One Sheet Wonders

I’ve been reading Ricardo Semler’s fantastic book, Maverick on how he turned around SemCo in the 1980’s. Each chapter ends with a nugget of organizational wisdom concisely delivered in a sentence or two. This is exactly what I was talking about in my earlier post, Once More, In Half the Time.

In addition to also using Twain’s quote, Semler took the principle one step further.

All the documents at SemCo are kept to 1 page. Everything – memos, proposals, market surveys – one page. If you read my Once More, In Half the Time post, I’m sure you’re wondering the benefit of continued revisions when you could just finish it. Here’s Semler’s response.

This has not only reduced unnecessary paperwork, but has also helped us avoid meetings that were often needed to clarify ambiguous memos…The longer the message, the greater the chance of misinterpretation.

Boiling down important messages to as little as needed guarantees the message will be received. I’m reminded of an example I heard about during a conversation with Caterpillar. Originally, they had a multi-page print-out describing the classification of a given document on a scale of confidentiality. It was never used or misused. Obviously, this is dangerous for all involved. They were able to boil the print-out down to one sheet. One sheet – posted at every desk I walked past.

Concision is something we’re comfortable and familiar with here at Working Pathways. All our proposals are one page. Our research reports are boiled down to just the important bits. As an example, the findings from a recent, 2-week-long intensive customer research project were delivered in an easy-to-read 5-page PowerPoint deck.

The level of concision both Semler and I are talking about requires a deep understanding of what is to be communicated and the most effective means of communicating it.