In high school, I dreamed of becoming a professional golfer. I was fortunate to work with one of the world’s top coaches who had a deep background in the technical and scientific sides of the game. We practiced with cutting-edge technology such as military-grade launch monitors to measure the movement of my ball and golf club at impact.
I became so obsessed with the game that I wrote a 60-page manual on the physics and biomechanics of the golf swing. Oh, and for years, I managed one of the world’s largest collections of slow motion golf swings too.
Random, I know.
Then, something unexpected happened. I saw how often experts on television were dead-wrong about aspects of the game they took as gospel. They mistook conjecture for knowledge. As a 16-year-old, seeing how the technology in my hands directly contradicted what I saw on television made me ask: “How many experts are just making it up as they go along?”
Seeing how often experts were wrong was one of the first things that made me believe I could become an entrepreneur. Though I quit the golf team during my freshman year of college, the lessons I learned on the course stuck with me. Eventually, I grew so frustrated with the asinine dogmas that plagued the sport that I decided to start a golf instruction business.
That’s when I made a mistake.
Desperate to start a successful company, I started “learning entrepreneurship” instead of expanding my knowledge about the game. I studied startups instead of swings and business instead of biomechanics. Though my alma mater touted the benefits of an entrepreneurship degree, the classes were a joke. My alma mater wasn’t the only one offering hollow entrepreneurship classes. Around the country, colleges are too eager to teach students how to start a business — and hollow classes are the result.
Alternatively, students should learn about the actual problems they want to solve. As Zack Kanter once wrote: “The deeper you get into an industry, the more obvious the missing pieces become. But when you’re far away, the missing pieces are impossible to see.”
Though it helps to develop expertise in something, you don’t need to work in the field you have expertise in. I know tons of entrepreneurs who’ve applied their expertise in one field to something else. For example, my friend Taylor Pearson, a principal at Mutiny Fund, built his company by applying his expertise in online marketing to the hedge fund world.
Of course, there are exceptions. But too many people, including myself, have spent too much time studying entrepreneurship and not enough time building up the kinds of expertise that’ll lead to entrepreneurial ideas.
There are two parallels between writing and entrepreneurship.
First, becoming a better writer doesn’t mean much if your ideas aren’t worth listening to — just as becoming a better entrepreneur doesn’t mean much if you don’t have a product worth paying for. In school, the challenge is that most of our writing education is centered around grammar and syntax instead of the obvious question: “How do you find ideas worth writing about?”
Justin Murphy offers two good solutions for finding something to say: (1) “classical erudition, old-fashioned and patient study of great works, and (2) adventure + introspection. Do literally anything hard, risky, or strange, and combine it with thinking.”
But good ideas aren’t enough. Just as entrepreneurs hone their business model based on feedback from the market, writers can hone their ideas based on feedback from peers — which is why Writing from Conversation is the second pillar in our Write of Passage method.
Second, writing helps you hone business ideas because it’s such an effective way to learn. Writing is thinking, rewriting is rethinking, and feedback tightens the screws of your knowledge. Take this piece. I didn’t realize how much I’d thought about entrepreneurship until I started writing it. Every time I rewrote a sentence, I sharpened my lens on reality. Once this goes live, many of you will respond with comments that will further refine my perspective.
Good writing begins with good ideas. Improving your craft makes sense only once you have the intellectual arsenal to make use of good prose. Similarly, it’s foolish to start by learning entrepreneurship, so if you want to start a company, build domain expertise instead of twiddling your fingers in a class you shouldn’t be taking.