1/ “Writing is thinking” is my favorite saying in “how to work” in a company. It is very interesting to dive into this a bit because I often get so much pushback, especially from startups and/or those focused on agility.
Writing is super hard. It takes more time to write than it does to talk. It also takes more time to write a page of text than a single slide. Let’s look at one example, the paragraph on handstands from Jeff Bezos’ annual letter. pic.twitter.com/LKLOfo3rw8
I made a slide in about 5 minutes that simulates what it would be like if I had this story in my head before a meeting (Note: I continue to live developing a perfect handstand).
This is typically what you’d see in a team meeting on this topic. pic.twitter.com/PLjKVOgxYx
We can see how much is lost. Think of this as a team trying to join in this lesson. Think about trying to share this lesson multiple times (management is repetition). Think about a new team member or partner who only has this slide.
(Internet please do not fix my slide!)
Two real challenges in not writing this down. First, all the details are lost…forever. There’s no shared corporate history of why/how.
Second, people can make up details to fill in bullet points. What came before (high standards)? How did that conclusion get reached?
The act of writing, forces the author to think through all the details and steps required to share the lesson. It avoids what happens in business all the time which is “I just know” or “experience” and brings along the team and other job functions on thinking.
Execution is in a constant state of “diverging” as more expertise deals with more details that fewer people understand.
The act of writing forces a team of experts to share the details of goals—not just the what, but the why, what else was considered, the history, context.
Agility does not prevent or discourage writing. It is just that agility drives a view that “now is always better” and if that’s the high order bit, the time-consuming act of writing 500-5000 words feels “slow”. Writing is in fact a waterfall approach (write, share, edit, write…)
But what is missing from that logic is that the process of writing and sharing thoughts is clarifying AND collaborating itself. Execution actually speeds up when you spend the up front time to write.
Writing is more inclusive. It is easier to contribute, doesn’t reward bullies and bullshitters, and allows for contemplation.
One note: for ESL, writing can be easier than speaking for many, but also sometimes difficult. Provide background assistance, avoid criticizing form.
So please, write. Writing is thinking.
PS: As Jeff mentioned, yes you can write less than great.
PPS: Yes, just because you write doesn’t mean it will work. And yes, not writing doesn’t mean it will fail. Business is a social science. Anything can happen.
PS/ No surprise, I know all the PowerPoint jokes (also real studies). Not against the format *at all*.
Here’s the Gettysburg address in PowerPoint. https://t.co/y7WxVeVoax (feel free to add the marriage proposal, the breakup, the Space Shuttle story, or anything from Tufte).
PPS/ Why don’t people write? Turns out writing is really sticking your neck out. Those details, facts, assumptions may be “rope” to hang you.
So writing is culture. Everyone takes risks in writing. So don’t weaponize writing as a team by using it against ideas that didn’t work.
Jean-Louis Gassée @gassee
Terrific thread, no surprise coming from @stevesi. I started working on a Monday Note on the same theme… No longer sure I ought to. We’ll see.
You are such a devoted practitioner. So wonderful to contribute to all of our Monday mornings!
Robert Stephens @rstephens
I second that. Please keep thinking and writing.
Maisy Samuelson @msamuelson
drives me nuts when PMs don’t write specs to “move quickly.” The writing process is critical for 1. identifying and thinking through edge cases and 2. ensuring eng, PM and design are aligned. Also makes testing easier. Cutting this corner wastes so much more time in the long run.
Same for Eng specs.
Chad Loder @chadloder
The same goes for business strategy, honestly. As Steven pointed out, long-form writing is orthogonal to Powerpoint. A different kind of thinking happens when you write carefully. That type of thinking is uniquely valuable especially when dealing with vagueness or uncertainty.