How To Build a Peanut Butter Sandwich

“My second-grade teacher, Ms. Caruso, gave us a seemingly simple writing assignment: Describe how to build a peanut butter sandwich. On the day we turned in our assignments Ms. Caruso had bread, silverware, and jars of peanut butter and jelly. 

She collected our papers and began reading them one by one: ‘First you take the bread, (Ms. Caruso took the loaf of bread still in the bag) then you take the peanut butter and put it on the bread. (Ms. Caruso took the jar of peanut butter and placed it on top of the bread bag). Then you take the jelly and put it on top of the peanut butter.’ (Ms. Caruso took the jar of jelly and placed it on top of the jar of peanut butter). 

The class was laughing because we had a Jenga tower of groceries and not a peanut butter sandwich. As it turned out, not one person in our class had accurately described how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This exercise taught me the importance of precisely transmitting information to others so they can execute on a vision.”

– Story by Catalina Girald

I found this story in an article that asked business leaders to remember lasting advice from their teachers. Yes, precision is important and indeed let’s be precise ourselves … precise written communication is important. How well we write is important to our careers. Too often it is the loudest voice in the room that is heard. A wise leader expects and respects the ability to communicate well through writing.

“When I’m interviewing people, I like to give them a writing test. . . . Many people can pretend to be something they’re not in person, but very few people can do so in writing.”

“I find that you can tell a lot more about a person’s personality from a few paragraphs of their writing than from a lengthy verbal interview.”

– Phil Libin, Evernote

Jeff Bezos, the visionary leader of Amazon also is fond of the written word. From the books he sells to the executive boardroom where people sit and read six page narratives before any discussion. Bezos expects his leaders to be able to write and convey a precise and persuasive message within those six pages.

“There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

– Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Back to the story of a class full of second graders writing down how to build a peanut butter sandwich. How interesting to ask a conference room full of executives to do the same. “Describe for me how to build a peanut butter sandwich.”

Let’s go Bezos style and ask for six pages. Now that may be an interesting read.

4 thoughts on “How To Build a Peanut Butter Sandwich

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  1. Your peanut butter and jelly exercise brings back memories of when we had a therapist come to our home amd work with our oldest daughter who has/had ADD. For a child with ADD, tasks that you and I see as “easy” (you know get bread, put on the peanut butter then put on the jelly), are overwhelming tasks to them. They see life as Where do you even start? It’s too complicated…. and so with that her therapist taught her to break everything down into small increments and be precise. So my now 24 year daughter can actually write a six page memo on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and not feel overwhelmed because she has to write a six page memo. And who knew that these simple lessons she had to learn to cope with her ADD as a child would bring her into a management position at the age of 23 all because she sees the world in small manageable pieces and can share with others the precise details to make it all come together. (Just don’t take away her planner!!)

    1. Thanks for sharing Leslie. Great story to show the power breaking things down and thinking it through. And yes, a good planner is everything. Love notes on my phone, but miss the days of carrying a planner.

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