84. Kickstart Your Innovation: Knock Off Amazon’s Pitch Process

Distributors sell products and react to supplier and customer needs. Innovation is not their long suit. But digital channel disruption is here, and if a company doesn’t change as fast or faster than its environment, its future is grim.

To boost your company’s innovation game, why not borrow and simplify a key technique from Amazon.

2004: Jeff Bezos kills PowerPoint presentations       

Over a decade ago, Bezos concluded that PowerPoint presentations should be banned. He felt that presenters were speaking extemporaneously from their bullet points, their communication lacked clarity, breadth and depth, and attendees were confused. The big-boss, data-free opinions always won, unswayed by a PowerPoint, and time was wasted.

The new meeting format began with everyone reading a document (6 pages max.) thoroughly prepared by whomever wanted to champion something new. These narratives were not assigned in advanced to be read unevenly and forgetfully. At the meeting, each participant was expected to take the time (5 to 30 minutes) to thoroughly read and digest the information at their own speed and in their own way.

Next, the presenter(s) answered attendees’ questions, as if they were defending a dissertation. The subsequent page-by-page review evoked questions and discussions that were informed and focused and contention was substantive, not political bickering.  After the reading, all attendees had a fresh, shared, in-depth understanding of the topic.

The presenter took notes, and sometimes asked for a re-do, usually to get more data. If the presenter pressed for a decision, the only responses allowed were: “Yes”, “No”, or “I disagree and commit”.

So, why is this better?

The innovation presenter, or team, is forced to do deep research and present clear thinking. The document should stand on its own and include:

  • An imaginary future PR statement describing a successful outcome for all stakeholders
  • Sufficient research facts
  • A proposed roadmap with assumptions, experiments, milestones and required resources
  • All anticipated questions from all potential stakeholders with well thought-through answers

This process levels the playing field between introverted champions of innovation and glib, popular politicians. The process simply delivers better collaborative plans and decisions with less total time invested.


Writing these narratives is tough. Most distributors don’t have MBAs adept at writing or reading such documents. So, simplify the process to fit your firm. You can perform an experiment. Go to  http://merrifieldact2.com/exhibits/. Skim the “scripts” (Exhibits 60 – 63) and pick one to read with your team. Then, discuss, improve and possibly pursue with funding from a champion.

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