The Importance of Writing Well (Microsoft CEO Edition)

Persuading people effectively requires good communication. In many cases– email, reports, sales proposals, that means writing well. Writing well isn’t just about sounding good, it’s about the writer forcing herself to think clearly, to package those thoughts in a digestible form, and transmitting those thoughts to another mind. Reading most corporate communications, you’d think that the purpose of writing was to celebrate muddled ideas and lower runaway productivity by sucking up time from readers without relaying anything of meaning or value. (For more, see why your high school english class is ruining your sales proposals.)

Few companies have done such a good job of going from rebellious upstarts taking over the world while larger companies fought amongst themselves to a giant company fighting itself while others take over the world, as Microsoft. Former CEO Steve Ballmer sent out such long, painful, Orwellian emails to the entire company that I have a section in my todo list for writing blog posts to highlight them as an example of how to write. However, that would have meant going back to read them again.

Now new CEO Satya Nadella is telling the troops about his vision for the future of the company. He doesn’t quite reach Ballmer’s level, but he’s working on it. No one would doubt that Nadella is a smart guy. I’ll be the first to say that he’s way smarter than me. However, his message sounds like someone used Visual Basic to make a buzzword generator in Word. It’s never good when someone starts a sentence with “I truly believe…” Does that mean that the other sentences that seem to express your thoughts and opinions really don’t? I’m not saying he’s writing in bad faith, just that he sounds like it.

Jean-Louis Gassée, never one to pull punches, writes that Nadella at least needs a better editor. (He also trims the 3,000 word original to a much more clear 200 or so words.)

In a world of useless mission statements and proposals that promise the ridiculous (“we seek to always exceed our customers’ expectations”), writing clearly provides a big advantage. Then again, it won’t make you the CEO of Microsoft.

(Best of luck to Nadella. I got an internship and a scholarship from Microsoft back in the day, and I’m still grateful for both. Also, now that Microsoft is not ruling the world with an iron first, the technology world could really benefit from a resurgence in Redmond.)

Update: If anyone is angling for Ballmer’s crown it’s Elop, former CEO of Nokia, who returned to Microsoft and wrote this Orwellian train wreck to announce massive layoffs.

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