Communicating Complex Ideas Simply: 2 Examples From Jeff Bezos

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Bezos Blueprint" by Carmine Gallo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can you make abstract concepts concrete? What are some techniques you can use to help people understand complicated concepts?

Complex ideas are often abstract, and abstract ideas are hard to understand. Communicating complex ideas simply is a skill, and Jeff Bezos has it. In The Bezos Blueprint, Carmine Gallo discusses how Bezos brings abstract ideas into the real world.

Keep reading for two examples of this skill in action.

Example #1: Two Pizzas (Use Metaphors)

One way that Bezos excels at communicating complex ideas simply is by condensing them into vivid metaphors. For example, after reading The Mythical Man-Month, Bezos wanted to share one of its basic insights: The larger the team, the more time and effort it takes for team members to communicate with each other and actually get their work done. Instead of explaining the theory or the mathematical formula that describes this phenomenon, Bezos crafted a simple metaphor: “We try to create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas.”

Bezos’s Two-Pizza Metaphor Worked on Multiple Levels

Frederick Brooks wrote The Mythical Man-Month as a guide for teams working on complex projects, and the mathematical formula in the book that Bezos referenced found that when more people are involved in a project, opportunities for miscommunication multiply exponentially. This was the problem Bezos was trying to prevent with his two-pizza rule.

But Bezos’s metaphor was more than just a way to simplify the rule: It also conveyed an emotion. In Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins points out that when crafting metaphors, you should pay attention not just to the literal meaning you’re trying to express, but also to the layers of additional meaning the metaphor implies. For example, Bezos’s “two-pizza teams” gives a rough guideline as to the ideal maximum size of a team, but it also conjures up images of a friendly, casual work environment and long hours spent on hard but fulfilling work.

Different metaphors—say, “passenger van teams”—might describe a similar team size but lack the implications that made two-pizza teams so apt for Bezos’s purposes.)

Example #2: Six Football Fields (Use Data Sparingly, & Illustrate It)

Gallo warns that it’s especially important to find meaningful ways to explain data. Start by narrowing down which data you want to highlight: Too much data quickly confuses audiences, so focus only on the most important fact or two. Then, help your audience understand the data by placing it in context and giving them a concrete reference such as a physical comparison that makes it easier to imagine what a number really means. For example, Bezos once described Amazon’s book selection by saying that it “would now occupy six football fields.”

Not only does this comparison ground Amazon’s book inventory in the real world, but it also opens the door for you to tell a story about the number—a story, perhaps, about why Amazon’s superior selection is good news for customers.

(Shortform note: Some experts warn that while it’s important that you interpret numbers for your audience, you should take care not to misinterpret the information you’re presenting. In How to Lie With Statistics, Darrell Huff explains that just because your data is accurate doesn’t mean it’s directly related to what you’re claiming to prove. For example, if you wanted to convince your audience that Amazon’s stock price is about to rise, citing its large book inventory might impress (and mislead) your audience, but it wouldn’t prove the point.)

Communicating Complex Ideas Simply: 2 Examples From Jeff Bezos

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Bezos Blueprint summary:

  • How to improve your communication by using Jeff Bezos's principles
  • Why you should start a project with a press release
  • Why you should ban PowerPoint in favor of storytelling

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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