Why you should push your team to write (and hire people who can write)

Edited excerpt from The Neuroscience of Recruiting: 3 Key Discoveries & Implications by Geoffrey James:

Unlike communications that are clear and precise, business communications that are fuzzy and imprecise generate connections between words that are similarly fuzzy and imprecise. In other words, it’s a feedback looping going on: fuzzy thinking creates fuzzy wording which in turn creates fuzzier thinking. Conversely, clear thinking creates clear wording which in turn creates clearer thinking.

What this means to recruiters: Today, many organizations tolerate the use of fuzzy and imprecise wording, typically in the form of buzzwords and jargon. As those organizations hire people who communicate in a similar way, it increases the amount of fuzzy think, making the overall organization “dumber.” In the future, recruiters must put additional emphasis during the hiring process on a candidate’s ability to write and speak with precision and clarity. As a result, the hiring process will tend to make the overall organization progressively “smarter.”

(1) This is why PowerPoint is such a disaster. Bullet points don’t have the rigor of full sentences and paragraphs. They lure you into thinking that you’ve thought through and articulated an idea, but in fact you haven’t. Bullet points are the poster child of fuzzy wording. And “fuzzy thinking creates fuzzy wording which in turn creates fuzzier thinking”.
(2) Because writing clarifies thinking, it’s often worthwhile to write a document even if nobody else reads it.
(3) I read somewhere that strategy meetings in Amazon start with the participants reading a paper about the topic. Benefits: (i) ensures there’s a clear “owner” for the topic,  (ii) ensures that meetings are properly prepared for, (iii) ensures that people consider everything the “owner” has to say about the topic without interrupting, (iv) allocates time at the beginning of the meeting for everyone to prepare for the discussion.

6 thoughts on “Why you should push your team to write (and hire people who can write)

  1. I don’t fully agree with PPT being a disaster. Bad writing is bad and good writing is good regardless of form.

    In short, it’s the content, not the form, that’s the issue. Bullet points can work if they are well thought out and articulated to provide clear and actionable goals. Same applies to emails, memos, etc.

    • Gee, perhaps it depends on whether PPT is used as a stand-alone way of delivering ideas or whether it’s used to help an audience focus in an oral presentation. If it’s used stand-alone it’s a disaster, because bullet points allow you to avoid articulating ideas rigorously.

      I guess I’m not a fan of oral presentations generally. For me, a written doc allows me to think about the issues ahead of a discussion. I can read a doc few times and think about it, and re-read paragraphs which I don’t understand.

  2. Like you, I find that writing helps me clarify my thoughts, and I often prefer to read an email or document ahead of any serious brainstorming. However, we’re both introverts, so we tend to like reflective learning. Extroverts often prefer the opportunity to talk ideas out with a colleague and often find it easier to communicate in speech than in writing.

    Of course it’s important for employees to be able to express themselves clearly, both in writing and in speech, but I sometimes worry that policies which require employees to use written documentation as the first step in thought clarification put extroverts at an unfair disadvantage.

    • That’s fascinating, Rachael, and is somewhat supported by my experience.

      Perhaps the key question is this: Does requiring written documents as a first step penalize extroverts? (It doesn’t mean that you can never have a discussion, just that there should be more preparation for the discussion.)

      • I very much lean on having written documents and don’t feel it necessarily penalizes extroverts. I prefers to talk things out, but always strive to have a written document as a primer for any meeting. This could be something as simple as an agenda or as complicated as a white paper.

        Otherwise, without any kind of guidance, it becomes un-focused waste of time for everyone.

  3. “Bullet points are the poster child of fuzzy wording”. I call them “fudge points”. Using bullet points lulls the writer into a sense that she is addressing a real issue when in fact the opposite is true. This form of presentation fudges the issue by presenting something that at best can only address a very narrow instance and marginalizes the importance of the broader message.

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