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The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

I considered titling this post “Why I Work Half as Hard as You” or “Why I’m More Productive Than You,” but both make certain assumptions about the ‘you’ that are quite likely incorrect. I was reflecting this morning about why some people seem to be more productive than others. While there are lots of possible reasons, the one that bubbled up to the top for me can be traced back to my degree in Philosophy and Literature. Here I am with a decidedly Liberal Arts degree working in a business position in a very technical market. Seems like a recipe for failure, yet it’s been a distinct advantage.

Most of what I do as a Product Manager is really about communication. I have to learn things from a variety of sources, some direct and some very indirect. That’s inbound communication. I have to synthesize all of that input, process it in various ways, and ultimately produce results. Sometimes it’s a conversation, sometimes a presentation, often a document. The audiences for these products vary greatly, from developers to executives. The one skill that ties all of this activity together is the ability to communicate effectively.

As a practical matter, the ability to create an understandable, audience-specific sentence without revision results in faster time to completion and therefore more ‘work’ done in a shorter period of time. Grammar and usage might be the base skill here. There are fewer revisions required to get it right, but that’s just the surface layer. The structure of the content contributes substantially to the effectiveness of the communication artifact as well.

The end result is that effective communication with diverse audiences is a primary, if not the most important, skill for product managers.

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