I like to ask clients (especially new ones) if there are any books they think I should read that will help me understand their approach to leadership better. Steph Sherrod, the CEO of a large credit union in Texas replied, “Yes. It is called Brief, by Joseph McCormack.” Within minutes the book was ordered from Amazon. Yes, I bought a real book; not a Kindle version. I confess to dog-earring pages, underlining and scrawling thoughts in the margins of business books.
The book arrived right on time and I quickly set about the task of “gutting” the book. For me, this is something between a super-power and a bad habit. It involves a high-speed review of the structure of the book and reviewing opening premises and “payoff” conclusions in each chapter. I assess the presence of original and cited research. Then I zoom in on the elements in the book that are the most pertinent given what I am trying to accomplish. There is lots of page flipping, page bending, highlighting, and the making of quizzical noises.
I was immediately drawn to the core paradox of the book: The world values clarity that comes with brevity–but truly being effectively “brief” requires a lot of work. Blaise Pascal famously said, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” In McCormack’s words, “It takes time to be ready to say less.”
Two things really popped for me in the book. First, it seems clear that we all value “brief” everything—because we are slammed. In our book, Carmen and I observe that the real currency of the digital economy is time. We were very conscious that Slammed had to be brief. Second, McCormack’s book clarifies that brevity is only relevant if it accomplishes the larger goal of clarity. I think we can all agree that Twitter has been a less than ideal medium for discourse about global politics; it is certainly brief, but clarity has become a casualty in the process. The substance must still be present.
Several years ago, a client took me to a fancy restaurant in Chicago. It was expensive. And the portions were tiny. And amazing. I realized that the value of a dining experience is not about small or large portions, it is about the artistry of the chef to make magic with the ingredients. I still remember some of those “two bite” courses because they changed my ideas about what food can be.
Back to Brief. I will cut to the chase. Buy Brief by Joseph McCormack—it will absolutely help you enhance your influence. And it may help you build a culture that can generate the powerful synergies that comes with clarity. Develop the discipline to do the work you need to do to be brief—and clear. What is clear is significant, actionable, and easily communicated. It is a critical competency for breaking out of the destructive cycles of a slammed work culture.
And as for the food in Chicago, I strongly encourage you to experiment with the new world of modernist cuisine, especially if someone else is picking up the check.