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Writing is Thinking
For a long time, in my professional (and personal) life, I would write without much purpose. At work, I would take notes on everything, and then pore over them afterwards to try and synthesize some meaning from the discussions. It was a practice I picked up in middle school, when we had a visitor in my language arts class that did a whole session on proper note taking techniques. It became a habit in high school, a necessity in college, and a compulsion in my career. It became an essential part of how I think. And, just to acknowledge my biases, I began to form opinions on folks who couldn’t articulate their ideas in a clear written narrative - namely that they weren’t clear / deep thinkers.
When I joined the Kindle team (my first official PM gig) in 2010, I was immersed in the Amazon n-pager culture and got pulled into a real feedback loop on my writing. There is nothing like (occasional) S-team eyeballs to make you proofread and edit. And it wasn’t just press releases and requirements docs - the need to write crisply was felt in launch comms, website copy, status updates, interview notes, etc. During this period, I shifted my thinking, and began to see writing not as a pointless obsession but as a critical skill. Most (all?) of the meaningful work I’ve done since then is rooted in clear thinking aided by a tight write-up. For example, the Twitter Fail Whale discontinuation traces back to my 3-pager on platform / infrastructure strategy for monolith decomposition and data center expansion (it was a riveting read, trust me).
So what is it about writing that helps sharpen ideas?
Steel Thread - you’re forced to craft the “spine of your narrative”, the key assumptions / conclusions, which you can counter-argue on logic / merit, to prepare yourself for an eventual review / dissection of the proposal
Talk Track - you end up weaving in data points, customer quotes, anecdata, market research, etc which all serve as color commentary for the core idea, which is why it’s much easier to build a slide deck presentation based on an n-pager (doing it the other way, meaning selling before thinking, is harder to pull off)
Call to Action - when you express something clearly enough, it puts the onus on all stakeholders to respond, either in support of moving forward or with a counter- argument / proposal (which helps further refine the pitch), so as long as you’re not over-indexed on pride of authorship, this is generally good for all
One of my favorite quotes on this topic:
“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” - Victor Hugo
I have 2 takeaways from this:
no one will know the idea’s time has come unless someone writes it down
even if you write it down, it might not happen, because the timing isn’t right
So keep writing, to not only ideate, but also iterate. I look forward to reading your thoughts…
further reading / references
how encouraging a culture of written communication is key to remote work
8 principles (along with some inspirational quotes) to improve your writing
advice on writing to express, not to impress
the case for more people creating online
“writing for yourself” is underappreciated
childish drawing / interpretation