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Phil SimonName:  Phil Simon

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Book title(s): Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It

There are six others if you want to link to them. 

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How did you come to do what you’re doing today?

After nearly a decade of working as a systems consultant, I just started writing. It was that—or seeing a shrink. I found that I enjoyed the writing process and I was good at it. Most important at the time, it served as a form of catharsis and helped me crystalize my thoughts. Also, I wasn’t the world’s worst public speaker. Seven books later, here I am.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?

I’m a morning person. I wake up early and, if I’m working on a book, get to it. I try to write something every day, even if I’m not writing anything long-form. I enjoy the gym, tennis, and golf. They allow me to break a proper sweat every day. I’m also a big believer in late-afternoon power naps. They keep my powder dry.

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

I like being judged on what I produce—not how long it takes me to produce it. I am not a fan of superfluous meetings, conference calls, and emails. My clients care about the quality of my work, not how many hours that it took me to do it. There’s a certain sense of truth and honest in that.

Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?

Tons. Creative types, like the members of Rush and Marillion, have inspired me for years. The folks from Breaking Bad make me want to do good work. I’m also an avid reader. The books of Chris Anderson.

Your latest book focuses on some common problems prevalent in business communication. Can you describe some of those problems?

As I write in Message Not Received, business communication is fundamentally broken. First, jargon is on the rise for a bunch of reasons. Perhaps most important, marketers want to “own” individual terms. The race to the top of Google’s organic results has never been fiercer. As a result, consulting firms, software vendors, and marketers are inventing newfangled concepts at a faster clip than ever.

Beyond that, employees receive more e-mails than ever. As I’ve written in my prior two texts, employees are being forced to deal with more information than ever. We’re sending more messages than ever. Many of us confuse quantity for quality—or consciously don’t bother to make the distinction. Others take a sort of perverse pride in the number of e-mails they receive. It’s as if their self-importance and sense of self vary in direct proportion to the size of their inboxes.

Employees have never been more overwhelmed, and recent research backs up that claim. We rely almost exclusively on e-mail as the default tool for corporate communications. We send five e-mails when a one-minute phone call would suffice. It’s insane. The LexisNexis Workplace Productivity Survey reveals the extent of this problem. 

In your book, you speak about the pitfalls of e-mail communication. What is the single biggest problem with e-mail communication?

George Bernard Shaw once famously said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I love that quote, and it’s on the inside jacket of the book. We think that we’re being clear when we write and speak. Who truly thinks that s/he is not communicating well?

We assume that our audience (fully) receives our messages when, in fact, that is often not the case. Many business folks routinely forget their audiences. They forget—or have never heard of—the curse of knowledge. 

What’s one thing our readers could do differently to communicate, starting today?

Abide by a three-e-mail rule. After three, we talk. Beyond that, don’t write a treatise. tl;dr is alive and well. Recognize that some (in fact, many) conversations are best held in person, not in Outlook or Gmail. I try to minimize the number of e-mails I send every day. Quality trumps quantity. 

Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

I was once formally rejected for the head coaching position of the New York Knicks. I have two different rejection letters to prove it. 

What’s next for you?

I have some speaking gigs lined up but, beyond that, I’m honestly not sure. People ask me about book number eight but I haven’t thought that far ahead.


Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology authority. He is the award-winning author of seven management books, most recently Message Not Received. He consults organizations on matters related to communications, strategy, data, and technology. His contributions have been featured on The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, NBC, CNBC, Inc. Magazine, BusinessWeek, The Huffington Post, Quartz, The New York Times, Fox News, and many other sites.

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