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Harry Hertz

Quality Insider

Write to Learn

Counterintuitive but true

Published: Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 14:19

Intuition would say (at least to me) that I should read, listen, question, and maybe read or listen again to learn. So, I was caught by surprise when I recently read a Washington Post article by Barry Ritholtz in which he said, “Writing is a good way to figure out what you think.”

It suddenly dawned on me that I do the same. When I’m trying to assimilate a significant amount of information on a topic I read a lot, and then I write. The act of writing forces me to sift through the information, evaluate conflicting input, and form an opinion or translate the information for my intended use.

Daniel Boorstin, the former librarian of Congress, had an interesting take on the topic. He said, “I write to discover what I think… After all, the bars aren’t open that early.” In the past, as director of the Baldrige Program, I was well-known for “I mow, therefore I think.” I found that riding my tractor around the yard to cut the grass gave me unencumbered time to think about what I had recently read, and had been pondering, to begin formulating ideas to put on paper. My colleagues were always leery of what ideas would come forward when I started a conversation with, “I mowed this weekend.”

Having mowed and mulled, I frequently write an “Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence” column or a blog to organize my thoughts and to share what I've learned. If you look back at Insights columns you will see that the subjects of these columns in the spring and summer of even-numbered years are frequently topics that will be themes in upcoming Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence revisions. I am writing these pieces to organize my thoughts on where the changes will occur in the criteria (items, notes, commentary) and to alert readers to changes I perceive in the “leading edge of validated management practice.” Conversely, knowing that I plan to write an Insights column forces me to have the disciplined thinking to make my thoughts coherent and convergent.

Writing is truly an effective aid to thinking and organizing thoughts. How do you learn? Have you ever considered writing to learn? Do you already use this approach?

First published Oct. 7, 2014, on Blogrige.

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About The Author

Harry Hertz’s picture

Harry Hertz

Harry Hertz retired in June 2013 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he had served as director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program since 1995. For more than 15 years he was the primary architect of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, responsible for expansion of the Baldrige Program and Award to healthcare, education, and nonprofits, including government. Hertz serves on the advisory group for VHA’s Center for Applied Healthcare Studies, and on the adjunct faculty of American University. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a Ph.D. from M.I.T.