in Management & Leadership

People obsess over the latest flavors and innovations in digital communication and interactivity. I’m talking about everything from new email technologies to social networking tools, even new hybrid interaction platforms like Wave. Many of these innovations are exciting and have permanently earned a place in our lives. Their growing popularity drives volume and efficiency of one-to-one communications.

However, the growing volume of communications in digital form also drives attention deficit, dehumanization and diminishing returns. It’s a tragedy of the commons where digital innovations, celebrated for their improvement on our interpersonal communications, have the opposite effect.

That’s why recently I’ve been highly conscious of handwritten letters. Sure, they’ve been around forever, and have always been important. Indeed, handwriting was the only form of recorded text for the vast majority of human history. Yet the surge in digital communications has created a relative explosion in the impact a handwritten letter can have, especially if well-written.

Here are a few examples of recent handwritten letters in my life:

  1. An ambitious sales colleague at my company recently annoyed a prospective customer with one too many phone calls. The prospect requested to never be called again — good intentions perceived the wrong way. My colleague sent a hand-written apology letter and promised never to call again. A few days later, that prospect called my colleague back and said, “you’re a good guy and your product rocks, so please sign me up immediately.”
  2. A candidate for a senior business development role at our company had an extraordinary interview with me and my team. He sent a personal, passionate and detailed letter outlining key points of our private discussion. As a result, my view of him switched from highly favorable to “we have to get him.” I want him to impact potential customers the way he did me.
  3. I recently met with a famous media executive who wanted my feedback on a potential start-up investment. I think he offered more value in the meeting versus me. Regardless, he thanked me the next day via a handwritten letter which summarized the most valuable feedback. He also sent one of his favorite books on one of my favorite topics: business culture and leadership. He asked me to read it so we could meet again and discuss it. I didn’t expect any of that, yet it had a profound impact.

What is it about handwritten letters? Without even opening or reading, handwritten letters tend to embody 11 key attributes:

  • Tactile
  • Permanent
  • Convincing
  • Purposeful
  • Individualized
  • Handmade
  • Thoughtful
  • Emotional
  • Engaging
  • Reflective
  • Humble

Then mix in context, purpose, author and content. If well-written, a handwritten letter can deliver extraordinary impact.

The great thing about handwritten letters is they’re resource intensive and impossible to mass-produce. Therefore, an uncontrollable abundance will never become their demise.

I wonder what pre-Internet people would think of this resurrection.