When Colin Powell passed, one of the things I wondered about was where all of his writings might be.
He’s written books – memoir. But I’ve not seen a single article written by him during his time in the Army.
You would think that there would be something out there – some article in a military journal – but so far I’ve turned up nothing.
Not everyone in the military writes, after all. In fact, it is the exception to write, not the rule.
After all, what’s the incentive?
Certainly you’ve heard of the “Powell Doctrine” and the “Pottery Barn Rule?” Well those are not things that he wrote, or even something he necessarily put forth. These were ideas ascribed to him, and in fairness, they do come from him.
Colin Powell did have a talent for boiling big ideas down into things that are actually understandable.
When Army ROTC returned to New York City, he faced down critics with a simple phrase: “Military service is honorable.“
Interestingly, I came across this interview where he says the following:
I still feel strange being called a writer. I’m mostly a speaker.
What an insightful notion. Too often we think that to be a thought leader in some field you have to write. And that can certainly be true.
But crafting speeches – even if someone is crafting them for your, and then you edit – that is a form of writing. More importantly, it’s a form of creating.
I would love to see the collected speeches of Colin Powell. There are ideas in there that we don’t see, because there isn’t an article trail. Speeches – even when recorded – can be ephemeral.
It makes me think – will future leaders, even military leaders – have alternative intellectual legacy trails? Blog posts? Tweets? YouTube videos?
For Colin Powell, why write when he could speak?
For today’s leaders, where is the most relevant place to make an impact? Is it in a military journal that is rarely read? Or is it somewhere else?
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One thought on ““I still feel strange being called a writer””
I see a big example in ADM William McRaven’s speech “Make Your Bed.” It was later moved to a book and did much for both McRaven’s post-separation career as it did for recruiting.