This is the first sentence of the memo that every Microsoft employee found in their inbox a few weeks ago. Its purpose: to announce one of the most significant company reorgs in history. Put yourself in their shoes. Would the strategy that Steve Ballmer talks about be clear to you? I doubt it. It reads like "we will build everything for everybody".
The rest of the memo is a mixed bag of some well-communicated ideas but many business-sounding ambiguities. By the time the Microsoft employee got to the end, he must of been really eager to see what he should focus on. Let's see:
Translation: We will focus on consumers. And businesses. And developers who make software for consumers. And for business. And we will make that a priority.
How can EVERYTHING be a focus and a priority?
In recent months I started to appreciate clarity a lot. I think it must be one of the most overlooked qualities. Why?
Clarity forces you to dig deeper
You can not communicate something clearly if you don't understand it in the first place. And in order to understand something clearly you need to ask a lot of questions and accept the reality you may find. Achieving clarity is, in a way, an exercise in sincerity.
The problem with truth is it makes some people uncomfortable. This explains why vague statements show up to save the day. Think about the business people or politicians who can answer any question, even if they have no idea what they are talking about. Ambiguity saves face.
There comes a point in the life of a business when communication becomes a key issue. At uberVU I felt it many, many times. I am writing specs for a feature and something else gets built. I am trying to make the team aware of something, and weeks later I realize they understood something else. The bigger the team the bigger the problem.
It's a problem I see more and more since I became aware of it. It's everywhere. Like a plague. And the way the problem usually gets solved is by:
- Adding more layers of management:"Let's put more people in charge ..."
- Creating more systems: "More meetings ... more software etc."
This approach however is treating the symptoms not the cause. The cause in most cases is lack of clarity. My lack of clarity. Or yours. If we would all communicate more clearly, then maybe we wouldn't need to add layers of management and additional complexity.
Growing as team where there is no clarity is painful.
You can communicate clearly using any medium. I for one start with writing. Writing forces you to think. Opening your mouth is easy and you can get carried away. When you try to communicate something write it first. You don't need to send it to anyone. Write it for yourself at first. It helps you clear your thoughts.
Showing is also way better than talking. As a product guy it was how I used to communicate my ideas. But in the absence of a clear explanation of what the image represents, a comprehensive description of the problems you are trying to solve, or an accurate and detailed representation of how it will work, visuals can be more confusing.
The ingredients of clarity
Let me be very very clear on what I mean by clarity. I don't want you to have the wrong definition of the word. Let's go through the attributes of clarity:
I am sure you use words like: intuitive, fast, or (to go back to MSFT memo) "extraordinary experiences". You can bet that these words mean different things to you than the people you are trying to communicate with.
"It is also clear to me and our leadership that we must do an extraordinary job to succeed in this modern world." This phrase is filled with nice fancy words that can be easily skipped over as Blah-Blah-Blah. What I think Balmer is trying to say is: "Our competitors are better organized than us and to compete we need to change how we work too." He only sugarcoated it "a bit". But when you sugarcoat something you risk making it un-discernible. Better to be open.
I don't think clarity necessarily means short. You cannot always go with the "Too Long; Didn't Read" (TL;DR) version and maintain the level of understanding you need.
"Our vision is to provide amazing services" is the sort of language that does more harm than good. Visions and other hallucinations rarely help anyone to actually do something about the problem.
That's it. Get clarity of thought and make the world a better place. Clear enough!