Thursday, June 3, 2010

Brevity, Impact and the "P&G 1 Page Memo"

Since I routinely recommend maximum brevity in communications with angel investors and with the world in general), I am often asked if this need for brevity is a result of the age of the Internet, of information overload, of shortened attentions spans, etc. It isn't. In what we now regard as the near-stone-age of the 1970's Proctor and Gamble became famous for its "1 Page Memo".  Whatever you wanted to propose at P&G had to written to fit in a single page, and followed a fixed format. Its objective and value rested in the need to think very carefully all the aspects of whatever is proposed and summarize it clearly and effectively.

Dr Andrew Abela summarized it best as consisting of  five parts.

1. The Idea. What are you proposing? This is typically one sentence.

2. Background. What conditions have arisen that led you to this recommendation? Only include facts and information that everyone agrees upon - this is the basis for discussion, so it needs to be non-debatable.

3. How it Works. The details. In addition to How, also What, Who, When, Where.

4. Key Benefits. This is the "Why?" There are usually three benefits: the recommended action is: i) on previously agreed strategy, ii) already proven (e.g. in test market or in another business unit), iii) will be profitable. You can think of these three in terms of the old Total Quality mantra of "doing right things right." The first (on strategy) means you're doing the right thing. The second and third mean you're doing things the right way, because you're being effective (proven to work) and efficient (profitable).

5. Next Steps. Who has to do what and by when for this to happen?

Clearly a 1 Page Memo is no easy task and neither was working at P&G.  The outcome of that guideline was that off-the-cuff proposals were few, those made were thought through carefully, were clear and actionable. The old maxim of thinking before talking applies to writing too.  Striving for brevity increases thinking and reduces fluff.

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