“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” David McCullough

The Lost Art of Writing and Now Listening

Ralph Nichols, considered the father of listening, once said, “Our educational system is upside down. We teach least the skill we use most–listening.” With intolerance and incivility on the rise, listening to understand, engage others, encourage ideation and distinguish accurate from misleading data is more important than ever. Executives use up to 80% of their communication time listening to employees to discern how to make good decisions. They expect employees to have done their homework. Leaders rely on others to provide thoughtful arguments, valid conclusions and coherent recommendations based on valid, reliable and accurate information from credible sources and experts. Yet, in today’s world of sound bites, bulleted topics, and “googled” content, is the information that executives receive putting their decisions at risk?

Educators claim two communication skills, listening and writing, are deficient in both high school and college students. Rather than required discussion questions, essays and/or term papers, written responses are being replaced by standardized tests and multiple-choice exams. In fact, according to the Washington Post, up to 76% of high school seniors have inadequate writing skills with over half forced to enroll in remedial college courses (Hechinger Report). And most educators agree that effective writing is directly correlated with clarity of thinking and decision making.

The impact is clear. Without clarity of thinking, information and recommendations offered to executive leaders can put their decisions at risk. In fact, in 2012, Jeff Bezos announced a major change in his executive meetings to require his team to think and write six-page narrative memos rather than deliver PowerPoint presentations. During the meetings, prior to talking about the memos and issues, they have a “study hall” to read, discern and to ask questions about one of the memos. The goal is to ensure clarity and encourage deeper understanding of complex issues. Today, major corporations, government agencies and the military are following his lead and reviving the lost arts of listening and writing.

Consider your own leadership team meetings. What are you doing to:

• Ensure your “thought leaders” make time to think?
• Facilitate high quality discussions with deeper dialogue?
• Stimulate provocative questioning of each other?
• Build rigor into your decision-making process?

Download the Amazon Letter to Stockholders 2018 from Jeff Bezos.

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