The Business Benefits of Writing to Learn

Literature and journalism undergads might recognize the cover design and author, but I’m betting you’ve never read this particular book. Zinsser is most famous for his masterpiece “On Writing Well.” I first encountered it, along with Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” in the 1990’s. I still reference both of them today.

“Writing to Learn” is another level. If you’re a small business owner, an entrepreneur, or an aspiring innovator, read this book. It emphasizes the importance of research and writing, and will open your mind to new world views and communication techniques. It’s not a political treatise. This book teaches its readers how to use all your senses.

As a corporate executive, entrepreneur, and co-founder of several startups, I have learned the value of intensive research followed up by thoughtful writing to organize my ideas. As a business and financial coach, I encourage my clients to do the same. Those who do get more out of what I’m able to bring to the table for them.

Business Example: How This Can Help You Hire the Right People

I took a team building class last year where Lisa Conn, cofounder of Gatheround, made a great point about hiring. She said, “Never hire someone for a job you don’t know how to do yourself.” She followed that up with, “If they mess up, how will you know when to fire them?” That may sound fatalistic, but it’s actually solid business planning.

How do you “learn” someone’s job? Reading a book about that position is a good start. Doing the job would be even better. Either way, taking notes and writing out a detailed job description will give you a firmer grasp on what your expectations should be for that employee. Don’t look at it as “extra” work. It’s an economic necessity.

I had an opportunity to experience this firsthand back in 2010. John Prendergast, Founder and CEO of Blueleaf Wealth, asked me to be a part of his startup team. His idea was to build an online reporting and data aggregation platform for financial advisors. That model is fairly common now. Twelve years ago, it didn’t exist.

With a strong desire to create the fastest and most efficient site possible, John decided to build Blueleaf using Ruby on Rails. Instead of simply hiring a Ruby engineer, he learned the language and coded the first few pages himself. By the time he got around to hiring, he already knew what needed to be done. That’s writing to learn.

John’s research and (code) writing in the pre-seed stage has saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade. Use that as an example of what to do before hiring for a position you don’t fully understand. Read about it. Write about it. Go into the hiring process with your eyes fully open.

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