Kevin Ready

Ideas on Business and Markets 


10 Reasons Pen and Paper Beats Email

As I have stated any number of times in this blog and in others, Communication is very often the single biggest obstacle in business. Whether it is communicating a value proposition with customers, a strategy to management, or the details of a plan to a team, communication is one linchpin that must be gotten *right*.

With this opening statement in mind, I am going to get right to making my next point: I don't like email for communicating with my team.

Let me list the reasons why:

  • It is impersonal.
  • It is easy to miss, when it comes in with a hundred other messages in a day.
  • It is hard to provide nuance in an email.
  • Complex relationships or processes are hard to describe in email.
  • Email is easy to ignore.
  • Email is discarded easily.

So what is the alternative these days?

I am using a pen and paper. Can you believe it? It is absolutely fantastic. This 'new' discovery is so good in fact, I might have to go out and buy some stock in a portfolio of pen companies -- I think this might catch on.

So what, exactly is so great about pen and paper? Here it is:

  • It is personal. When I put together an idea on paper such as a to-do list, or a drawing, or a process diagram -- it is clearly a personal communication from me (a human being) to the intended audience (another human being.) This is often lost with digital communications, since it is abstracted away in the hand-off between a device, and another device.
  • It is hard to miss -- because it is a physical object, I have to walk over to my addressee and hand it to him or her. This usually is accompanied by Eye Contact, and maybe even an exchange of words. (Oh my, how quaint!)
  • It is relatively easy to convey nuance in a hand written missive. The handoff of the paper from my hand to theirs allows me to couple the written record with some finger pointing and explanation "The process starts here, and wiggles over here, and then results in THIS..*snapping my fingers* for emphasis." Nuance abounds.
  • Complex processes and relationships are the perfect application for a drawing with annotations + a verbal explanation. It does not get any better unless you are ready to produce a documentary for television...I am thinking of FrontLine or Nova. I don't have that kind of time or budget so my pen + paper + voice are going to be my choice.
  • A handwritten note and walk-by are hard to ignore. I am *standing there*. Go ahead -- try to ignore me. It won't work.
  • A handwritten diagram is apparently harder to discard than an email. I have been writing these diagrams and handing them off to my team for quite a while now, and the pattern is that....(drum roll please)...They KEEP THEM. These diagrams get taped to walls, left out on desks where they can be referenced, carried to meetings. They are REAL ARTIFACTS with a human intention behind them (almost 'gift-like' I suppose) that makes them hard to throw away. This is a good thing. Fantastic in fact.
  • I can digitize these and keep them as permenant documentation on our company Wiki, or archive on my computer, or send by email anywhere in the world. The iPhone 3Gs is has a camera good enough for the job. Also, our company printer does a quick scan to PDF to email.

Summary: OK, so I gave you 6 reasons instead of 10. If you want to communicate effectively, convey a greater complexity, and have it understood better and the information retained and referenced for a longer time, put the keyboard aside and pull out some white paper and a good pen.


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Reader Comments (2)

This is a great post. Thanks.

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKR

I like this. Email can be easily misinterterpreted. While the author may mean well and think they have writtin a great, concise email the recipients perception may be different depending on the formating, text used, use of punctuation and capitalization, tonality, etc....

Additionally, writing notes does not give the recipient the ability to make excuses for not having received the email or not having the task at hand completed.

Email is here to stay however sometimes it's important to go back to the basics.

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathan K Smith

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