Like many, I have been impressed by the discipline that Jeff Bezos has instilled at Amazon, where important decisions are made after thorough discussion of tightly crafted six-page narratives. Bezos has been quoted as saying that
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.
He rightly points out that PowerPoint leaves room for gaps in our thinking. I would add that prose templates that ask executives to ‘colour in’ the sections rather than constructing a cohesive story are equally problematic.
I was, however, even more intrigued when I read how Andy Grove of Intel considers the exercise of writing ‘more of a medium of self-discipline than a way to communicate information.’
He went as far as saying that ‘writing the report is important; reading it often is not’.
That is a big statement, but he might be right. The clarity of thought – epiphanies, even – that come from crafting clear and concise communication can be golden.
The challenge, however, is to discern when to write to clarify our own thinking and when to communicate that thinking with others.
Here are three things to consider before you foist your next paper or pack on someone else:
1. Does this piece of communication put forward a proposition that you can state in one clear sentence? As one company secretary from a large Australian energy retailer said to me this week, there is too much dissemination and not enough communication. The last thing that audiences need is more facts being disseminated without their relevance being articulated.
2. Does this piece of communication lead toward a specific action or decision? If you are not clear about how your communication will lead you or your team closer to a specific business objective, hold off sharing it. Sharing at this stage will not only clog up other people’s inboxes, it will damage your brand.
3. Is your communication crafted so clearly that your audience can get to the heart of your proposition within the first 1 minute? It doesn’t matter who you are communicating with, whether you are working in business, government, consulting, education or the not for profit sector. Every person in your audience is in a hurry. If they don’t ‘get’ what you are looking for quickly, they will at best ‘flag it for later’. Later can be a very long time away.
This post was prepared by Davina Stanley, co-founder of Clarity Thought Partners, founder of The Clarity First Program and author of The So What Strategy.
Davina has been helping experts communicate complex ideas since joining McKinsey as a communication specialist more than 20 years ago.
She helps them clarify their thinking so they can prepare powerful and strategic communication in any format. It might mean preparing for a difficult meeting, getting ready for a project steering committee, putting forward a business case or writing a board paper.
She uses The Minto Pyramid PrincipleⓇ and other powerful techniques to help experts of all kinds globally strengthen their communication skills.