It's essential that we practice our writing skills and keep writing down our ideas in complete sentences and paragraphs to keep our analytical and creative skills alive.

Writing is a critical skill today and will continue to be in the future. I can imagine you frowning or shrugging your shoulders as you read this text, thinking that this is once again one of those outdated statements made by an academic. In fact, in a world where a picture is thought to be worth a thousand words, where great thoughts must fit into atweetof 280 characters and where few people are willing to read more than two pages on a given topic, writing seems more like an obsolete skill than an essential one. However, in a post-covid world, where work is hybrid and increasingly distributed, writing is everywhere and everyone has to write. Documentation and collaborative writing with people who may not know or see each other is becoming an essential working practice.

When I talk about writing, I don't just mean handwriting. I'm referring, in general terms, to the act of communicating thoughts or feelings using a set of symbols on a visual medium - from papyrus and clay tablets to paper and now digital media. Writing allows for the articulation of detailed and complex thoughts, and supports both individual creative thinking and creative collaborations. In 2004, Jeff Bezos, then CEO of Amazon, shared a similar perspective when he asked employees to abandon PowerPoint to come up with new ideas. Instead, he asked them to write a 6-page narrative memo before executive meetings, because for Bezos writing was essential to developing "clear thinking".

Later, in their 2021 book Working Backwards, Bill Carr and Colin Bryar, longtime Amazon executives, argued that written memos allow us to develop multi-causal narratives, with a broader perspective on a topic. Moreover, once written, memos can be shared and read before meetings, allowing participants, whether they agree or not, to engage in an evidence-based discussion. Amazon is one of many companies known for their intense writing cultures: Stripe, Basecamp, Google, Facebook, Intel and other tech giants have also made writing a fundamental organizational practice.

Interestingly, these organizational decisions reflect important scientific knowledge. The development of writing is associated with two parallel and dramatic changes. Historically, the invention of writing in human civilization had a significant impact: mathematics, science, philosophy, and literature were all based on the ability to write, as were legal systems and large organized societies. At the same time, writing altered the human brain and unleashed creativity. Cognitive psychologist Maryanne Wolf, for example, has shown that the development of writing and reading created new circuits in the brain that served as the basis for analytical thinking and reflexivity, as well as the associated creative capacities.

Despite all this evidence, and in the face of enormous pressures to produce innovation quickly and efficiently, managers have pointed to the decline in people's ability to "write", i.e. to develop clear and complete arguments. In my teaching experience, I have noticed (along with several colleagues) that students have difficulty articulating complex ideas and presenting robust and persuasive arguments. This is corroborated by recent studies by psychologists and neuroscientists. If our brains are improving visual and spatial skills, such as navigation, scanning and multitasking, in return we see a weakening of the deep processing that underpins inductive analysis, reflection and imagination. These conclusions are particularly relevant at a time when organizations crave innovation and our society faces complex environmental and social challenges. Indeed, now more than ever, we need creative and critical thinkers, capable of developing innovative and meaningful solutions.

But stimulating our creative and critical thinking doesn't mean abandoning digital technologies and simply going back to pencil and paper. Rather, it's essential that we practice our writing skills and continue to write down our ideas in complete sentences and paragraphs, in order to keep our analytical and creative skills alive. This is particularly important with the rise of generative AI: if we want to get the most out of these technologies, we have to be able to use them wisely and engage with the content critically and creatively. At the end of the day, like any technology, generative AI exists to amplify our capabilities, but we must remain masters of our human thinking.

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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 
19/12/2023
 in the area of 
Leadership & People

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