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Why we write

We need you to write. Reluctance to write is a reluctance to think. The page is a mirror into your mind. When the ideas in your mind are clouded, so are the words on the page in front of you. Re-writing is re-thinking. And we need you to think. Writing forces you to think deeper about what you want and want you need.

You might complain of “long paragraphs”, as I did growing up. But the alternative norm seems to be long “meetings” that accomplish nothing other than giving the space for all to pretend to know what’s happening and pushing everyone to shirk any responsibility to do work that matters.

Proposal

No meetings should be without a written proof of what the meeting will accomplish. And if the meeting does not accomplish its stated task within 30 minutes to an hour–the meeting organizer should apologize and acknowledge that the meeting should not have happened, as they were not ready or participants were unable to focus on the task during the meeting.

The time now spent and interrupted by useless meetings can be recaptured and used for more important things. We can give back the time and energy now wasted on aimless and incomplete dawdling and relieve a major, unnecessary stressor for many of us.

Why we write

Here’s an excerpt form Working Backwards about why Amazon made the shift to writing six-page narratives:

We know that writing narratives will likely prove to be harder work than creating the PowerPoint presentations that they will replace; this is actually positive.

Your reluctance to write because it requires you to take the time to think deeper, means that you need to write.

The act of writing will force the writer to think and synthesize more deeply than they would in the act of crafting a PowerPoint deck; the idea on paper will be better thought out, especially after the author’s entire team has reviewed it and offered feedback.

Often, there’s no craft in meetings–we settle to have pointless, aimless meetings, where no goal is set at the outset of the meeting and nothing is achieved by the end.

It’s a daunting task to get all the relevant facts and all one’s salient arguments into a coherent, understandable document—and it should be.

Again, your reluctance to write because it requires you to take the time to think deeper, means that you need to write.

Our goal as presenters is not to merely introduce an idea but to demonstrate that it’s been carefully weighed and thoroughly analyzed. Unlike a PowerPoint deck, a solid narrative can—and must—demonstrate how its many, often disparate, facts and analyses are interconnected. While an ideal PowerPoint presentation can do this, experience has shown that they rarely do in practice.

A complete narrative should also anticipate the likely objections, concerns, and alternate points of view that we expect our team to deliver. Writers will be forced to anticipate smart questions, reasonable objections, even common misunderstandings—and to address them proactively in their narrative document. You simply cannot gloss over an important topic in a narrative presentation, especially when you know it’s going to be dissected by an audience full of critical thinkers. While this may seem a bit intimidating at first, it merely reflects our long-standing commitment to thinking deeply and correctly about our opportunities.

A long-standing commitment to thinking deeply and correctly about our opportunities. If we cannot do that, there’s no point in any of us being here.

The old essay-writing adage “State, support, conclude” forms the basis for putting a convincing argument forward. Successful narratives will connect the dots for the reader and thus create a persuasive argument, rather than presenting a disconnected stream of bullet points and graphics that leave the audience to do all the work. Writing persuasively requires and enforces clarity of thought that’s even more vital when multiple teams collaborate on an idea. The narrative form demands that teams be in sync or, if they are not, that they clearly state in the document where they are not yet aligned.

I’ve seen too many disconnected streams of bullet points that show no work or thought has been done–yet they are presented as such.

Edward Tufte sums up the benefits of narratives over PowerPoint with his own blunt clarity: “PowerPoint becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of PowerPoint makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Writing into the future

You’re right. It’s easier to have “meetings” about things. But, there’s a reason why it’s easier–because it minimizes the value actually being added. There’s a reason why we write. There’s a reason why meetings are a last resort. Because we have a long-standing commitment to thinking deeply and correctly about our opportunities.

Your reluctance to write because thinking is hard and thinking takes time, is precisely why you need to write. We need you to be a leader where the words you put out carry everyone into the future.

In 1997, not even three years after it’s founding, Jeff Bezos wrote Amazon’s first letter to shareholders. He spent the time thinking and writing something so poignant at the outset of the company that every letter to shareholders since 1997 has ended with the original letter. And again, he included it is his last letter to shareholders in 2021.

Seven months after development began and two weeks before Slack’s ‘Preview Release’, Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack, wrote in 2013 what you would call a “long string of paragraphs.” Poignant as the Slack acquisition by Salesforce went through just last week at the time of writing.

You can see from these works that both Jeff and Stewart are clear-thinking leaders who have done the hard and important work of thinking deeply about where they are and where they are looking to go–the work they needed to do.

You see, clarity is shown and exemplified by writing. If you fail to write, you fail to think, and you fail to make change happen.