To print or not to print? Depends on the life span of the content …

I’ve been (correctly) picked off as having an electronic preference for communications. Please don’t hand me a printout – send an ecopy of that document, PowerPoint, project plan, whatever. PDF is ok, but original format preferred.

Why do I like to gather information in an e-sorta way?

  • Paper stacks up on my desk, fills up my file cabinets – it just gets in the way
  • Paper is not searchable – I like to google my private knowledge base with Copernic

Vendors really need to pick up on this idea – if you give me hard copy slicks of your same-old-stuff, it’s just going to get lost in a pile and eventually canned. However, that searchable text is where the value is at for me. Want more reasons?

  • Think cheap – stop printing so much stuff that gets tossed so quickly
  • Think differentiation – not many folks do it this way (still), so you look more tech-hip
  • Think visibility – when I’m looking for someone who knows about / has experience with a given technology or business practice area, I always go first to my local search results

Paper does have it’s place; typically with business / process folks who are not used to this electronic-search driven work style. Especially in training situations; people like to write notes on their handouts, to help translate, capture ideas, etc. Another place where paper is popular – out on the shop floor. Those folks like to handle the mechanical drawings, make notes on the specs, walk around with the pick lists. RF terminals can be OK, touch screens are generally hated. I’ve seen this typically in the job shop / assembly / small manufacturing environment; the volume manufacturers / distributors are a bit better at it.

In these latter examples, paper is a tool, a temporary store of knowledge. It (preferably) has a short life, but can be recreated at will by just printing another copy. The longer-term life of the knowledge is better spent in the more flexible, shareable, transferable, malleable, version-able electronic form.

If you insist on communicating on paper, or your primary audience (read; typical traditional business community) still requires it, then at least develop some facility with the medium. Documents on 8.5″ x 11″ should take advantage of common software features to be truly working documents. borrow ideas liberally from other documents that strike you as professional looking. Learn some good black-and-white communication skills – check out Tufte, a good place to start.

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.