Have you ever had the feeling you know a thing inside out, but then as soon as it comes time to talk about that thing in a meeting, the words come out all wrong? I have. In those moments it can be hard to tell whether the gap in clarity is in the idea itself or the communication of it. But the truth is, in the work context, it doesn’t matter. When you codify ideas in a piece of writing, you also codify your thinking.
Paul Graham on the topic: "Writing about something, even something you know well, usually shows you that you didn't know it as well as you thought. Putting ideas into words is a severe test." Still not convinced? Here's some more: "You can know a great deal about something without writing about it. Can you ever know so much that you wouldn't learn more from trying to explain what you know? I don't think so."
Raises the quality bar: When you open up your work to a broader audience, you naturally do more polishing before you share. When everyone is doing that work for each other, the average for the company goes way up!
Writing is democratic. anyone with an insight or idea can write it down regardless of status or access. And, anyone can read it, regardless of status or access.
Scales everyone’s knowledge: think about how many people you interact with on a given work day. I’m talking about the real human to human kind where you relay your ideas to others. It’s probably in the 5-20 range. If you put those same ideas into a doc or an email, your distribution goes to infinity. Anyone can read it.
Good ideas bubble up: If the ideas are compelling, they will spread. And it doesn’t necessarily matter who wrote it. I’ve seen documents written in a corner of an organization make their way all the way to the CEO and meaningfully influence top-level decisions.
Less political orgs: I’ve found that the companies without a culture of writing are the most political. Take it from the king of healthy organizational dynamics, Succession’s Kendall Roy. “Words are just, what? Nothing. Complicated air flow.” Without meeting notes and documentation, companies become reliant on unreliable verbal accounts, 1:1 updates, and needing to be in the room to get things done.
Practitioners set the record: with writing and documentation, everyone has more control over the way their work is represented to others. No one has to rely on other people (particularly managers), saying it for them. Not even a simple message can survive a game of telephone. Plus, it's usually more fun and interesting to read than "rolled up summaries."
Writing supplants meetings: When there is good documentation around a meeting (briefs, meeting notes, etc.), meetings can be leaner and more productive because people don’t have to be in the room to know what’s happening. So, only those who are actively contributing to the discussion need to attend.
Team players succeed: writing takes time and care. Doing it shows that a willingness to take time to invest in sharing context and knowledge with others around the company. Those who do are regarded, and often rewarded, accordingly.
More backlinks to you and your work: Being the teammate that contributes to the system of knowledge shared shows how much you care about the success of the organization. And, it does it in a way that helps you have more documented and attributable credibility for the value you create within your organization.
Reading as a job perk: Startup whisperer Patio11 calls access to the library of documents “his favorite job perk”! In the time you normally spend scanning Twitter, you learn a whole heap from your brilliant colleagues about the work they are doing right next door. You can feed your curiosity and level up, for “free,” by diving in deep on anything anyone at your company, around any corner, is working on.
It helps connect you to people you might not encounter otherwise: Whether it’s about the work itself, or just your interests/personality, writing a lot put you on the radar of a new set of people.
Ditch the “roadshows”: Publish a document to get your ideas out there and it not only democratizes it, it saves time! Docs create a single destination/artifact for anyone around the org to reference and opine on when appropriate or required. I like to call this the ‘YO, FYI” approach. Draft your doc and blast it out with the simple message of ‘YO, FYI” to those that may want to know.
Psst. If you're looking for tactical steps on how to instill this at your company, check out the paid version here.