How To Use Email Memos to Share Your Big Ideas Better



“Email has an ability many channels don’t: creating valuable, personal touches – at scale.” — David Newman

Have you ever read an inspiring email or a memo from one human to another that helps you see a whole new world of possibility?

I’m sure you’ve read lots of bad emails, too, just like there are lot of bad articles and bad books.

But a well-written email can remind us very quickly how the pen is mightier than the sword.

Email memos can be one of the best ways to share and scale your vision whether it’s an idea, a future picture, or just something you’ve thought about deeply and want the world to know about it.

At Microsoft, every now and then I would read these amazing emails from famous and sometimes not so famous people, where the author would share their perspective in a deep and compelling way.

And I would be spell-bound as I take it all in.

It was their world view.  It was their outlook.  It was keys to the future.

And there in my hands would be this amazing email memo to help me sing to the same sheet of music or help me figure out my own version of the future.

Talk about incredible kindling for the mind.

Amazing Memos Over Email Can Inspire the Art of the Possible

The right email can inspire movements, ignite imaginations, and turn dreamers into achievers.

In these amazing memos over email, these inspiring leaders would simply write how they see the world as it is and how they see the world as it could be.

And it was exactly these kinds of framing memos that would help everybody see the vision and be able to see the world of possibility, too.

They would share their take on the situation, the challenges, the opportunity and how all the pieces of the puzzle could potentially snap together into a North Star vision.

And these meaningful memos over email could help people see the big picture with more clarity and more details than all the mini and micro mediums combined.

And there is nothing quite like getting the chance to read somebody’s written narrative of how they are thinking about the next big thing or some great idea, or how we could go change the world together.  These emails would also generate an unparalleled energy and momentum around a mission or a cause in ways that other mediums simply couldn’t match.

Something about that very human touch of writing a narrative, like a pen pal sharing their unique experience, would stick in people’s minds and become a frame of reference to fuel future conversations far and wide.

And this is so different than the classic telephone game where the message gets distorted as it travels person to person.  It’s a way to get the actual story from the mind of the creator.

It’s Better than Shouting from the Mountain Tops

Email is a way to share the power of perspective and an email memo can become the essay or story heard round the world.

Sometimes there is such great news or great perspective or great thinking that it’s worth shouting from the mountain tops.

But that doesn’t work.

That’s only good for sound bytes.  It’s not that great for a high fidelity story of possibility and sharing mindset of how somebody is thinking about a space.

Email is way simpler, more pragmatic, and if you hone it, it will open more doors for you in this lifetime, than just about any other tool.

Email is far less about followers.  It’s far more about sharing and scaling perspectives, outlooks, and insights in a more personal way.

Looking back, I can recall various product managers, leaders of all levels, and inspiring influencers that shipped epic emails where they walked through in more detail how they saw the world and the opportunity before us in ways that opened my mind and helped me truly see what I could not see before.

That’s the power of perspectives, and the ability to learn from multiple and even potentially competing perspectives as we find and forge our way through our truths into the future.

Sharing Perspectives and Outlooks is a Very Human Thing

We’re wired for stories, and everybody has a story to tell if they simply write from their perspective, in their voice.   Anybody can unleash this story with a simple phrase:

“In my mind, here’s what I see…”

And go from there.

In a way, email is a magnificent platform  to write like you would talk to a friend across the table about some big idea or some way of looking at things in your authentic voice, to a fellow human being.

And that is the key: human to human.

All the boring, prim and proper emails that lack a human voice or any sort of authenticity need not apply.   That’s now how hearts are won, and if you can’t win the heart, the mind won’t follow.

Email is Ubiquitous

Email is everywhere.  Marketers know that.   The best ones exploit it.

And the best innovators and visionary leaders and rock star product managers know that, too.

You can easily share email.  It goes across time and space.   You can translate them across languages.  You can read them at your own pace.  They can be read for you.

You don’t need to happen to be at a particular meeting at a particular time or watch a particular presentation where if you miss the presenter, you miss the big idea.

When there is a game changing, well-written memo, the most powerful evidence is when somebody sadly says:

I didn’t get the memo.

One Email Can Change the World

While you don’t have to start every email with “I have a dream…”, there is something to recognize about how a well-written email can change the world.

I use the example of Jeff Bezos.  He asks Wall Street to join him on 7 year big bets.

To do that, he writes a memo to share how he sees the world, what’s changing, what the opportunities are, and what he sees for the future.

You don’t have to agree with him, but at least he puts that vision and his voice out there, so you can react to it.  You can see what he sees, far better than a video or a PowerPoint or an info graphic.

It’s a narrative story of the future and how we can change the world.

Just one well-written memo can put out there into the world, an idea, an idea framed within it’s potential.   And that’s exactly what can bootstrap our ability to swarm and solve problems toward a purpose or meaningful mission or a vision that lights our hearts and minds on fire.

The Right Memo Can Galvanize Your Transformative Vision

To create a transformative vision for a company takes a lot of deep work, including either rediscovering the company’s inner core, or soul, or discovering it for the first time.

The key is then to share the transformative vision in a simple way, and a well-written memo is a great way to share big ideas.

Satya’s email is really a great example of sharing a transformative vision in a simple way.

And I hope now, that what comes across is the idea that sharing a transformative vision can be a great catalyst for your digital transformation journey.

It’s been said that al things are created twice, first in the mind, then in the world.  But maybe the memo is really the way to bootstrap changing the world, by first sharing the vision in a simple way.

Example #1 – Satya’s Email Memo to Change the World

Here is the original email where Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, framed out the vision, the mission, and the strategy to rally employees to shape our future…


I believe that we can do magical things when we come together with a shared mission, clear strategy, and a culture that brings out the best in us individually and collectively. Last week I shared how we are aligning our structure to our strategy. Today, I want to share more on the overall context and connective tissue between our mission, worldview, strategy and culture. It is critical that we start the new fiscal year with this shared vision on what we can do and who we want to become.

Mission. Every great company has an enduring mission. Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. I’m proud to share that this is our new official mission statement. This mission is ambitious and at the core of what our customers deeply care about. We have unique capability in harmonizing the needs of both individuals and organizations. This is in our DNA. We also deeply care about taking things global and making a difference in lives and organizations in all corners of the planet.

Worldview. We must always ground our mission in both the world in which we live and the future we strive to create. Today, we live in a mobile-first, cloud-first world, and the transformation we are driving across our businesses is designed to enable Microsoft and our customers to thrive in this world. It’s important to note that our worldview for mobile-first is not just about the mobility of devices; it’s centered on the mobility of experiences that, in turn, are orchestrated by the cloud. That is why we think of these two trends together. What we do with our products and business models has to account for this fundamental transformation.

Strategy and ambitions. Our strategy is to build best-in-class platforms and productivity services for a mobile-first, cloud-first world. Our platforms will harmonize the interests of end users, developers and IT better than any competing ecosystem or platform. We will realize our mission and strategy by investing in three interconnected and bold ambitions.

1. Reinvent productivity and business processes
2. Build the intelligent cloud platform
3. Create more personal computing

These ambitions utilize a unique set of assets that span productivity services, cloud platform, our device platform and our family of devices. There is an explicit path dependence on how we achieve the “inter-connectedness” between the various elements of our strategy to gain momentum.

· First, we will reinvent productivity services for digital work that span all devices. We will also extend our experience footprint by building more business process experiences, integrated into content authoring and consumption, communication and collaboration tools. We will drive scale and usage by appealing to “dual-use” customers, providing productivity services that enable them to accomplish more at work and in the rest of their life activities with other people.

· Second, all these experiences will be powered by our cloud platform – a cloud that provides our customers faster time to value, improved agility and cost reduction, and solutions that differentiate their business. We’ll further provide a powerful extensibility model that is attractive to third-party developers and enterprises. This in turn enables us to attract applications to our cloud platform and attach our differentiated capabilities such as identity management, rich data management, machine learning and advanced analytics.

· Finally, we will build the best instantiation of this vision through our Windows device platform and our devices, which will serve to delight our customers, increase distribution of our services, drive gross margin, enable fundamentally new product categories, and generate opportunity for the Windows ecosystem more broadly. We will pursue our gaming ambition as part of this broader vision for Windows and increase its appeal to consumers. We will bring together Xbox Live and our first-party gaming efforts across PC, console, mobile and new categories like HoloLens into one integrated play.

Strength across all the ambitions enables us to deliver high value to our customers while providing us with the ability to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

Culture. Perhaps the most important driver of success is culture. Over the past year, we’ve challenged ourselves to think about our core mission, our soul — what would be lost if we disappeared. That work resulted in the mission, strategy and ambitions articulated above. However, we also asked ourselves, what culture do we want to foster that will enable us to achieve these goals?

We fundamentally believe that we need a culture founded in a growth mindset. It starts with a belief that everyone can grow and develop; that potential is nurtured, not predetermined; and that anyone can change their mindset. Leadership is about bringing out the best in people, where everyone is bringing their A game and finding deep meaning in their work. We need to be always learning and insatiably curious. We need to be willing to lean in to uncertainty, take risks and move quickly when we make mistakes, recognizing failure happens along the way to mastery. And we need to be open to the ideas of others, where the success of others does not diminish our own.

We have the opportunity to exercise our growth mindset every day in three distinct areas:

· Customer-obsessed. We will learn about our customers and their businesses with a beginner’s mind and then bring solutions that meet their needs. We will be insatiable in our desire to learn from the outside and bring that knowledge into Microsoft, while still innovating to surprise and delight our users.

· Diverse and inclusive. The world is diverse. We will better serve everyone on the planet by representing everyone on the planet. We will be open to learning our own biases and changing our behaviors so we can tap into the collective power of everyone at Microsoft. We don’t just value differences, we seek them out, we invite them in. And as a result, our ideas are better, our products are better and our customers are better served.

· One Microsoft. We are a family of individuals united by a single, shared mission. It’s our ability to work together that makes our dreams believable and, ultimately, achievable. We will build on the ideas of others and collaborate across boundaries to bring the best of Microsoft to our customers as one. We are proud to be part of team Microsoft.

If we do all of this, we will achieve our mission to empower every person and organization on the planet. Beyond that, we will make a difference and find deep meaning in our work. We stand in awe of what humans dare to achieve, and we are motivated every day to empower others to achieve more through our technology and innovation.

When we come together as a team, with our exceptional talent and the mindset of a learner, we will grow as individuals, we will grow as a team, we will grow with our customers and partners, we will grow our opportunity, and we will grow our business going forward. And, ultimately, we will grow the impact we have in the world.

We’ve already started this evolution with things like OneWeek and Hackathon, customer feedback loops, our focus on usage in the engineering teams, our performance review model, as well as our diversity and inclusion efforts including the new unconscious bias training. We will do more and more to support the culture we have and recognize impact when we see it.

A good example of our culture in action right now is the work around Windows. We have approached Windows 10 with a growth mindset and obsession for our customers. We have the opportunity to connect with 1.5 billion Windows customers in 190 countries around the globe. We aspire to move people from needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows. … Certainly we want to upgrade as many of our current Windows 7 and 8.1 customers to Windows 10 as possible through our free upgrade offer. More than that, though, we see this as an opportunity to support and celebrate how people and communities upgrade their world every day. To that end, starting on July 29 when Windows 10 becomes available, employees are invited to volunteer some time and upgrade their communities as part of the broader movement. More details will be available in the coming weeks — our hope is that not only our employees, but customers and partners as well, will get involved and be inspired. Together, we can make a big difference in our world.

I believe that culture is not static. It evolves every day based on the behaviors of everyone in the organization. We are in an incredible position to seize new growth this year. We will need to innovate in new areas, execute against our plans, make some tough choices in areas where things are not working and solve hard problems in ways that drive customer value. I really do believe that we can achieve magical things when we come together as one team and focus. I’m looking forward to what we can achieve together in FY16.”


Example #2 – My Example Memo to Grow Business Innovation at Microsoft

Now, here is my example of an email memo I wrote in an hour (and I didn’t edit it) to inspire people at Microsoft to grow business evangelism and to grow our business innovation capability.

I called it, the Rise of the Business Evangelist at Microsoft.

Here is goes…

“OK, here it goes.   Read it with a playful mind.   Let your mind wander along the idea and build on the idea to imagine just how powerful the future could be.

Imagine how powerful the future could be if business leaders around the world knew exactly how to make businesses better, faster, stronger.

The irony is the key to strength and resilience is actually agility…business agility.

Imagine if business leaders knew how to leverage all the technology at their fingertips to build a better business and hack a better world.

But there is a gap.

And it’s a great big giant gap where many business leaders don’t know what’s possible with technology.

And, at the same time, where many technology leaders don’t know how to demo the right ideas or explore the art of the possible in real and relevant ways…

… in ways that matter to the market, or to the business leaders that might fund their ideas and ventures.

The Situation

At Microsoft, we’ve historically worked with IT-leaders in our client’s business to help them make the most of the Microsoft platform.

We have been good at putting together the Legos of Information Technology in ways that work, and we have legions of Microsoft resources that are technically savvy.

Our customers have primarily needed technical advice and guidance from us to help them deploy our technology and make it work in complex environments.

The Microsoft engine has been good at working from Enterprise Agreements and getting better at working with subscriptions.  The Microsoft engine has been good at connecting with IT-leaders and earning trust.  The Microsoft engine has been good at helping IT-leaders succeed.

And then the Cloud happened.

And Cloud computing has disrupted what it means to succeed in the Digital Era.

Business leaders have been struggling to reinvent themselves and to create new business models.  As a general pattern, they have taken the easy way out and focused on lift and shift and sticking their data centers in the Cloud.

It’s a start, but it’s not enough.

From IT-Vendor to Business Partner

Meanwhile, business-leaders struggle to make sense and how to leverage our technology to create and capture business value.

As more customers cross the Cloud chasm, they do so in a way that leaves them vulnerable and ripe for disruption.  Just sticking your data in the Cloud does not ensure future success.

Worse, after businesses stick their stuff in the Cloud, they don’t always know what to do with Microsoft.  If we are just an IT-vendor, then they think we are done.

If Microsoft has not connected deeply within the business, then there is no more role to play, beyond IT solutions here and there.

The cohesive big picture of what the business could be if leveraging the full Microsoft platform and ecosystem gets lost.

In fact, if you look across the board, you can see some of the biggest engagements struggle with the question—what’s next?  And data center migration is not the end.  It’s merely the beginning of transitioning to a digital business on a digital platform with a digital culture creating digital products and services in a digital ecosystem.

That’s a lot of digital.  But that’s modern business.

And if in a business leader’s mind, Microsoft merely represents a Cloud provider, then that is an awful lot of unrealized business potential.   The key here is to not only paint the bigger vision of the future of business, but to make it real and relevant by sharing stories and examples of what’s possible—how technology can create new and compelling scenes of the future for every industry.

The mission and the challenge for Digital Advisors is to transition Microsoft from an IT-vendor to a business partner.

But how?….

The Digital Transformation Pillars

The Digital Transformation Pillars that Satya Nadella called out, are a classic lens into any business.   It’s helpful to break big transformations into themes of change revolving around the most critical scaffolding of a business:

  1. Customers
  2. Employees
  3. Operations
  4. Products

As Peter Drucker pointed out long ago, the whole point of a business is to create a customer.  And the two core functions of a business are marketing and innovation.   The point of marketing is to know customers, and innovation is the journey of creating products and services to solve customer’s pains, needs, and desired outcomes in a market viable way.

You can replace customers with clients or students or patients.  You can replace products with services.  The point is to use the Digital Transformation Pillars as a lens into key components that help business leaders create and capture value along their value chains for their customers.

And customer experience is the new value chain.

The Digital Transformation pillars are also a way to think about disruptive change.  They are easy to relate to and have conversations around.  You can explore how to reimagine the customer experience, reimagine the employee experience, reimagine the operations experience, and reimagine the product experience.

A lot of focus has been on reimagining the customer experience and the employee experience, but that’s not enough.

If business leaders do not reimagine their products for the Digital Era, they will gradually fall off the market (or quickly in some cases), because they won’t know how to create and capture new value for their future customers.

To be fair, business leaders struggle across the board.  They want to grow and they know they need to innovate.  But they really struggle with the translation layer between a world full of technology options, and how exactly to translate those technology options into value.

What they typically get is a sales pitch on technology X, when what they really need is a demo of a future scenario or a scene of the future that lights up what’s possible in terms of how they can transform their business and disrupt the market (or at least disrupt themselves from a dying business.)

They need more than PowerPoints or slides from management consulting firms.  They need platform.  They need an ecosystem.  They need advice from trusted experts who can help them see far out into the future, create a vision for a better business, and make progress today.

They need Digital Advisors.

The Mindset, the Skillset, and the Toolset of a Digital Advisor

A Digital Advisor represents a very different capability, operating from a very different mindset.  The Digital Adviser leads the charge in helping business leaders reimagine their success for the Digital Era, make the market.

And this sets the stage and the platform to help transition Microsoft, and all of tis partners in the vast digital ecosystem, from an IT-vendor to a true business partner that’s first-in class for the new world.


Because, as Satya Nadella boldly pointed out, “every company is a software company”.

Every company needs to figure out how to build an intelligent system as the backbone for it’s business, to use customer insights to learn and adapt and delivery new innovations at the speed of the market… or better

And Microsoft knows software.

So by it’s very nature, Microsoft has a key role to play in helping shape the future success for every business and organization on the planet, to be more, and achieve more.

And, because of Microsoft’s unique position as a platform company and a productivity company, Microsoft can actually delivery on helping businesses and individuals to achieve more.

But to lead this charge, it takes a very special type of person to bring all of Microsoft to the customer as they help them reimagine their future.

Be the Game Changer

It takes a game changer.

According to Peter Fisk, a game changer is “disruptive and innovative, as they reshape our world. They are more ambitious, with stretching vision and enlightened purpose.”

They see markets as “kaleidoscopes of infinite possibilities, assembling and defining them to their advantage.”

A game changer does not just play the game well, they change the game.

Business Because of Technology

The real power of a Digital Adviser is their ability to translate the Microsoft ecosystem into business opportunities and capabilities for customers.

Another way to put it is, they can create business because of technology.

An effective Digital Advisor knows enough about the business leader’s landscape, their pains, needs, and desired outcomes, to be able to inspire and lead change and transformation.

Or, to put it another way, drive constructive disruption.

The Mindset:  Think Big, Think Broadly, Think Beyond

The mindset of a Digital Advisor starts with Thinking Big, Thinking Broadly, and Thinking Beyond to be a force of disruption and a real change leader.

Here is what that means in plain language…

Think Big:

  1. Make new markets
  2. Amplify social impact
  3. Create new business models

Think Broadly:

  1. Cross-industry ecosystems
  2. Consortia
  3. Global reach

Think Beyond:

  1. Multi-horizon strategy

The Skillset  (Solving Problems, Leading Journeys, and Framing the Future)

Effective Digital Advisers have strategic skills that set them apart.  They use their skills in the context of being a game changer and as a change leader for disruptive innovation.

Here are the groupings of skills for effective Digital Advisers…

Opportunities identification & qualification:

  1. Market & business analysis
  2. Deal structuring
  3. Research
  4. Business casing

Compelling and immersive storytelling:

  1. Storyboarding
  2. Facilitation
  3. Design (UX/CX/UI)

Journey Orchestration:

  1. Project management
  2. Stakeholder management
  3. Expectation management
  4. Change management
  5. Technology fundamentals

Influence and Challenge:

  1. Executive presence
  2. Negotiations

Toolset:  Disruption, Design, and Delivery

The toolbox for a Digital Adviser is an ever expanding one that uses the right tools for the right job (never the hammer, looking for a nail.)

By create a culture of sharing and open innovation, Digital Advisers continuously up-skill their abilities and pave the path for their peers, while leapfrogging the competition in new and creative ways.

The most important tool in the Digital Adviser’s toolbox is their mind – supported by their mindset.

As the Digital Advisor leads journeys of transformation (strategic, cultural, technical), they create clarity around desired outcomes, act on windows of opportunity, and accelerate delivery.

Here are some of the categories for tools to help the Digital Adviser along their journeys:

Desired Outcomes

  • Definition
  • Relevance and applicability
  • Reference cases
  • Market analysis

Windows of Opportunity

  • Opportunity identification
  • Value (Opportunity Sizing)
  • Business Casing
  • Deal Structuring

Accelerating Delivery

  • Workshop approaches
  • Teaming & handoff recommendations
  • Post mortems and learnings
  • Project management playbook
  • Relevant Independent Software Vendors/Partners

The Big Picture of an Engagement:  the Opportunity, the Solution, and the Outcome

A Digital Advisor earns their living by helping customers achieve their business outcomes which lead to Microsoft incomes.

They do so by driving end-to-end engagements composes primarily of an opportunity, a solution, and an outcome.

The Opportunity

To create disruptive opportunities, the Digital Advisor creates a synthesis of a unique perspective, business leader priorities, and a business case.

To bring a unique perspective to the table, the Digital Adviser forms a hypothesis for the business leader based on:

  1. Industry (and Cross-industry) expertise
  2. Market trends and patterns
  3. Emerging technology capabilities and solutions

To gain a clear understanding of the client’s priorities, the Digital Adviser attempts multiple objectives at once:

  • Establish new business models
  • Respond to competitive threats
  • Improve financials
  • Streamline operations
  • Enhance customer and employee experience

A key tool at this stage is a compelling story and press release mock up.

By mocking up a story of the future and how the customer will change their game, they set the stage for working with the right people, on the right problems, in the right way.

The Solution

How do Digital Advisers formulate a viable solution that will create value for business leaders?

By infusing storytelling and experience design into the journey of a solution.

The end-game for the solution is a viable solution that creates value for the customer.  It infuses experience design and storytelling into the solution to produce higher quality results.

The employee experience is shaped by a new culture and mindset that embraces change, obsesses around the customer, and thrives on innovation and growth.

New business models are created as a result of changing components of the business model, which include the customer segment, the distribution channel, the product, and the value prop.

The end-result is a transformation in the customer experience, the employee experience, and the partner experience.

The Outcome

How do Digital Advisers deliver on the opportunity and realize the targeted value of the solution?

Through a combination of stakeholder management, change management, and engagement management, effective Digital Advisers drive business outcomes, financial outcomes, and social outcomes.

The Rise of the Business Evangelist at Microsoft

In a world that thinks of Microsoft as the IT-vendor, now is the time to lead the transformation of Microsoft.

It’s time to drive the message that Microsoft is the key business partner for the future into the hearts and minds of our business leaders around the world.

By being a game changer, by embracing the mindset, the skillset and the toolset of a Digital Advisor, and by making business because of technology real, you can champion perhaps the greatest cause and boldest ambition in Microsoft’s history – to be the business partner to the world’s movers and shakers in the Digital Era.

To new beginnings.”

Yeah, I know it was long, but I only had an hour so I didn’t have time to write a short one.

In hindsight, is there are lot I would have changed about it?

Sure.  But at the same time, it’s nice to see something so raw, so real, so unfiltered….so human.

Just the voice of one human trying to inspire and give space for many more humans to share their voices and their perspectives and go make a dent in the universe together.

The Response?

The most common feedback I got from individuals is that this was the first time that they got to see the wide angle lens or the “full picture view” of what we are capable of.

Basically, it helped them to see what we could do all together in one cohesive story.

Even some folks that had been in the business for years, took a fresh look, after I shared this perspective.  It helped them better understand the choices I make and how I’m trying to connect the dots.

If nothing else, it gave them a fun way to play with their own possibility and explore the art of the possible.  They could even use it as a way to come up with something better, and in that way I could help them stand on the shoulders of giants so they can run with the titans.

Now, Go Write Your Email to Inspire the World

Well, we went over the big idea — a good email memo can be the pros that launched a 1,000 ships.

Now it’s up to you.

How do you want to inspire THE world, or YOUR world?

Go for it.  It’s already in you.  Remember, simply start with, “In my mind, here’s what I see…”

Find your voice, share your vision, write that email, and who knows just how far you will help springboard others into the future of possibility.

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