Why you should write more [Weekly Thoughts #1] — 5min
Originally written: Dec 18, 2020
Lucas’ Updated Notes: At ProteinQure we have a page on Notion, where decisions are documented and that is publically available to all. This has been really helpful in providing a place where we collect and can review important decisions we made as a company. This is one of my favorite things we’ve to create alignment within ProteinQure.
See a redacted set of some of the most recent entries.
Why you should write
There are lots of ways to share information (slides, videos, writing of various sorts, meetings, etc.). We’ve experimented with many of those already. What I’ve come to realize is that the best form tends to be mostly about your goals and secondarily about your personal style. I wanted to focus a bit on why I like to write (both these weekly emails and longer memos, but also notion entries).
Note these are in order of importance/frequency to me. Though I think they apply to pretty much everyone (just in differing frequencies).
1. To help the writer make better decisions.
Writing forces you to be articulate in much more detail than any other form of communication.
The act of forcing yourself to write (and be concise) is extremely helpful for making your own case better. You often start to see the gaps in your case and prioritize much better. In the absence of writing, you are often able to trick yourself about how carefully thought out your plan is. This is because you are inevitably thinking about it deeply and will be able to answer questions fluidly. But writing convincingly (even to yourself) is a higher bar.
This and the 2nd point are by far the most valuable to me. It is why we should write on any decisions that are important and hard to reverse (hiring being the number 1 example).
2. Help us evaluate the quality of our decision-making in retrospect.
The act of writing makes the author more articulate, which allows us to go back and make sure we made good decisions. Otherwise, all people are extremely vulnerable to hindsight bias. This has stood out most to me in the hiring processes we have. It’s much easier to evaluate whether someone is good at interviewing by reading their comments at the time of the interview. Whereas, in retrospect, we always think we knew someone was a superstar or had a red flag.
But it also stands out when you read some of the memos that Tomas (about the direction of the tech team/platform) or I wrote (about the company). And while we both have been wrong often it is MUCH MUCH better than the people who have never written anything. In cases where people don’t document their thinking(for example people who don’t submit details on Lever re: hiring) they almost always remember making decisions for reasons which are correct now in hindsight.
As a general rule of thumb, if you want me to look back on your decision-making (for the positive) it requires a written-out argument. This was also the purpose of the “decisions” notion page that we have created.
3. To disseminate information broadly, more quickly
For a lot of information, you aren’t looking to get feedback, but rather you are just trying to share it broadly. In that case, reading information is by far the most convenient (it is fast and can be done asynchronously).
Writing also tends to have the lowest amount of miscommunication (fewer memory issues or mishearing). Though it still suffers from the fact that the recipient cannot really know if they are misunderstanding.
The issue is that the writing often takes more time than sharing in alternative methods that info if the audience ends up being small (<6 people).
4. To inform future PQ employees
This is a corollary of (3), as new employees join there is more and more institutional knowledge and context. You can never supplant mentorship from your colleagues, but good documentation is a company superpower. It helps get newer employees up to speed much faster. It also helps them avoid mistakes we’ve already made.This is third not because of its importance, but because realistically its just that good writing is not sufficient. As information in a company grows even well-documented and organized information becomes overwhelming. So you end up needing colleagues to curate that information for you anyways.
5. To help get feedback and helpful outside information more efficiently
This was the biggest myth, I think that comes from the pro-writing world.
The reality is that for most important decisions you want one person making that decision. And once that person is given that authority they can certainly benefit from alternative points of view, but the value is diminishing. The main issue is that no one will be as familiar or care as much as you the decision-maker with the context of the project. So their advice is almost inherently going to be less relevant. The longer you’ve been in ProteinQure the more this will become true. What is somewhat relevant is laying out your assumptions for your decision and having others help validate or reject those assumptions (often by providing facts/sources you simply weren’t aware of). You can also get improvements in grammar, spelling, clarity etc.. but those are usually lower value.
Write when you have to make an important decision. Use it to help focus your own decision-making more than anything else.