Here are three nuggets of wisdom that I learned from three different companies; 1) Amazon – the largest online retail store, 2) Unilever – the largest FMCG, and 3) E&Y – probably the largest Professional Service Firm. All these companies have one thing in common – they understand the importance of clarity in communication.
When I interviewed with one of the Partners of Ernst & Young (this was before I joined Arthur Andersen) – I realized immediately that I wouldn’t get hired – so I asked him one parting question – what advise would you give me that would last me a lifetime.
He thought carefully for a minute and then said three words that would change things for the rest of my life…
Write It Down.
I wasn’t sure whether he was telling me to write it down, then he looked at me as if I was deaf and said, “That’s the advice I give you: Write It Down”. And then he went on to explain how that had helped him in life and that it could possibly help me.
By writing it down, you gain clarity of thought… you are able to re-write it again, because you know exactly what you had previously written and you wouldn’t have to worry about all those thoughts jumbled up in your brain – freeing it for more productive thinking.
A good friend of mine works at Amazon and he recently shared something with me really interesting – at Amazon, you don’t do presentations. They believe it’s a passive form of communication – one person presents, the others just hear (that’s different from listening). Instead they have white papers or memos – because you have to read the memo in order to learn what it’s about – it is more active.
Another friend, who worked for Unilever said that during their one year trainee induction – they were made to 1 (one) page memos, yes just one page – no longer. Period.
Why? Well, apparently this would make you (the writer) summarize and organize your thoughts, and not waste other people’s time by sticking to the constraints of that white paper.
The logic was that if it went beyond one page, you could be quite sure that it was too complicated, confusing, or not convincing enough to even be worth the reader’s time. This takes practice, but with practice – you get better.
Getting to the point is more important when time is a constraint. Ask any CEO or CFO and he’ll tell you the importance of time, and how valuable their time is.
Look at it this way, reading a 1 page document will take at most 10 minutes, leaving you with remaining 10 minutes of your total 20 minute attention span for further discussions.
That’s just about 500 words for a one page memo. Mastering one page memos is a skill only the best learn – it makes you a powerful communicator and sharpens your thinking.
That reminds me of an author who I consulted with, he said so many books are being published today. The problem is many of them are just pure crap. In a world overwhelmed by information, insight is often in short supply. And he summarized his thoughts in one sentence for me…
To write a hard book is easy, to write an easy book is hard.
Today, it’s become so easy to publish with a few clicks and taps. But the easier it becomes, the more discipline is required to maintain the focus. The quality of published content has degraded so much that the intellectual level of individuals reading it has been reduced to that of five year olds. That’s more like an insult to intelligence.
Today, anyone and everyone can be a publisher – there are pros and cons to this that I’ll not dive into. But really, do you wish to read another list post or something that will change the way you think? Keep your reader in mind, write for their benefit, so that what you want to communicate comes across in the best way possible. Substitute signal for noise.
What will it take for authors to publish literary masterpieces that do not require them to fit the current publishing house’s 200 page book mould? What will it take for people to say more with lesser words. Practice.
In short, if I were to tell you what this post about and how you could be hugely successful in business – it is…
Write It Down, Kill Presentations & Write 1 Page Memos
All else is frivolous! I hope you’ve spent your valuable time reading something that is valuable. If you implement just one of these suggestions – your life could change for the better. Trust me, I know.