Writing cultures always win

Writing cultures always win

May 12, 2024

🌿 Sprout

Writing is largely misunderstood as something only English majors do — technical professionals see it as secondary or even unimportant compared to other skills like coding and design. It goes back to school, where writing lacked purpose beyond earning a passing grade. We were taught that writing should be long, stuffed with fancy words, and really, really boring to read. That's a lie. Good writing is the opposite of that: clear, concise and interesting.

Companies with a strong writing culture are lightyears ahead of others in many ways. Think of Stripe: despite being a company that focuses on numbers, their secret sauce is their writing culture. They document everything. Writing is their tool of choice for stronger transparency, understanding and decision-making. Even top dog Patrick Collison structures his emails like incredibly interesting research papers.

Everyone who has ever worked at Stripe knows and believes this: Writing matters. The clearer your writing, the sharper your ideas.

Writing clarifies ideas

Have you ever gone into a meeting and started talking about a brilliant idea you've had, only to realise it doesn't make sense at all? I have, and it's embarrassing. Ideas feel the most complete inside your head; you only realise how insubstantial they are when you start to talk about them.

Writing is a great stress test. When you give an idea shape through words, you're able to examine each point and see if they logically connect to each other. The purpose here is to create a dialogue between you and your ideas. It's to expose any gaps, inconsistencies, and flaws that you didn't notice when the idea was just an ambient notion. The more you write, assess and rewrite, the stronger your ideas.

Writing keeps meetings short (or nonexistent)

Most meetings in their current form are a waste of time: they are unproductive, mentally taxing, and reduce the amount of actual work people can do. Most employees spend about 31 hours per month in these kind of meetings. They feel like one of those things you can't avoid — but in a company with a writing culture, you *can*.

Clear and concise documentation serve as pre-reads before a meeting, as they provide all necessary context, challenges and possible solutions. This is useful for two reasons. One: the pre-read replaces the meetings that would've otherwise been spent going over all that detail for hours. It reduces any avoidable ambiguity and confusion. Two: it makes the 1-2 necessary meetings more focused on active solutioning.

Writing serves as proof

Good writing leaves footprints in the sand. When you share a piece of original writing, it links back to you in a way that lends you credibility in the organisation. It also gives you control over the way your work is represented to others — you can make your case yourself without risking misinterpretation or an unwilling game of Chinese whispers. This serves as a visible show of effort and value creation, which is great both for performance reviews and making friends with the right people.

Compelling ideas also spread rapidly. So if your writing goes all the way up to the CEO, it works out wonderfully when it can be traced back to you, the originator.

Writing raises the average quality of the company

When you're writing for yourself, ideas can remain half-baked in your drafts for a long time. But in an organisation, no one is writing just for themselves. Proposals, emails, memos, reports, and documentation are all circulated among teams for reading and critique. So when you write to share with other people, you naturally put in more effort to tighten up your ideas and create something of a high standard.

When others see that excellent piece of writing, they feel motivated to do the same. They write more, and publish more, and get more feedback. That creates a virtuous cycle of improvement, and the baseline is constantly elevated. When one person shares clearly articulated ideas, the whole company benefits. The little upward spiral of quality compounds across the entire organisation.

Writing creates shared knowledge

A company with a strong writing culture functions like a free library: everyone is a fountain of information. You can learn so much from colleagues in the next wing, and build on their work to improve yours. For example, a piece of user research documented by a designer can help the CX team improve their chatbot's answers and reduce customer support tickets significantly. Writing creates a more cohesive and connected ecosystem where each team's expertise enriches and amplifies the others'.

I can't stress the benefits of this enough. Writing democratises knowledge, and doesn't let great ideas go to waste in one corner of the office. It creates a context more well-rounded than what you'd have picked up while siloed within your team. It connects you to people you might not have encountered otherwise, especially if you work in a huge organisation with multiple departments that don't intermingle much. It helps everyone build better, more well-informed products that each person can be proud of.

Writing is meta-work, but it is meta-work that creates trust. I can't think of a more powerful driver of efficiency, growth and loyalty than trust. And I can't think of a clearer, more reliable way to get there than writing.

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