The title of this post is tacked on the wall above my desk. It’s a reminder to not waste time and multiply words needlessly. “No one owes you a reading” (Ralph McInerny, author of the Father Dowling mysteries and late philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame) is on the same page as well as famous Rule No. 17 from Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, “omit needless words.”
We tend to multiply words in print or conversation for a variety of reasons. Anxiety is a big one; an inflated sense of our own brilliance is another; and some of us simply like to hear ourselves talk and see our words in print. None of these are good excuses for monopolizing someone else’s time and processing capacity. Get in, get to the point, and get out.
I spent a good chunk of my time today listening to the wise words of Wall Street legend and Columbia University Adjunct Professor, Joel Greenblatt. Here, watch this. Joel was recommended by a cousin who attended Columbia Business School and, I suspect, studied under Greenblatt.
I know very little about the market and investing. This post is not about that. What struck me as I listened to Joel was his ability to get to the point quickly, to use effective and homey metaphors to make arcane concepts accessible, and to avoid wasting the time of his moderator and audience, Google in this instance. He isn’t in love with his own voice. He’d rather get returns for his investors and himself and use his time doing so.
If you drone on and on. If you “have to express yourself completely” in a torrent of words, either in conversation or in print–author Thomas Wolfe was famous for this, you need to be prepared for the following realities. One, the attention spans of human beings are shorter than ever in 2017, about seven to eight seconds. Two, time is money. When you don’t distill and sum up, you will find out sooner or later that the “cost of doing business” with you—i.e. talking with you—is too expensive. To be blunt, if you prattle on, people may avoid you because their time, like yours, is limited and valuable.
This has been a besetting sin of mine. Family have said, “Okay Chris—get to the point.” Now I’m taking stock and inventory with the help of people like Joel Greenblatt.
So, know what you want to say, say it quickly—think Hemingway and his sparse prose—then send people on their way.
You may find they come back more often.
The Little Book That Still Beats the Market (Joel Greenblatt)
Get to the Point: How to Say What You Mean and Get What You Want (Andrew D. Gilman & Karen E. Berg)
Ernest Hemingway on Writing (Larry W. Phillips)