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Writing is thinking

In the book "High Output Management," author Andrew Grove writes:

“Reports are more a medium of self-discipline than a way to communicate information. Writing the report is important; reading it often is not.”

Over the last ten years of building startups, this concept that the purpose of writing is often more to help the writer develop their thinking than it is to help others understand them has become increasingly central to the culture I aim to drive in an organisation.

Andy Grove suggests that the process of writing forces us to clarify our thoughts and ideas, making them more concrete and actionable. This is because writing requires a level of specificity and organization that thinking or talking alone may not achieve.

When we write, we are forced to articulate our ideas in a clear and logical way. We need to choose our words carefully and structure our sentences in a way that conveys our message effectively.

In my experience the initial process of writing is often a fairly small proportion of the time invested. By my crude estimations, sub twenty five precent of the total time.

Far more important and time consuming is the process of editing.

Often the narrative or concept which seemed so clear when we sat down to write now has clear gaps, inconsistencies and new assumptions which require validation or explanation. Multiple passes through document resolve these as well as allowing us time to re-consider things like structure and order. It forces us to think through things like "what things will my audience need to believe and in what order".

By extension combining written documents with an "FAQ" type approach, where you spend time putting yourself in the shoes of your audience and thinking "what will they ask me" after reading this drive a much more rounded consideration of a problem space or idea.

This highlights one of the benefits of building an organisational culture which leverages written documents more than it does meetings. Or at least which leverages written documents before it leverages meetings.

In an organisation which starts with meetings, the raw material people have to work with is the unrefined narrative. Multiple peoples time will be spent just drawing out the gaps, inconsistencies and assumptions the majority of which would have been caught in a writing and editing process.

Worse due to the natural ceiling on how long a productive meeting can be, in many scenarios once this initial work is completed, the meeting will be close to finishing, depriving the group the opportunity to discuss the "core" of the issue, or at least requiring another expensive meeting.

This isn't to de-value meetings, instead to highlight one of the reasons why a meeting will generally be far more valuable if someone has first spent substantial time writing and editing their thoughts.