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29 Mar

From Pen to Profit: The Indispensable Role of Writing in Business

In the prevailing culture, where the brevity of tweets and instant messages often reign supreme, the art of writing may seem like a relic of a bygone era.

Yet, for business operators who are willing to invest in this often overlooked skill, the rewards can be transformative; for the ability to articulate one's thoughts clearly and concisely is more than just a stylistic choice — it can be a powerful catalyst for innovation, collaboration, and learning.

Today, let me list down some reasons why good writing can craft fortunes for a business.

Good writing sets the initial structure and acts as the core of a new system.

At the heart of good writing lies the ability to create a solid foundation upon which a system can be built. This resonant sentiment captures the essence of what it means to write well: to distill complex thoughts into a refined, well-structured form that we can build upon and expand. Just as a good essay is an exercise in refining one's thoughts, so too must the core of a well-written system be constantly reworked until it reaches its best possible design.

This meticulous process ensures that even if the original seed is tiny, the system will evolve coherently and effectively, informed by the original frame and thinking. In business, you can consider this initial design as the blueprint for future growth and development, guiding the evolution of the system like the steady hand of a master architect.

All action starts from the seed of thought.

Simple thought allows for the creation of complex thought.

The only way to elegant simplicity is by wading through complexity.

Good writing is this process, reified. It allows us to explore complex thoughts and ideas unfettered by the constraints of public discourse, empowering us to cultivate a rich inner landscape of concepts and insights.

Good writing surfaces unarticulated beliefs that can guide our decisions without ever being scrutinized.

The act of committing one's thoughts to paper—or to a computer screen—enables a level of introspection that is difficult to achieve through conversation alone. Writing down our thoughts enables us to examine our assumptions and unexamined beliefs, fostering a culture of critical thinking and self-improvement.

And by making our assertions explicit, we invite inquiry and open the door to a more profound understanding of the forces at play in our businesses and our lives. As we make assertions through writing, we open the door to further inquiry and exploration.

By placing our ideas under the microscope, we equip ourselves and others to make better-informed decisions and circumvent the dangers posed by unchallenged beliefs.

Good writing lays out the map so that it can be updated as more knowledge about the territory emerges.

Good writing also serves as a cartographer's tool; it serves as a map that can be updated as our understanding of the territory evolves.

As the saying goes,

“A basic bad pattern is thinking that because you made a map, you own the territory.”

Good writing helps us avoid falling into this trap, allowing us to view our work from a fresh perspective and adapt as new insights emerge.

And by embracing the iterative nature of writing, acknowledging that our maps are not the territory, and remaining open to updating our maps, we indirectly cultivate a culture of continuous learning and growth.

Good writing builds institutional memory.

Speaking of maps and territories, the preservation of institutional memory can be a challenge.

Yet, it is a task that good writing is uniquely suited to address. Through carefully crafted documentation, we can create a living record of the decisions that have shaped our organizations, capturing the lessons learned along the way.

Good writing preserves institutional memory, ensuring that we don't have to reinvent the wheel every time we face a challenge. By documenting why certain decisions were made, we can learn from our past experiences and build upon our existing knowledge base.

This practice builds a repository that encodes a history of decision-making. It not only saves time and resources by helping us avoid the pitfalls of reinventing the wheel but also fosters an environment where continuous improvement is valued and encouraged.

We stand on the shoulders of giants that came before us. And we build upon the foundations of our past successes and failures.

Good writing creates a context in which other people can think.

Good writing cultivates an environment in which others can think and engage in meaningful dialogue.

As renowned designer Edwin Schlossberg so aptly observed,

“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”

In this way, the act of writing becomes a collaborative endeavor, sparking new ideas and fostering deeper connections among team members. It lays out a context for others within which to think and engage in meaningful conversation.

By mapping causality in space and time, good writing surfaces structural problems and generates structural explanations, enabling us to tackle challenges more effectively.

Good writing makes choices explicit.

As writer Sarah Manguso so eloquently put it,

“I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention. Experience in itself wasn’t enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it... the diary becomes a series of choices about what to omit, what to forget.”

Choice reveals priorities and trade-offs and instructs future decision-making.

Good writing surfaces structural problems and generates structural explanations.

Most problems in business aren't isolated in time and space. Organizations are an intricate labyrinth of structural issues, incentives, culture, and the market at large.

Intractable and persistent problems often do not have simple solutions, and we often find ourselves grappling with abstract concepts, invisible connections, and intangible forces that seem to defy explanation.

In this context, good writing can serve as a masterful detective, revealing the connections between events, ideas, and actions. Writing, when executed with precision and clarity, becomes an instrument of discovery, allowing us to unveil hidden links and discern the underlying patterns that govern hairy issues.

Good writing builds cultural vocabulary.

Cultural vocabulary is the collection of terms, symbols, and expressions that embody the essence of a particular culture, serving as the building blocks for understanding its intricacies.

This vocabulary can then go on to define behaviour and instruct thinking in highly influential ways.

Think of the vocabulary an organization uses to address its customers, the vocabulary it uses to address its employees, or the vocabulary people use when they're discussing projects. All of these frame the conversation and have a subtle yet profound impact on how people see things within the company.

A shared cultural lexicon is the first step toward building a shared sense of mission, purpose, and alignment.

Good writing enforces honesty.

The market and reality are indifferent to you and your desires. But the more aligned you are with them, the more your chances of being successful.

I'm now reminded of this quote by Philip K. Dick:

“Reality is that which doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it.”

In a world that often values brevity and immediacy, the art of writing may seem like a luxury.

Yet, for the business operator who is willing to embrace this timeless skill, the rewards are manifold.

Good writing has the power to shape the way we think.

And being able to define a problem or explain a scenario clearly, precisely, and comprehensively should be something that, in my opinion, every business operator should strive to nurture.

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