Why Writing a Book Is the New PhD

There’s a big problem brewing. People all over the country (and the world), are finally starting to realize it:

At the core, universities are no longer higher-learning institutions. First and foremost, they’re businesses.

This means they want to bring as many students through their doors as possible. For decades, they’ve quietly whispered their battle cry into our ears: “You must attend college to succeed.” It’s a brilliant marketing message, and it works. Affluent people tend to obey the command. In fact, it’s so ingrained in our culture that most of our parents reinforced the unwritten rule when we were children. If you were like me, you went to college and accumulated debt because it was branded as the common-sense choice. (It’s the only way to get ahead! It’ll pay off later!)

I’m sure you know what comes next. Immediately after tossing your graduation cap into the air, the real world punched you in the face. You quickly came to realize that your shiny, framed degree was practically worthless. It’s a commodity. It’s expected.

Fast forward to today. Now you’re in debt, but you have no competitive advantage. You’re screwed, like everybody else. Go sit in your cubicle and shuffle papers until it’s time to head home. Eventually you’ll get promoted (maybe).

Yes, this situation sucks. You might even think it’s unacceptable. Is there a way out? How can you gain leverage? How can you differentiate yourself? Most importantly, how can you live a life of purpose? Don’t worry, if you look hard enough, there’s always a solution. And you’ve found it.

Giving yourself an edge requires playing a different game. Writing books is the new differentiator.

Simply put, writing books is no longer just for authors. It’s for anyone who wants to gain upward mobility. And it’s for anyone who has something worth saying, or teaching―which is everyone. Power is rapidly shifting from the corporation to the individual, but it won’t be handed to you on a silver platter. You have to seize it.

The traditional path of the past century is no longer stable. A college degree isn’t a ticket that grants us access to ascend the corporate ladder. Because jobs as we currently understand them are increasingly being managed by machines or shipped overseas, companies are downsizing their staffs, leaving only the core members who make the organization run. And even if you’re among those workers, the heightened competition for such roles means employers are more likely to drop you for someone more qualified or less expensive. There’s no security and no stability.

Working for a corporation has become risky.

To make matters worse, knowledge itself is now a commodity too, just like a college degree. The internet allows us to query basic information, so memorizing facts and figures is no longer valuable. Today, the power lies in whatever can’t be easily queried―things like: “Which problem should we solve next?” or “How can we make this experience better than the existing one?” These are entrepreneurial questions.

Those of us willing to explore entrepreneurship are realizing it’s becoming the safer path. Working in an institution isn’t necessarily bad. We just need to realize that job security is a thing of the past. By definition, an entrepreneur can adapt and thrive in rapidly changing environments, so familiarizing yourself with those behaviors is the smartest strategy for long-term success.

I’m not implying you should become a startup founder and raise a billion dollars. I’m saying you should develop entrepreneurial skills. Advanced problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, and content-creation will be the most valuable disciplines in the workplaces of tomorrow.

As logic-based tasks become largely software operated, companies are seeking people who excel in the creative and complex realms. They’re valuing entrepreneurs over all other workers. The term “acqu-hire” has bubbled up into the business lexicon to describe very small companies being bought by bigger companies, purely for talent (vs. product). Companies like Google and Facebook use this strategy to bring teams of 1–10 people onboard, paying millions of dollars to acquire folks with entrepreneurial backgrounds.

To bring this all into focus, you need to realize that writing a book happens to be one of the best ways to acquire entrepreneurial skills.

By publishing a nonfiction (lifestyle, technical, or philosophical) book, you’re experiencing entrepreneurship in two profound ways:

  1. Self-learning is one of the most basic tenets of being an entrepreneur. Nonfiction books serve that need, so you’re feeding the most important growing audience in our culture.
  2. By writing and publishing a book, you’re developing your own entrepreneurial skills, while simultaneously establishing yourself as an expert in whatever you’re writing about.
Being a published author is the bargaining chip your college education failed to deliver.

…and the act of writing, publishing, and marketing your book is arguably the best training program for excelling in the entrepreneurial economy. James Altucher championed this belief in Choose Yourself, which was coincidentally one of the first self-published bestsellers on Amazon, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold. He said, “self-publishing is the new business card [1].” I’ll take it a step further: Self-publishing is the new PhD.

There are five main reasons why writing is one of the easiest ways to get started along the path of entrepreneurship:

  1. Writing and publishing a book is exactly like running a startup. (I should know. I’ve done both). When you write a book, you’re creating a product from nothing. Then you’re distributing and marketing it. Then you’re analyzing and optimizing its sales. This is the full product lifecycle every startup endures.
  2. Publishing a book requires almost no capital. There is now a robust infrastructure in place for you to go from concept to launch with very little upfront cost (a few thousand dollars, at most).
  3. You don’t need any skills except the knowledge you already possess. There are a lot of sexy ways to generate income these days: Build an app, host a podcast, launch an ecommerce store, create a YouTube channel, etc. Those are all viable approaches, but writing a book is still the easiest way to start, by far. The learning curve to build apps or launch a podcast is much steeper than becoming a good writer, mainly because we’re all taught how to write from a very young age. Writing just hasn’t ever been as lucrative as it is today.
  4. It’s flexible. You can do this while keeping your current job. You can probably even make progress at your job. For the same reason mentioned above, writing is extremely accessible. You don’t need any complicated software or tools to get started. It’s impossible to record a podcast at your desk at work, but you can easily chip away at your book.
  5. It’s infinitely applicable. Because of a phenomenon known as The Long Tail, even the most obscure markets are now profitable. Twenty years ago, it would have been impossible to find everyone on the planet who liked making cat sweaters. So if you wrote a book about cat sweaters, you wouldn’t sell enough copies to earn meaningful income. There was a discovery and distribution problem. Today, those niche audiences can be accurately targeted on the internet with a few clicks.

As college diplomas become the new high school diploma―and all the world’s information is compiled into a single, searchable index in our pockets―differentiating ourselves is becoming a challenge. We need a new approach. Entrepreneurship is the next phase of our economy, and writing and publishing a book is a highly entrepreneurial endeavor with almost no barriers to entry.

Writing a book isn’t just about the book itself. It’s bigger than that. It’s about flexing your entrepreneurial muscles and understanding your limitless power in a world without walls.

If you want an unfair advantage, it’s time to start writing.


Did you like this article? Then you might be interested in my upcoming book, Authorpreneur [link]. You can learn more about me here. Please also tap the heart below to show your support, or leave a comment! Thanks!

Sources: [1] http://www.jamesaltucher.com/how-to-self-publish-a-bestseller/

Notes: I’m not against going to college. There are many great benefits to attending a university. It’s just typically not a powerful differentiator in the workplace anymore.