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By the Pen And What They Inscribe: Cultivating a Culture with Writing


An image of a sword clashing with a pen.
The pen is mightier than the sword

Our third cohort is embarking on their learning journey, with their second event delving deep into OKRs—taking objectives and fleshing them out with Key Results and initiatives. While many early-stage entrepreneurs intuitively have goals, they don't see the need to commit them to paper. Yet, it's this very act of writing that distinguishes intentional entrepreneurship. In this article, we'll unpack why fostering a culture of writing is a cornerstone for building a successful tech services business.


Leadership: Timeless And Scalable

Writing is crucial for a leader to guide at scale, even in the leader's absence. In our article "Planning vs. Wishful Thinking: A Reality Check Based On The Works Of John Boyd," we discussed how the team needs to understand the direction and the mission. It's through writing that the leader's message retains its integrity, both through the annals of time and the transmission process.


Moses is holding the tablets inscribed by lightning with the ten commandments over his head
The poster for the movie "The Ten Commandments" courtesy Paramount Pictures


Nowhere is this clearer than in the realm of religion. The very title of this piece, "By the Pen And What They Inscribe," is a Quranic verse where the divine underscores the weight of the written word. But let's consider another poignant instance from the Bible, specifically Matthew 4:4:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

The passage shows Jesus invoking the authority of scripture multiple times, emphasizing the phrase, "It is written." These ancient religious texts have withstood millennia. Over 4.5 billion followers derive guidance from these scriptures, a testament to the unparalleled power of the written word in guiding at scale.


Knowledge: Crystallize And Archive

Writing has been the foundational tool for recording knowledge for generations. The printing press, followed by the internet, allowed a new level of scale to be added to the power of writing to disseminate knowledge. Sir Francis Bacon, renowned as the father of the scientific method, rightfully hailed the printing press as a pivotal invention of his time. Given its impact, it's clear why the scientific revolution unfolded a few generations later. Interestingly, we have only recently been able to archive information via audio and video formats for future consumption.


An open copy of the Gutenburg bible showing the printed text complemented by ornate embellishments.
The Gutenburg bible marks a historical moment in the history of humanity as the first block printed book. You can read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutenberg_Bible

But the essence of writing transcends mere dissemination. It serves as a mirror to our thoughts, helping crystallize them. Consider this: a training manual assists an employee in mastering their role. Yet, creating that manual offers an even deeper insight. It delineates the intricacies of the job, uncovers hidden challenges, maps dependencies, and pinpoints required skills and knowledge. This iterative process of drafting and refining sharpens our understanding and offers clarity.


Experimentation: Integrity And Rigor

The third aspect of writing is that it protects the integrity of experimentation. Very few things are runaway successes. In your business, you'll need to experiment. And an experiment needs to follow the scientific process to be valid. Before starting the experiment, we need to state the hypothesis, define the experiment, how it will prove our hypothesis, and what the conditions of success are. All of this information needs to be written down. If it is not written, we will not be moving forward in a data-driven manner. We will likely have mediocre results that don't show clear success or failure. And so our decision is based less on the data and more on feelings.


A cycle of the Scientific method with observation, research, hypothesis, test with experiment, analyze data, and report conclusions. Hypothesis is annotated with Write down your hypothesis making your assumptions and what you intend to test. Test is annotated with Define the experiment and expected results to drive a stake in the ground and protect yourself from post-hoc thinking. Analyze is annotated with Scribe the data from the experiment to prepare for rigorous analysis. Report is annotated with Write down the conclusions based on the data for the benefit of answering the question in the experiment and sharing outcomes with the rest of your teams.
The writing involved in the scientific method and experimentation. Base image of the scientific method courtesy wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method

The rigor of writing everything down forces us to face reality. Did we hit the targets we set for ourselves? What could we have done to hit our goals? Should we have been more aggressive with our goals? Building a culture of writing forces us to be systematic and decisive in our decision-making.


Writing is critical with OKRs. Early-stage tech services companies must do a lot of experimentation to find service market fit. Their OKRs are going to be centered around finding this fit. This search for service market fit requires experimentation. And building the OKRs forces you to set up an experiment with a proper hypothesis and success criteria. Without this discipline, a tech services company will likely never be able to find differentiated positioning because modest success creates hope. But real success never materializes.


Writing And Your Tech Services Startup

We hope this article clarifies the impact of writing in building an organization's culture. Creating a culture of writing will help give the team clarity on strategy and direction, build institutional knowledge to differentiate your business, and provide rigor to your thoughts and experiments. This writing will take many forms: corporate missions, policies, wikis, documentation, marketing content, etc. To build this culture, you should start writing now. We recommend starting by creating the positioning for your tech services startup. Our whitepaper on how to grow your tech services business has an excellent guide on how tech services companies should design their positioning.

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