that 2 day shipping was another product of Jeff Bezos’ relentless ambition to create the best possible retail experience for consumers. Thanks Jeff.

It is easy to take all these amazing products and services we have around us for granted. I find it worth remembering that all of this was invented by human beings just like you and me.

Time for us to create awesome experiences as well..

The 2 basic principles of personal finance

1. Maximize your earning potential
2. Save as much as possible

Once you have a sufficient amount saved up, the third principle is to invest wisely.

Yes, tracking budgets help, good investing really matters, and optimizing tax helps too. But, none of these are useful if you don’t get the basics right.

Get down to the basic principles – at work and in life. The rest is gravy.

Confidence is..

Confidence is not knowing that you’ll sail through with no difficulties. It is knowing that when difficulty inevitably arises, you will be able to deal with it.

Confidence, hence, is a state of being. Yes, you can “feel” confident – invincible, even.  But, it is in being confident where happiness lies.

(I am in a place with intermittent connection this week. So, please forgive me if I miss a day. It won’t be for lack of content. :))