The former Amazon executive who launched and scaled Amazon Marketplace now reveals the secrets to success utilized by Jeff Bezos.
When it comes to innovation, there is rarely a straight line from A to B. Why is that? In general, we usually create only a vague sketch of the goal we’re trying to achieve. As a result, we tend to revise the goal as we go, a process that costs time, money, and, sometimes, the project’s very success. Or we all have various definitions of the goal.
But what if you could see into the future and accurately visualize your end product before launching a project? Sound good? Well, there’s really nothing stopping you. At Amazon, they do it every day. It’s an exercise in clarity they call the future press release. Not only can it define the future but it can also keep your organizational structure from transforming into a bureaucratic rat’s nest and empower a leader to drive the initiative across multiple teams.
In this article, we explore the technique of starting important projects or changes with an announcement. Be clear about what the “killer feature” is for the future state capability. Give it to one leader to make this vision happen across the organization. Everyone works for this person to transform this vision into reality.
Imagine the Future
Most innovation and change initiatives take work and true ownership from multiple teams and leaders. While long-form narratives (see Idea 44) are great for developing a deep understanding, sometimes a brief, more impactful approach is necessary to excite and engage a wider range of parties.
Jeff Bezos is famous for requiring teams to create the future press release before launching a new product, undergoing any kind of transformation, or entering a new market. The process of creating a simple, but specific product announcement clarifies the original vision. It acts as a forcing function to thoroughly examine key features, adoption, and your project’s likely path to success. Committing to a press release, speculative though it may be, also helps leadership clearly express to important stakeholders the road map to success.
The Rules for the Future Press Release
The future press release is a great approach to defining clear and lofty goals, requirements, and objectives and to building broad understanding from the start of a program or enterprise change. There are, however, rules to make this approach effective:
Rule 1. The goal must be stated at a future point in time at which success has been achieved and realized. Press releases at launch are good, but a better one is sometime after launch, where true success can be discussed.
Rule 2. Start with the customer. Use the press release to explain why the product is important to customers (or other key stakeholders). How did the customers’ experience improve? Why do the customers care? What delights customers about this new service? Then discuss other reasons it was important and key goals.
Rule 3. Set an audacious and clear goal. Articulate clear, measurable results you’ve achieved, including financial, operating, and market share results.
Rule 4. Outline the principles used that led to success. This is the trickiest and most important aspect of the future press release. Identify the hard things accomplished, the important decisions, and the design principles that resulted in success. Discuss the issues that needed to be addressed to achieve success. Getting the “tricky” issues on the table early on helps everyone understand the real nature of the change needed. Don’t worry about how to solve these issues yet. You’ve still got time to figure that out.
The Forcing Function
Once you’ve created a future press release, the project leader needs to be empowered to make these changes happen. Focus on creating a future press release–oriented communication plan that helps that project leader find success across the organization.
Remember, the future press release is a type of forcing function. Once the press release is reviewed and approved, teams should have a very difficult time backing out of the commitments they have made. A leader can refer to parts of the press release and use it to remind and hold teams accountable. It paints a clear vision to galvanize understanding and commitment. It is a contract.
With the future press release, we’ve created a definition for success to drive engagement, clarity, and enthusiasm for the project. In 2002, I wrote the future press release for the Amazon Marketplace business. There was one sentence in it that was critical: “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.” Pretty simple sentence, but it imposed tremendous requirements on both Amazon and our sellers. For example, just to do self-service registration, over 20 different systems had to be integrated. I used this press release as a forcing function to compel all of these teams, none of which reported directly to me, to get this hard work done. We avoided bureaucracy and launched quickly because we were able to act nimbly and avoid our organization structure to focus on an initiative. The future press release, given to one leader in the organization, is one of the methods Amazon uses to get its results.