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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Writing and Business

Almost every thing that I do in my job (aside from reading) involves an act of oral or written communication--anything that could be classified as work. A business major (who is also a Spanish major) who came to my office recently told me that in the business school students are rarely asked to write anything. That seems a mistake to me, frankly. Would you want to hire someone in your company at a high level of responsibility who wasn't a good writer?


Thomas said...

I think it happens all the time, actually. I do, of course, agree with you on the question of whether corporate life would be better off with some articulate people at the top. But I'm not sure that writing ability is common qualification for executive responsibility. Consider politicians. Are they normally good writers? Here's what Norman Mailer said about a few top politicians:

"Of course, a book written by a high official must not be judged by average standards, or one would be forced to say, for example, that Jack Kennedy was not a very good writer and that Bobby Kennedy, at last reading, wrote a dead stick's prose—his style almost as bad as J. Edgar Hoover's. But even at its worst, the prose style of Jack Kennedy (and his ghost writers) is to the prose of L.B.J. (and his ghost writers) as de Tocqueville is to Ayn Rand. It is even not impossible that My Hope for America is the worst book ever written by any political leader anywhere." (Cannibals and Christians, p. 48)

Jonathan said...

I'd be overjoyed if my business student wrote like JFK or even RFK. I think Mailer saying he'd :be forced to say" JFK was not a good writer means something very different from me saying a student of mine is not a good writer. The point here is that Kennedy had won a Pulitzer prize for a vastly overrated book, Portraits in Courage or something like that. You take that same prose and attribute it to a Kansas undergraduate, it might look fantastic.

Thomas said...

OK. But LBJ's My Hope for America (judging from Mailer's review) is not in that category. It may well have been written by someone with vast responsibility who didn't know how to write. Not even his ghost writers could salvage it.

You have a President today who can write. It shows. There is no reason to think, however, that the previous president did a lot of writing. (It will be interesting to see when the book comes out, though. But here, too, we'll obviously have to adjust for the ghost writer.)

In the end, though, we agree. I'd be happy too if business people were better prose writers.