Bullish Lady-Convo: People Lose Their Shit for Whitepapers

I’m always recommending that people write whitepapers. For instance, in Using Your College Skills to Succeed After College and What To Do About Being (Temporarily) Pretty.

Here’s a conversation that happened recently between me and a bullicorn I’ll call Bosslady:

Bosslady: Random question: you mention whitepapers sometimes. Do you have any favorites? I’ve never written one and I think the reason is that I’ve never read one I really liked. I’m thinking of trying to get my team at work to write some and I need inspiration.

Jen: I actually don’t think I’ve read any whitepapers in maybe a few years. But it was back when I wrote one in 2002 that I realized how much people lose their shit for them. Mine was pretty simple, but people kept saying “I passed this on to my boss!” or “I used this in a meeting.” As late as 2008, I received a request to use my whitepaper in a graduate level course reader at California Polytechnic. (I said yes, of course. What I wanted to say was, “This was written by a philosophy major who doesn’t have an MBA. Enjoy!”) As late as 2011, I had a GMAT student tell me he used my whitepaper at work.

So, here is my whitepaper from 2002. It’s dated, of course (but not as much as you’d think!) You can also see that it’s not that long, and pretty informally written. Way easier than writing papers in college. This is all it takes to get people to pass your shit around.

So many whitepapers I’ve vaguely clicked on have been really blatant sales pitches, so one that’s a little more academic (plain, less cheesy) really stands out.

Bosslady: Oh yay, can’t wait to read this! Yeah I had the same problem as you, everything is snake oil. This isn’t official yet but I’m supposed to become manager of my development team next month, and one of the things our particular team is really poised to do is experiment and come up with best practices, and I thought it would be really kickass if everyone on the team ended the fiscal year by writing a whitepaper on a best practice we’d discovered. (They’re going to hate me….)

Jen: You’re the boss who gives homework!

Bosslady: I know, that’s how I feel!!! But it’s like, I’m a lifelong learner and I’m also a lifelong teacher… you know how it is, you’re a teacher. I’m not only going “this would be good for our company” but “my developers need to learn to express their ideas in writing, as it will benefit them in their careers.”