Sell Yourself Sell Your Work

Doing technically brilliant work may be enough for your personal gratification, but you should never think it's enough. If you lock yourself in a room and do the most marvellous work but don't tell anyone, then no one will know, no one will benefit, and the work will be lost. You may as well not have bothered. For the world to benefit from your work, and therefore for you to benefit fully from your work, you have to make it known.

In short, you have to advertise.

I've dealt with any number of technically brilliant people who produce outstanding work. The majority of them never bothered to write down their work and communicate it to others - report writing is too boring, uninteresting, and hard. And irrelevant. Or so they thought.

But if you've done great work, if you've produced superb software or fixed a fault with an aeroplane or investigated a problem, without telling anyone you may as well not have bothered. You have to write, you have to tell people, and you have to do so in a way that they will take notice.

You don't necessarily need to make it flashy, whizzy, colourful and animated, but you do have to present it well. Spelling errors may not obscure the meaning, but you will lose some of your audience. Poor punctuation may not matter to you, but your intended audience may be put off by it. Muddied writing with no clear purpose makes it hard for the reader to understand your point.

Write clearly and concisely, however, and your work may well save others' time and effort. And gain you reputation.

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Richard W Hamming wrote about one's work: ... you can either do it in such a fashion that people can indeed build on what you've done, or you can do it in such a fashion that the next person has to essentially duplicate again what you've done ... ... it is not sufficient to do a job, you have to sell it. "Selling" to a scientist is an awkward thing to do. It's very ugly; you shouldn't have to do it. The world is supposed to be waiting, and when you do something great, they should rush out and welcome it. But the fact is everyone is busy with their own work. You must present it so well that they will set aside what they are doing, look at what you've done, read it, and come back and say, "Yes, that was good." ... ask why you read some articles and not others. You had better write your report so when it is published ... as the readers are turning the pages they won't just turn your pages but they will stop and read yours. If they don't stop and read it, you won't get credit. You have to learn to write clearly and well so that people will read it, you must learn to give reasonably formal talks, and you also must learn to give informal talks. From "You and Your Research". For reference, some of Hamming's work includes Hamming codes, the Hamming matrix, the Hamming window, Hamming numbers, the Hamming bound, and the Hamming distance.

It seems crazy to require that technically talented people should be forced to spend time doing something - report writing - at which they're not gifted, but how else can the world benefit from their brilliance? Without communicating their ideas, their work is lost and might never have been.

Of course, this is one of the benefits of being an entrepreneur or the founder of a business. The benefits of your work are there to be seen - you don't have to play the office politics of constantly justifying your existence. If you don't have customers, or if you don't have advertisers, then you won't survive. If you do have customers, or you do have advertisers, then your existence is justified by the work you've done.

But you still have to sell! You now have to sell your company's product or service, you now have to get known so that people will start to use your product or service, or people will constantly visit your website, which then attracts advertising. Whatever, you need to sell! A company lives and dies by what it sells.

Some people say that the sole purpose of a company is to make money. Others are more idealistic and say that it's to make the world better, or to make their employees' lives better, or some other goal. But without making money, everything else is moot.

But the word "sell" doesn't necessarily mean what you think it means. Richard W. Hamming wrote about this in his talk entitled "You and Your Research", given as a Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar on 1986/03/07. The side-box is a small excerpt from this talk, transcriptions of which can easily be found on-line.

So let the world benefit from your work.

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