Read Write Web came up with an awesome post titled ‘Why Every Tech Company Should Hire An English Major‘, with points I had been trying to in my ‘Why A Corporate Blog‘ series.
A strong developer is worth her weight in gold, but engineering is only half the picture in any tech company, and certainly in any startup. For every company that can develop an incredible hardware or software product, there are more companies who fail in the attempt to get someone interested in buying that product.
This is why former Twitter and Google executive Santosh Jayaram told The Wall Street Journal that “English majors are exactly the people I’m looking for” in building up his startup, Daemonic Labs.
English majors, according to Jayaram, can “tell stories,” which is increasingly the difference between success and failure in a startup:
Almost anything you can imagine you can now build, so the battleground in business has shifted from engineering, which everybody can do, to storytelling, for which many fewer people have real talent.
In the tech business, of which I have been a part of for a long time now, ideas – not only good ideas but earth – shakingly GREAT ideas are a dime a dozen. Go to any company involved in creating software and there’s always someone there with a fantastic idea that probably improves a task’s efficiency by half and / or is cheaper than the competition and saves everyone time to boot.
Oh I know it’s there. I’ve been there, I’ve talked with those engineers and I’ve even had a few ideas myself.
So why then did they never get off the ground?
Why did they, in some cases, not even get heard by the (often, non – engineer) boss? Or if they did, why did they not get the traction they needed to get the attention of the people who need them?
Because the techie guys can’t form a cohesive enough sentence, let alone a story on the hows and whys of the product readable enough to be understood – or often fall into the trap of approaching it from a tech point of view as opposed to how humans can benefit from it. That’s why.
While RRW’s article talks about why startups are unable to promote a great idea, they might as well have been talking about the same thing. An inability to communicate your idea is just as crippling as a flawed idea, or having no idea at all.
Getting an idea across involves among other things, telling a story about how it came about, how it was decided to pursue it, why it is being pursued against other ideas and finally, how the idea has produced a product which they now offer the market – All essential information a potential market needs to know in order to embrace the product just as enthusiastically as the guy who thought of the idea in the first place.
What Does This Have To Do With Running A Blog On A Corporate Website?
Ok here’s a story. Internet Explorer, MS’s much – hated browser, was even more hated (if that’s possible) back in the mid 2000s especially with web developers. We would work on a project and make it look great on every browser out there, but when it came on IE it was inexplicably wonky. It didn’t help that it was also a terrible security risk which didn’t sit well with the ordinary consumer.
I am not sure if it was a strategic move by MS or if it was completely coincidental, but the IE team launched a blog featuring the very engineers who make it as writers. After following it for several days I was hooked. The blog featured everyday issues the engineers faced – and it was hard core techie for sure – but the important thing was the engineers came across as real people doing stuff they enjoyed and valued. These weren’t the lazy, clueless, or even disenfranchised programmers we thought them to be. These were enthusiastic developers who loved what they do and woke up everyday aching to get on it.
Now, how and why that didn’t immediately translate to a better product I am not sure of, but it at least changed the way I thought about IE’s engineers. Mind you IE still sucked, and for a long time after that, and MS products as a whole even more so, but it at least made me root for the guys behind the scenes. It wasn’t their fault their company was run badly (I’m not about to go on that long story), but the point is, it made me change my concept from a deep negative to a high positive, albeit partly.
I believe any company at whatever size can benefit from telling stories on a corporate site. I use the MS story as a way to show my opinion going from one extreme to the other, which is about as major a leap as I can think of. If it would work for MS with its terrible reputation at the time, then it would certainly work for any startup or existing company. Tell stories on your site and ‘let people in’ so to speak. If you approach the process with your eye on the ball and with only the goal to showcase the good in your company, I can’t see it going wrong.