Thursday, May 27, 2010

Omit Needless Words: Good Advice for Writers and Leaders

I was a journalism major. Our Bible on how to write was Strunk & White's Elements of Style. It's most memorable admonition: "Omit needless words."

The book goes on to say:

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."

Strunk and White were preaching "Thoughtful Reduction" decades before John Maeda coined the phrase in The Laws of Simplicity.

Applied to communication, both written and spoken, "Omit needless words" is not only good advice for writers but leaders. Our job is to make the complex simple, to articulate a clear vision that staff at any level can understand and implement.

As stated in my post "Haiku Strategy" Google's informal mission statement is: "Don't be evil." It's actual mission statement is: "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Both say a lot in a few words about one of the largest and most complex companies on the planet.

The paradox of making communication simpler is that it is really hard work. But that shouldn't stop you. Spend less time crafting the content of the message and more time making it elegantly simple.

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