Consume and produce ratios

Taking off from an earlier post, Consume and produce cycles (2020-08-20)...

Here's another riff from Matt Mullenwegg's interview with Shane Parrish on The Knowledge Project that had me thinking. (The earlier one: Make more decisions.)

[49:44, Matt Mullenwegg] I think a lot about that efficiency of time... I think one downside of synchronous communication is it's kind of 1:1, so the time that it's taking to communicate the information is also what it takes to consume it. That's kind of inefficient. On the other end of the spectrum is maybe a book that someone took a lifetime to write, and it can take you a few hours to read. That's a multiple thousands-to-one ratio, so that's really dense and valuable. And then probably the worst is things that take people a short amount of time to create and you a long time to consume.

[51:06, Matt Mullenwegg] This is why we always want really good notes out of meetings. By the way, if every meeting is transparent and has really good notes or a recording, people don't feel the need to be there, and so the meeting can be smaller, which also means it's more effective. Where it's not everyone is like, I'm not in this meeting and I'll have no idea what happened and my voice won't be heard.

There is a general, casual tendency to just sling documents or meeting invitations out into the fray. I'm done—[heave]. Then the people on the other side of that interaction have to catch the thing being heaved and make sense of it. Or, just as likely—they don't, because they don't have to make sense of it, really. If someone throws a bag of crap at you, you're going to dodge it reflexively.

I don't think it's a mean-spirited tendency to do it like that. There's not enough thought put into crafting and writing in technical work. (See also: Good writing would make work so much better.) People can do the hard analytical work, and then it feels like the job is done—smash it all together and ship it. It's efficient (maybe) for the person sending, but when you add up the extra time it takes for each of the receivers to consume it, it's inefficient for the whole system.

Ratios matter. System effects matter. That ratio of consumption-to-production is important. Spending an extra five minutes to write an agenda for a meeting and to make the invitation clear can easily save more than that for the whole team in reading and comprehending the message, in having a useful meeting, etc. The trick is developing the taste to know how and the patience to think from the receiver's perspective.

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