In his book Maverick, Ricardo Semler explains how at Semco they mandate memos to be one page long at most. Also, memos have to be titled with a newspaper-like headline summarizing what the memo is about.
If you really want someone to evaluate a project’s chances, give them but a single page to do it — and make them write a headline that gets to the point, as in a newspaper. There’s no mistaking the conclusion of a memo that begins: “New Toaster Will Sell 20,000 Units for $2 Million Profit.”
And so Semco’s Headline Memo was born. The crucial information is at the top of the page. If you want to know more, read a paragraph or two. But there are no second pages…
This has not only reduced unnecessary paperwork, but has also helped us avoid meetings that were often needed to clarify ambiguous memos. Concision is worth the investment. The longer the message, the greater the chance of misinterpretation.
Of course, one-page memos took some getting used to. People sometimes had to rewrite them five or ten times before managing to synthesize their thoughts.
This wouldn’t have surprised Mark Twain, who once apologized for writing a long letter because he didn’t have time to write a short one.