Well Done Versus Well Said

Do you ever hear a phrase, unattributable to anyone specific, and then it just rattles around your brain over and over again? Well, it happens to me all the time (unfortunately). And, when something rattles around my brain too long, I need to write it out. Until it’s written, the thought isn’t crystalized. A few days ago — I can’t remember where or whom — but I either heard or saw this line: “Well done is better than well said.” It didn’t register at first, but then it took root.

“Well done is better than well said.” In today’s culture, “well said” gets most of the attention. We judge potential political leaders on how they debate, their stump speeches. We listen to talk radio, television news shows, and more, judging people on what they say. In the startup world, the competition among investors to differentiate capital and gain mindshare with founders is so intense, some investors are turning into little media brands, full with books, conferences, and other media assets.

In today’s startup world, many things are “well said.” But, what is “well done”?

As someone who keeps an active blog, engages often on Twitter, and speaks at events, I too am a small part of the “well said” crowd. “Well said” has its advantages. It is not a bad thing. For instance, it opens doors that once may have been closed. However, “well said” does not directly generate or accrue market value. In order to generate market value — or, put another way: what does the market truly value? — something has to be “well done.” I don’t mean this in the sense of being fully-baked, or cooked through, or over-cooked. I mean, it has to not only be done, but done well.

Done well.

What is done well? Uber, which started in one location, now seems to operate in nearly 100 cities worldwide. Dropbox has made, at scale, a seamless cloud-based storage service that could power the world’s next killer applications. Snapchat handles close to 500 billion images shared across various networks per day. Those are jobs done well. Investment firms like Sequoia and Benchmark, who have resisted today’s era of VC marketing/blogging, deliver some of the best returns in their investment classes. And, the market responds to it. When something is “done well,” it usually has nothing to do with that thing being “said well.” Yes, using clear language to communicate within, across, and outside of a company is very important. No doubt. The distinction I’m trying to make here — as someone who may say things “well” — is that things that are well-said are nice and have value to some degrees, but things that are “done well” are, at the end of the day, where value rests. It’s something I’m reminded of every day as I slog through the Valley.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus