If only we could crumple an e-mail…

A good friend of mine once said “Velocity is a function of clarity, not speed.”

For the longest time, I thought he was just being his rather obtuse self, and perhaps he was, but there was some wisdom in that statement.

For over 20 years, I’ve been working with clients to provide more effective and efficient methods of communication. When we first started, it was voice mail, fax, and such – now it’s e-mail, instant messaging, Facebook posts and tweets.

These technologies allow us to reduce the time it takes to get information from one person to another. I can have an idea, type it up, and send it all in a matter of seconds it’s off to its intended recipient. This allows me to be much more prolific in the volume of text I can generate in a given day. If I’m not feeling efficient enough, I can even make use of a whole new lexicon and use acronyms like BTW, IMHO and LOL.

But is this ability to communicate quickly and in volume really making anything better? I have my doubts.

Yesterday, I crossed the 50,000th e-mail plateau – this year. That doesn’t even include the auto-deletes and pre-sorts. This means that in order to give proper response to the 200+ daily e-mails I receive, I either need to become a genius, or lower the quality or detail level of my responses. The first option is not likely to happen as I age further – so brevity wins. However, as brevity wins, clarity suffers, and as clarity suffers, velocity decreases – and things take longer to complete.

There. I said it. The faster we talk, the slower we go.

When I grew up, if you had an idea and wanted someone who wasn’t in the same building to know about it, you’d send a letter. You’d either write it, or type it. You didn’t have to rush – the mail wasn’t going to be picked up for another hour or two, and the letter would take a couple of days to reach its destination anyway. Telephone calls were always a quicker option, but not useful if you wanted to make sure there was a record of your thoughts. If you’re like me, you’d read over the letter, put yourself in the place of the reader, and occasionally realize you weren’t really communicating the way you wanted to and crumple the paper and start over. By the end of the process, you had a document that you were satisfied with – something that you knew would have the impact intended.

When your letter arrived, the recipient could read it over several times, and wasn’t expected to give you an immediate judgement as to its merits – in fact, they could look at it for awhile and consider it under different light – what’s the hurry? The mail wouldn’t arrive for another day, anyway. The whole point of the exercise was to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and make sure your message would be received properly. Now, at best, we seem to be shooting for a Facebook “Like” or a re-tweet.

I look at all the e-mails, IMs and texts I send people now, and I notice something else. Something that troubles me. They have crowded out the communcations I really wanted to make. I forget to call my family as often as I’d like. A thought I had at lunch that I wanted to share with my son is gone by the time I get back to the office. The time I could have used checking in on friends and familiy health matters is preempted by an invitation to one of 10 webinars I could choose to attend each day.

I’ve decided it’s time for me to go on an information diet. It’s not an original concept – the book, “The Four Hour Work Week” espouses the idea, among other sources. I’ll choose what crosses my desk more carefully, and trust and train others to take on some of the load as well. When clients and friends ask me for advice and support, I’ll devote some time to actually giving it. When I write, I’ll write with some clarity. Some folks may not be able to stomach the length of my missives (like this blog), but they’ll eventually get it.

I look forward to seeing, when all is said and done, what impact this has on my friends, my clients, and my family. I’m determined that it will make them all happier. I know it will make me happier. I invite you go on the diet with me. Write something. Then re-write it. Then come back to it and read it and if it’s something you’d want to receive, send it off. I’d love to know how it works for you. Write a comment with your thoughts, but whatever you do, please – don’t “like” this article.

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