Saturday, January 17, 2009

Write well. Differentiate yourself!

Michael Porter, the Harvard strategy guru, said businesses have three strategies: cost leadership, focus, and differentiation. In some respects people use the same strategies to acquire, or maintain, a job. That is, they work for less money than the person in the next cubicle, or they have a skill the other person doesn't possess, or they differentiate themselves from all the rest of the folks in some way.

Why not differentiate yourself by being a good writer? The statistics prove that most people can't write well. Within the last five years we have seen headlines like these: "What corporate American can't build: a sentence" (NY Times), "Poor writing costs taxpayers millions" (Washington Post), and my favorite "Literacy falls for college graduates" ( NY Times).

Think about this: business people don't write well for many reasons. In fact, they don't speak well, either, but that's another post. If you can communicate well, through strong writing and confident speaking, you will differentiate yourself. I am a living, walking, and breathing example of differentiating and succeeding through it.

I teach at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the most reputable universities in the world, a center of research and innovation, attracting some of the finest students from around the world. I teach "Strategic Writing" primarily and have taught many versions of "Marketing," as well as "Strategy" and "Entreprenuerism". I don't have the Harvard or Stanford credentials of many of my colleagues, but I did rise to several executive level positions, including vice president of marketing at a state-wide, multi-billion dollar health care corporation in Pennsylvania, by using my communication talent. And, I have never had a formal college class in marketing!

How did I rise in the ranks of marketing without a degree in marketing? I used my English major (bachelors and masters) and parlayed them with my strategic thinking, writing skill and ability to speak comfortably in front of audiences. These skills differentiated me from the many others with whom I worked. I was able to use writing to influence, persuade, build credibility, and motivate others. These are among the most important components of superior management.

You can do this, too, especially by becoming a strong writer. This is an attainable goal for anyone willing to put in the effort. Writing is a craft that requires practice and perfection . Learn a few simple rules of the craft and you will soon begin to differentiate yourself from the pack!

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