(64) Why I write and why must all Product Managers write too?

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As the year draws to a close and I am in reflection mode in my vacation, I thought of putting together my thoughts around ‘writing’ as a topic. Though I have been blogging sporadically over several years (my first blogpost was in 2006), I have been deliberate about writing consistently over the good part of last two years — I clocked 63 blog posts in LinkedIn platform. Here’s why?

Why I started blogging?

There were multiple influences that made me make a conscious decision to blog. The following are the sources that I clearly remember drawing inspiration from:

  1. Creators mindset > Consumers mindset

I was influenced greatly by the idea that the world benefits from creators. As a consumer I had benefited a lot from the creators who created value selflessly. But the only way give back to the world or pay it forward is to become creator yourself. Writing is also an exercise of creation.

Also, Jim Kwik says, “Learning is not a spectator sport.”. You need to practice and apply learning through action. Writing is active learning.

Learning is not a spectator sports.

2. Gary Vee’s advice on Document, not Create

While I was second guessing myself whether my writing would be worthy to be read by the world, Gary Vee came to my rescue with the mantra, Document, Not Create. The idea being, each person is charting his own path in life and hence everyone’s journey is unique. If we can write and share the learnings of our own journey as is, it is still original and worthy to be shared.

3. Seth Godin and Tom Peters thoughts on blogging

Seth Godin and Tom Peters put up some very valuable arguments in support of blogging. Seth says, no matter if anybody reads what you read but what matters is the humility that comes in the very act of writing. What also matters is the meta cognition of thinking about what you are going to write in words.

So, as you can see all the ideas from some of the best thinking minds goaded me to write actively.

Does writing make you a better product person?

Writing makes you better product managers. This is a hypothesis for sure. So I went about validating this asking all the product leaders who are prolific bloggers and writers themselves if they thought writing made them better product professionals. Here’s what they said:

John Cutler, Sr PM, Zendesk

“I believe writing does make you a better product person because I think in the course of the day most product persons are in fire-fighting mode. They are putting out fires all day. They are being highly reactive for lot of their day. And they don’t put aside enough time to just think and mull things over. And I think writing is important because it gives you time to step back and think and reflect upon the craft of product management is a positive steps and is some thing that you should pursue because if you spend your entire time in fire fighting mode, you often don’t see the forest for the trees and you can make poor decisions. Also clear written communication is absolute prerequisite for effective product management and frankly I have to try to keep improving and improving myself.”

Clear written communication is an absolute prerequisite for a product manager — John Cutler

Rohan Rajiv, Product Manager, LinkedIn

Rohan Rajiv, product manager at LinkedIn has been writing one blog post everyday since the past 6 years at https://alearningaday.com/

Here is what he said:

“The word “essay” comes from the French word Essayer which means “to try.” An essay is something you try to figure something out. I had many questions about technology and I’d write my way to clarity.

This is also why writing here every day is such a fascinating experience. Writing clarifies thinking and I’m grateful for the opportunity to think out loud, share my notes with you and, every once a while, hear back from you when things resonate.”

Yevgeniy Brikman, Author, Hello Startup

“Writing is absolutely a learning process for me. I write about anything that I want to learn about because when I try to write about it, it forces me to learn. It doesn’t matter what you write is not very good. You don’t write to impress anyone else. You write for yourself. Writing, sharing, giving talks is first and foremost is for yourself. They are all rich learning experiences for your own self. Even if no one reads what you are writing, it still is worth the effort because you will learn and become better. Sharing what you write actually helps everyone. What makes Silicon Valley so successful is that there is a very very strong culture of sharing. The best product companies are sharing their product building best practices, design best practices, which can be considered as their trade secrets. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of them is that it makes their company better”

Yevgeniy told me about Steve Yegiv another admired programmer who wrote a blog post on why everyone should blog. This is what he says.

Steve Yegge, Programmer

“Even if nobody reads them, you should write them. It’s become pretty clear to me that blogging is a source of both innovation and clarity. I have many of my best ideas and insights while blogging. Struggling to express things that you’re thinking or feeling helps you understand them better.”

Swapnil Saykar, Head Products, Amazon

“At Amazon writing 6 pager documents is an integral part to the culture of Amazon. For most meetings, the person who calls for the meeting has to write a document that can run upto 6 pages. This document helps bring everyone on the same page. During the meeting all attendees read the document for 15–40 minutes and then ask clarifying questions. Apart from bringing everyone on the same page, it also brings a lot of rigour to the meeting. Hence, it becomes a lot more important for the person to do a good job in writing the 6-pager well. The writer of the document is forced to think through everything analytically. Writing descriptively doesn’t allow you to hide behind charts and powerpoints. ”

Andrew Chen, Growth Hacker, Uber

And then as luck would have it, Andrew Chen, Growth Lead at Uber wrote just this week about the lessons learnt in 10 years of professional blogging.

Paul Graham, VC, YCombinator

“An essay is something you write to try to figure something out. If all you want to do is figure things out, why do you need to write anything, though? Why not just sit and think? Well, there precisely is Montaigne’s great discovery. Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays I only thought of when I sat down to write them. That’s why I write them. In a real essay you’re writing for yourself. You’re thinking out loud.

But not quite. Just as inviting people over forces you to clean up your apartment, writing something that other people will read forces you to think well. So it does matter to have an audience. The things I’ve written just for myself are no good. They tend to peter out.”

What does Jeff Bezos think about it?

Bezos’s management trick of writing 6 pagers for a meeting forces his team to use the medium of the written word, the author of the memo really has to think through what he or she wants to present.

In having to write it all down, authors are forced to think out tough questions and formulate clear, persuasive replies, all the while reasoning through the structure and logic.

Here’s how writing has benefited me

  • As pointed by the experts mentioned above in this article, whenever I have written about something, it has solidified my understanding.
  • Writing has helped clarify my muddled understanding about just about any topic.
  • Sharing my writing to my professional network has sprung many conversations and has only contributed to bettering my concepts.
  • All my written posts remains my precious reference material to go to whenever I need to use that information.

Drawing from Jeff’s advice, I feel it is imperative for product managers to improve upon their writing abilities because the nature of their cross-functional role demands it. Building shared understanding within the teams must be top most priority and clear, concise writing is the only way to achieve it. Also communicating across the organization and maintaining stakeholder communication makes huge demands on the product managers’ writing abilities.

With that said, may 2018 inspire you to write more!

If you like this post, you may be interested in my email newsletter where I share summary book notes each month. You can unsubscribe any time.

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