Avoiding camels and badly-designed horses

Alec Issigonis, the Greek-born British racing driver and designer of the Morris Minor and the original Mini, once observed that, when a committee sets out to design a horse, the result is usually a camel.

Well, perhaps. If you are very lucky.

But more often than not, when a committee sets out to design a horse, the result is just a badly-designed horse; a horse of which no one is proud; a horse to which no one really wants to put their name.

And, in my experience, the same is true of most documents written by committees.

Committees can discuss. Committees can plan. Committees can even decide. But I have yet to meet a committee that can write the kind of document that a reader would enjoy reading.

I mentioned this recently to a couple of committee members who were struggling to pull together a report that had been written by a team of seven – mainly engineers and finance people.

‘Oh, people don’t have to enjoy this report,’ one of them said. ‘They just have to read it.’

But therein lies the problem. It’s human nature to do the stuff that we find enjoyable and rewarding, and to avoid the stuff that we don’t. If your report is not a ‘good read’, there is a very good chance that your intended reader won’t actually read it.

So, by all means, use your committee to agree on who the intended reader is and what the key message needs to be. It may even make sense to use your committee to brainstorm some of your document’s content. But when it comes to the actual writing, find the best writer you can. And let them get on with it.

A document that doesn’t get read is of even less value than a badly-designed horse. At least the horse can be turned into glue. – Jack Scrivano

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