Writing for an audience
Many Stripes are in the habit of writing “5:15s”: short updates that take fifteen minutes to write and five to read. My own staff notes are infrequent, on the order of every month or two.
In part that is because I find it hard to find the time to digest my week into a useful narrative. If you told 25-year-old me how many hours of meetings I would have each week, and how much time I spend on Slack, he wouldn’t have believed you, and would have gone back to writing code. (First he would have asked you what Slack was!) The raw dump would be overwhelming and unnavigable.
In part it’s because I spend a lot of time constructing custom-fit narratives for individuals or small groups, trying to serve their needs by shaping my experiences and perspectives into a parable and an account that succinctly gives them what they need for the situation in which they find themselves. A mentee recently apologized for presenting so many questions and problems for me to respond to, and I laughed — this is the most fun part of my job!
Mostly, though, it’s because I am acutely aware that a broadcast narrative — whether that’s an email, a project review update, a 5:15, or a conference talk — is a tool for changing an audience’s perspective, and getting that right requires both understanding the audience and providing (or assuming) enough context that the message can be practically brief. Often the context cannot feasibly be communicated, either because it is too early and unstable, or because it is so impractically large that the audience will extract no net value from what I have to say.
That leaves me where I am today: with occasional abstract updates.
Those of you who succeed at broader notes: I would love to hear your perspectives and ideas. Those who read these abstract notes: I am curious whether you find them valuable, or would prefer something more concrete (or different entirely).