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Email with a purpose

I’ve just finished reading Operation Fortitude, by Joshua Levine. Fortitude was an Allied deception operation during WWII, intended to convince the Nazis that Normandy was not the target of the D-Day landings. The book is a good account, although at times I found myself wanting more detail.

I was particularly struck by an early passage:

This [failed operation] proved to be a valuable learning experience for Clarke. His response was to formulate his first rule of strategic deception: to make your opponent act as you want him to. It doesn’t matter what he thinks. In this case the Italian commander was led to expect an attack on Somaliland, but Clarke hadn’t considered what he would do as a result.

The deceiver, he realised, had to get inside the mind of the enemy commander. On this occasion he had failed. In future Clarke would make a point of asking his commander: “What do you want the enemy to do?” And very often, to his surprise, the commander would be unable to answer.

This rule comes up throughout the book, and things go poorly when it isn’t followed.

It made me think about email. Too often, when we write emails, we fire them into the aether without considering what we’d like the recipient to do next. This can lead to vague and unfocused emails – we want something, we just don’t know what.

Clarke’s stragegy gives us a good approach to email: when writing a message, we should ask What do I want the recipient to do? And when you’ve got an answer, include it in the email itself.