“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.