The Class I'd Like to Teach

This post originally appeared November 15, 2010 on

178/365 One small step for essay kindphoto © 2009 stuartpilbrow | more info(via: Wylio)My college English Composition teach was fabulous. Dr. Dennis O'Brien is a man I will never forget, not for his ability to teach the English language, but for his hilariously quirky personality. But sadly, those two semesters taught me more about his love for Star Trek Klingons and his loathing of the term ‘Alternative’ to describe a musical genre than it did how to actually use the written and spoken word.

It wasn’t until after I left college and began my first job as a business analyst that I realized how truly unprepared I was for a career where I live and die by my ability to communicate. Yes, part of the reason I got the job was that, when compared with many (but definitely not all) of my colleagues, my written communication skills were far beyond theirs. That isn’t saying much, however.

It is this reason why I agree with Jason from 37signals that a college education doesn’t always do enough to prepare us academically for the future. Jason goes on to discuss a class that he, and I as well, would like to teach to college students:
It would be a writing course. Every assignment would be delivered in five versions: A three page version, a one page version, a three paragraph version, a one paragraph version, and a one sentence version.
This is what I, as a business analyst, do every single day. I take the detailed business information that stakeholders provide (3 page version), I condense and distill it to something that can fit in a project charter or a requirements document (1 page version). Then I take that and further condense it into a project overview (3 paragraphs) which will get rolled up into an executive summary (1 paragraph version) and eventually make its way into a PowerPoint slide (one sentence version).

Being able to condense while retaining meaning is not a trivial skill, nor is it one that was taught (at least not officially) by any university I’ve ever seen. But it should be, especially in today’s world of knowledge workers. This is one of the main things I see which holds back project team members from advancement. If they are unable to effectively condense and convey meaning for a project, then they also fail to communicate the value they themselves provide to the organization.