Writing is a critical skill – today and tomorrow. I can imagine you frowning or shrugging as you read, thinking that it’s again one of these academics’ outdated claims. Indeed, in a world where an image is thought to be worth a thousand words, where great thoughts should fit the format of a 280 characters tweet, and where few people are willing to read more than two pages on a particular topic, writing seems more an obsolete than an essential skill. However, in a post-covid world where work is hybrid and increasingly distributed, writing is everywhere, and everyone must write. Documenting and collaborative writing with people you might not know, or you don’t see, is becoming an essential work practice. 

By writing, I don’t mean only handwriting. I broadly refer to the act of communicating thoughts or feelings using a set of symbols on a visual medium ¬–– from papyrus and clay tablet to paper and now digital media. Writing, I argue, enables the articulation of detailed and complex thoughts and support both individual creative thinking and for creative collaborations. Jeff Bezos, at the time Amazon CEO, shared a similar perspective when back in 2004, he asked Amazon employees to move away from PowerPoint when presenting a new idea. Instead, they had to write a narrative 6-page memo before executive meetings as for Bezos writing was essential to develop “clear thinking.” 

More recently, in their 2021 book, Working Backwards, longtime Amazon execs Bill Carr and Colin Bryar, argue that written memos allow us to develop multi-causal narratives that provide a fuller perspective on a topic. Moreover, once written, memos can be shared, and read prior to meetings, allowing participants, whether they agree or not, to engage in an evidence-based discussion. Amazon is one among many companies known for their writing-heavy cultures: Stripe, Basecamp, Google, Facebook, Intel, and many other big tech companies have also made writing a core organizational practice. 

Interestingly, these organizational decisions echo important scientific knowledge. The development of writing is associated with two parallel and dramatic changes. Historically, the invention of writing on human civilization were momentous: mathematics, science, philosophy, literature were all predicated upon the ability to write, as were law systems and large organized societies. At the same time, writing changed the human brain and unleashed creativity. For instance, the cognitive psychologist Maryanne Wolf shows that the development of writing and reading created new pathways and circuits in the brain that provided the foundation for analytical thinking and reflectivity, as well as the associated creative abilities.

Yet, despite all this evidence, and in the face of the tremendous pressures to deliver innovation quickly and effectively, managers have increasingly commented on the decrease in people’s ability to “write”, meaning the ability to develop clear and thorough arguments. In my own teaching, I have been noticing (along with several of my colleagues) that students have difficulties to articulate complex ideas and present strong and persuasive arguments. This type of testimony from professionals is corroborated by recent studies by psychologists and neuroscientists. If our brains are getting better at visual-spatial skills, such as browsing, scanning, and multitasking, it is at the cost of a weakening of deep processing that underpins inductive analysis, reflection, and imagination. Such findings are particularly important as companies crave for innovation and as our societies are facing complex and social environmental issues. Indeed, now more than ever, we need creative and critical thinkers to develop innovative and meaningful solutions. 

However, nurturing our creative and critical thinking capabilities doesn't mean moving away from digital technologies and simply going back to pencil and paper. It is important that we keep practicing our writing skills, and write our ideas in complete sentences and paragraphs to keep our analytical and creative abilities. This is especially important with the rise of generative AI: if we want to use the potential of these technologies at the fullest, we need to be able to prompt it wisely and engage with its content critically and creatively. In the end, like any technology, it is there to enhance our capabilities, but we should still own our thinking.

This text is a republication of an article published in the Observador - read the original here.

Do you know the program
Communicating Effectively?
Published in 
 in the area of 
Leadership & People

More articles from

Leadership & People


Join Our Newsletter and Get the Latest
Posts to Your Inbox

No spam ever. Read our Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.