Writing vs Talking, Matt Mochary

When scaling a company, one of the key shifts to stay effective is to have communications and decisions move from talking to writing

Writing vs Talking

When two people are discussing an issue, the need to be efficient is important. When a team is discussing an issue, the need to be efficient is paramount, because each inefficient minute is multiplied by the number of people in the discussion.

If you want the most effective and efficient decision-making process, require that anyone who wants to discuss an issue write it up, along with the desired solution, ahead of time. The goal of this write-up is to be thorough enough that at the time of decision-meeting, there are few or no questions. This can be achieved one of two ways:

  1. The hard way: Write an extraordinarily thorough analysis from the get-go.

  2. The easy way: Write a draft, circulate it to the meeting participants before the meeting, and invite comments and questions. Then write out responses to all of these comments and questions prior to the meeting.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is famous for using this written method. He requires that anyone who wants to bring up an issue or proposal must write up the item fully prior to the decision meeting (with someone else writing up a counterproposal if necessary). The meeting is then spent reading the write-ups. Once the decision-making team has read them all, a decision is made. If consensus is not reached, an appointed decision-maker makes the call. If there are still open questions, then the decision-maker assigns one or more people to research, and of course write, the needed follow-up. At the end of the next meeting, the decision is made.

This method, though time-consuming for the sponsor, yields extraordinarily thoughtful decisions in a very short amount of time. The extra effort and work by one person creates a net savings in time and energy across the whole group.

Imposing this process on a group is daunting. Here is a way to ease a group into it:

  1. Reserve the first 15 minutes of the meeting for all participants to write out their updates and issues. Then use another 10 minutes of the meeting for all participants to read each other’s updates and issues. Then discuss and decide. Use this method for 2-3 meetings, then …

  2. Require that all participants write their updates and issues prior to the meeting. Do not allow people to bring up an issue that they have not already written up. Use the first 10 minutes of the meeting for all participants to read each other’s updates and issues. Use this method for 1-2 meetings, then …

  3. Require that all participants write their updates and issues by a certain time prior to the meeting (eg- 9pm the night before). Require that all participants read and comment on each other’s updates and issues prior to the meeting. People prove that they have read the docs by having their comments in the docs themselves. Do not allow people to make comments in the meeting if they haven’t already commented on the docs themselves.