Writing – Essential but Most Overlooked Skill You Need in Management

27 Dec

To Horowitz, the distinction between
written and verbal communication is
stark and, in fact, it’s what separates
bad managers from the good ones.
Good managers want to be held
accountable and aren’t looking for
ways to weasel out of responsibility.
And so, good managers write, while ”
[b]ad product managers voice their
opinion verbally and lament … the
‘powers that be.’ ”
“When I’m interviewing
people, I like to give them a
writing test. … Many people
can pretend to be
something they’re not in
person, but very few people
can do so in writing.”
–Phil Libin, Evernote
The importance of writing over talking
is the reason why Phil Libin, founder
and CEO of Evernote, makes the
ability to write an essential
qualification during the hiring
process. He’ll hire only people who
can write. In lieu of a lengthy verbal
interview, Libin asks candidates to
stop talking and “write a few
paragraphs in normal English.”
The exercise shows Libin whether
candidates can communicate using
the written word, but Libin had an
additional insight–that writing gets
closer to revealing the candidate’s
true personality.
“I find that you can tell a lot more
about a person’s personality from a
few paragraphs of their writing than
from a lengthy verbal interview,” Libin
said. That’s because when it comes to
talking, the presentation makes a big
difference–however, with writing, it’s
just words on a page, which
approaches pure thought.
“There is no way to write a
six-page, narratively
structured memo and not
have clear thinking.”
–Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Jeff Bezos values writing over talking
to such an extreme that in Amazon
senior executive meetings, “before
any conversation or discussion begins,
everyone sits for 30 minutes in total
silence, carefully reading six-page
printed memos.”
…to Bezos, just talking
and going through bullet points in a
PowerPoint presentation conceals
lazy thinking. It’s easy to jump from
one bullet point to the next without
having expressed a complete thought.
“I don’t want this place to become a
country club,” Bezos said, as he
pushed his team to eschew
intellectual laziness and think more
Writing out full sentences enforces
clear thinking, but more than that, it’s
a compelling method to drive memo
authors to write in a narrative
structure that reinforces a distinctly
Amazon way of thinking–its obsession
with the customer. In every memo
that could potentially address any
issue in the company, the memo
author must answer the question:
“What’s in it for the customer, the
company, and how does the answer to
the question enable innovation on
behalf of the customer?”
“Reports are more a
medium of self-discipline
than a way to communicate
–Andy Grove, Intel
Like Bezos, Grove finds value in the
process of writing. The surprising
thing, then, is that reading what’s
written isn’t as important to Grove.
When you talk, there are often “ad hoc
inputs,” meaning whatever pops into
your head often comes out of your
mouth. When managers write, you
question those inputs and that
reflection drives you to make better
That’s why the main point of writing is
to force yourself “to be more precise
than [you] might be verbally.” That
self-imposed precision, according to
Grove, is a “safety-net” for your
thought process that you should
always be doing to “catch …anything
you may have missed.”
Accountability, coherence of thought
and planning, and commitment to
vision and mission are amazing
benefits of what too many consider a
ho-hum, even old-fashioned, tool.

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