Andrew Carnegie, the founder of the largest company in the world of his time, Carnegie Steel, managed his empire in the summers through physical letters to his managers.
Snail mail to manage the largest company in the world? Here I am running tiny businesses compared to Carnegie Steel and I am so important I need seven different communication tools?
While I haven’t been able to figure out how to use snail mail to manage my businesses (someday maybe I will), I have discovered an alternative, powerful productivity tool: the phone call.
It’s far easier to understand the nuances of situations and other people’s true thoughts by picking up the phone rather than resorting to digital text snippets.
If someone texts me, chances are I’ll call them back. Which is strange, because this used to weird me out when a friend of mind had the same practice a few years ago. Little did I know, Robert was on to something.
Why do I think this works in business?
With any asynchronous communication tool in which a bunch of people can send you messages and you can decide when to respond, it’s far too easy to fire off fleeting thoughts to other people. You end up with a deluge of messages via text, Slack, email, Facebook messenger, Basecamp, and every other channel you’re using from people who would never make the same requests in-person or on the phone.
By requiring people to call you to get information or help from you, you’re putting up a minimum barrier of importance. If they’re not willing to deal with the slight discomfort of hearing your live, aka synchronous, response, then they will figure it out on their own or wait till the next time you two talk at which point they will have likely figured it out on their own anyway.
Because people close to me know I don’t have Slack, I never check Facebook messenger, I don’t check Instagram DM’s, I only check email once a day or so, and I don’t get any audible or visual notifications of text messages other than the little red dot when I unlock my phone, they have to call me. I’ve told them, please, if you need something, I’m here for you, just call my cell. It’s the only way to interrupt me and I welcome it for important discussions or truly urgent needs.
What happens? Owning three multi-million dollar businesses, I get maybe a handful of calls per day and one of them is usually from my wife.
Instead, I have to actively call the managers of our businesses to see how they’re doing and what they’re up to.
It’s a great system. I don’t think I can ever go back to hundreds of unimportant messages waiting for me to respond to every day on five to ten different channels.
In case you think resorting to a previous iteration of technology to succeed in the modern world doesn’t work, check out the website of the $600 billion conglomerate founded by Warren Buffett, BerkshireHathaway.com. If you want to contact Berkshire, your free to. However, there’s no email address, no live chat form, no social media links, and not even phone number anymore. What you do get is a physical mailing address in Omaha, home of Berkshire’s corporate headquarters consisting of a tiny team of people including Buffett. Here are the contact instructions:
“If you have any comments about our WEB page, you can write us at the address shown above. However, due to the limited number of personnel in our corporate office, we are unable to provide a direct response.”
Snail mail is making a comeback.