business haiku (efficient emails)

December 11th, 2014 Comments Off on business haiku (efficient emails)

in today’s world, ‘working closely’ often means exchanging emails most of the time, which causes lot’s of people challenges trying to survive overwhelming amounts of it and managing all those communications. i have had the pleasure of working closely with some of the smartest business people on the planet, and one in particular – fred wilson. he always responds promptly to emails, almost regardless of the time of the day. and even if he doesn’t respond, you can be sure he reads it, but simply has no response to make (yet).

after observing his style for a while, i realized his emails follow a pretty rigid form. i’m not sure if even he is aware of it, but I believe he would agree nevertheless. let’s look at an example and dissect it. this email was sent years ago to john battelle:


please meet Bostjan, co-founder and CEO of Zemanta

he’s returning to the US shortly and will be on the west coast in early June

maybe he can swing by Federated and spend some time with you

one notices several key elements:

  • short, simple sentences. very rarely will there be a paragraph in his messages. if it can’t be summarized to a simple point, it’s better discussed.
  • no decorations – only essence and actions. everything else is a waste of recipients time.
  • one conclusion. not two, or one and a half – one email means one message to be acted upon.
  • three sentences form a haiku – he rarely uses one or two sentences, or more than three.

so a very efficient email to a board member should have three sentences, clearly separated, where each communicates one part of the message. for instance:

  • status – theory – action point to verify
  • context – action proposed – estimate of costs
  • three is also just enough to follow one of the ancient patterns of making an argument, syllogisms, so you have 16 more patterns to follow.

after i realized this pattern, i started using it more and more as well. it makes your thoughts and communication sharper, which some people find offensive or rude. incidentally they are usually the ones drowning in unread emails.

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