This graduation season: Why bother to learn or practice writing? Seth Godin weighs in

Writing is a symptom of thinking
–Seth Godin

Across many parts of the Western world and beyond, graduation season has just passed. Social media was filled with photographs of mortarboard wearing twenty-somethings, smiling under the approving (relieved?) gaze of their parents.

Last week, many years after studying in Southern Ontario, I celebrated completing the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship’s flagship “startSMART” program. The program is designed to help most students launch their businesses. But some, like me, enter with previous experience—in my case, with writing—but who still want to develop proper business plans or to be coached on entrepreneurial strategy.

So Praxis’ graduation ceremony last week provided colleagues and me with some time to savour these kinds of accomplishments–and especially to thank the Praxis team who created and run the program. (You know who you are, Monica and Brent Kreuger; Deanna Litz; Elaine Mantyka; Marie Weinkauf; Silvana Cracogna; regular facilitators Sara Wheelwright; Tanya Wagner; Jolene Watson; and single-day facilitators, too, whose expertise is great.)

How timely, then, that marketing guru Seth Godin (on June 14th) drew a line between this season and the significance of learning what I do and teach—that is, to write.   

As he says: “Consider writing. . . . Not Wall Street. Simply writing. As we race toward a post-literate world, the surprising shortcut is compelling indeed: Learn to write.”

Godin dismisses the realities that “audiobooks outsell print,” that “AI can turn text into speech,” and that people seem only to skim-read, these days. Learning how to write should still be part of every student’s education.

Aren’t there more tech-savvy pursuits, the nay-sayers have asked.

Godin doesn’t deny the usefulness of computer programming or civil engineering or mathematics for our time. But he says that “most people were persuaded from an early age that [these are not] the work for them.” By contrast, virtually everyone needs to know how to write.

Writing traverses disciplinary boundaries and prepares us to work within many subject areas. Here I paraphrase him: Actors who can write can cast themselves; marketers who can write can tell their stories; job seekers of all kinds can secure better employment if they can pen a compelling resume . . . .

Writing, Godin reminds us, “is organized thinking on behalf of persuasion.” Who doesn’t need to organize their thoughts or to persuade the folk who will read their writing?

“Writing may be the skill with the highest return on investment of all. Because writing is a symptom of thinking.”

“I think, therefore I write” (again a paraphrase of Godin) may extend Montaigne’s assertion that “I think, therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum). Writing of many forms (from direct mail to academic Sanskrit dissertations) comprises the very identity of any thinking person—which is, of course, any person, at all. (Try for a moment not to think about anything and you’ll see Godin’s point.)

No one should graduate (this year or in the 16th century) without knowing how to do it.

And now it’s your turn: Did you learn how to write before you graduated from your studies? How has writing expressed your thinking and identity?

Please write in on my “contact” page. I’d be delighted to extend this conversation.