At Mäd, we're big believers in the written word. On average, we publish some type of long-form article every working day (or so) on our website, and for good reasons too.
Today we want to take a step back and discuss why we believe writing is important, both on an organizational level and a personal level, and why having great writing skills is a great advantage, regardless of your role in an organization.
Before we get into the key reasons why writing is important, it is worth having a discussion about the difference between short-form and long-form presentations.
There is a time and place for short-form powerpoint-style presentations, but these are becoming few and far between. Quick updates, group presentations...that works, we get it.
For more nuanced and complex issues, long form is a significantly better choice.
The key issue with these type of short-form presentations is that it is easy for the presenter, yet can be difficult for the audience who is listening, because the information is not actually written down, and so they need to listen intently.
A key issue with short-form presentations it that the audience has to listen extra intently as not all information is written down. Any distractions, any mumbles, or even simply the act of trying to recall full sections, can pose a threat to the content. The presenter can easily rattle off a few bullet points quickly and without coherence, and still get away with it - but ultimately this isn't the highest quality mode of delivering your writing effectively.
Long form writing forces coherence because it needs to follow a clear and logical path in the narrative. It is much easier for others to scrutinize the content as they don't need to provide all the feedback in the same moment as the information is being presented. This is a significant advantage to anyone that is looking for high quality feedback on important ideas.
Also, because the effort to create a long form piece of writing is not trivial, this ensures that only serious or important subjects are handled.
When you write, it forces you to turn the abstract and scattered thoughts you may have about a subject into concrete words and sentences. This is an absolutely fantastic way to gain clarity in your ideas, and to understand exactly where you stand on a variety of issues.
There is a very similar concept in software and systems development. Someone has to create what is called a “functional specification”, which is essentially a very detailed set of written documents and drawings that describe in (sometimes insane) details how a piece of software is supposed to work.
The person or team responsible for writing this document will: interview everyone involved in the project; research alternative solutions; and speak to the potential end users to understand their issues. Then they need to take all this scattered and fairly abstract information to decide on the exact structuring required.
It’s an amazing process, and regular writing over long periods of time will begin to give you a similarly detailed view of your own life, your opinions, and your strengths and weaknesses...let alone any organizational insights you may have!
Often it’s the case that when you put a viewpoint in writing, you begin to see all the contradictions and logical holes in your argument, and then that forces you to go back and reconcile these issues with your original point of view. You’ll often find that you may then need to do a U-turn and change your opinion completely because it doesn’t hold up, or develop a deeper and more water-tight argument on why one set of particular actions or strategy is worthwhile.
This is perhaps an obvious point, but still worth mentioning.
Communication is one of the pillars of being intelligent. In fact, being an intelligent communicator is arguably the main pillar for developing intelligence! Whilst it’s fantastic to have a great mind and brilliant ideas, if you’re not able to communicate these ideas effectively, then they are pretty much worthless.
Written communication has allowed humans to store a body of knowledge that continues to improve as each generation goes by. Think about it, every word ever written has taken us a small step forward in the journey that humankind has embarked on for the last few thousand years.
Everything around us, all the technological, organizational, ethical, and moral advancements that have been made, are possible because someone, somewhere, decided to write it down, so it could later be communicated to someone else.
Being an active writer allows you to continue this tradition and leave something for others, potentially even future generations, to learn from. You’re a link in the chain of human knowledge.
The reason why the written word has worked so well for humankind is because once the ink is dry, so to speak, the words are immutable, and this has the advantage that anyone can review them, pick up mistakes, and offer improvements.
This is not something that can be so transparent with oral knowledge, because it tends to get morphed as it gets passed from person to person. If you’ve ever played a game of Chinese Whispers, you’ll know exactly what we're talking about.
Since the written word can be scrutinized so easily, it means that anyone who writes for other people on a regular basis tends to start to review his or her work more carefully, with an eye for detail. The transformation is swift, and incredible. Within a short period of time you’ll find yourself poking holes in your own arguments, clarifying points to make them easy to understand even if you’re not there to explain them, and generally making sure that the structure and order of your writing is as accessible as possible.
This is what we truly love about writing. When you write, you begin to learn two things:
Often, we do a deep analysis of a certain theme or subject. Whilst we will already have "our" take on the subject, our research may then find alternative viewpoints that are worth exploring and countering with our real-life experience.
If we consider that everyone should always be educating themselves, we reach the logical conclusion that everyone should be writing something, as writing is a great way to learn.
This links tightly to the point we made earlier when we discussed how writing turns you into an awesome communicator. Because as you begin to see gaps in your knowledge you’ll naturally start to want to fill them, and that’s a wonderful feeling, and exactly what continuous learning is all about.
Apart from the more abstract - if useful - points mentioned above about improved communication and learning ability by being a good writer, there are also some extremely practical day-to-day applications for writing, especially for organizations.
The first consideration is writing briefs on work that needs to be completed. Instead of giving bullet point instructions on work, managers can create narratives that give significantly more context to the work at hand. Essentially, we can create a "knowledge-dump" whereby whoever is doing the actual work can go back and use the brief as a reference point to ensure that they are on track with the key objectives and considerations of their work.
This is significantly better than the usual method of holding a meeting and giving people instructions which they have to note down, because you'll often be surprised at how instructions can easily be misinterpreted due to communication errors or lack of clarity.
Secondly, if you are trying to convince someone of your viewpoints or sell a particular product or service (which can be essentially the same thing), putting your ideas in writing can really help that person understand your viewpoint far better. And, because you will have taken the time to write whilst competitors or oppositions most likely will not, you'll be at an advantage. Their ideas will be in their head, swirling around with all the other things that they need to stay on top of, whilst your ideas will be crystal clear in written format.
Finally, writing can be used as an important tool during the hiring process, regardless of the position you're hiring for - assuming it is knowledge work. There is essentially no type of knowledge work that does not require some type of writer, and there is a significant amount of correlation between someone who can write well about their work and their ability to then do the underlying work at an extremely high quality. So, you can use writing ability as a clear signal of whether it is worth hiring someone or not, which is something that we always include in our test briefs to ensure that we hire in the top percentile in our markets.