The skill that has changed my life the most is ‘writing.’ And if I could give you some unsolicited advice, here it is: Learn the craft of writing and it will pay you a hundred times over.
In school, my writing was pathetic. Nobody taught me because my English teachers couldn’t even write to save their lives. I am not belittling my teachers – they were lovely people, but nobody had taught them either!
And in IIT, as long as you could write equations (even half correct), you got away. So I got away.
My first brush with writing came about when I applied to US B-Schools for an MBA. Most people find the admissions process annoying. But since all US B-school applications require you to write a few essays, it turned out to be my first ‘writing school.’
Not knowing what to do I enlisted the help of my friend who had been to a B-School earlier. And the first draft I shared with him came back butchered. He destroyed my beautiful prose, chopping sentences left and right.
But when I resentfully incorporated his changes, inexplicably, the writing became so much better!
That introduced me to the first commandment of good writing: “Omit needless words.” And I didn’t say that – Strunk and White did, in their legendary book ‘The Elements of Style’.
Surprisingly, I learned more about writing from the MBA application process, than in the MBA program itself.
My next lesson in writing came during my work at McKinsey. Like a stereotypical consultant, let me give you the ‘three things’ about McKinsey’s writing.
1. The amount of time we spent polishing the deck and editing the executive summary was unbelievable. But that taught me how to edit brutally – a good writer has to be a butcher.
2. If there is one word that epitomizes McKinsey, it is ‘structure.’ I learned how to structure my thoughts, and that makes for good writing. And for this, I am grateful.
3. The third thing, which I didn’t like as much, was the very dry, ‘official’ writing style. I prefer writing like I am talking to you – one-on-one – not like shooting bullet points at you.