The challenge with Bible-writing

challenge of bible-writing“We want this to be the Bible for our [Insert Your Innovation Here].” When people say they want something to be “the Bible”—they mean they want it to be comprehensive, to contain anything a person would want to know on any aspect of the subject. But that’s the challenge with Bible-writing: How do you take a massive information download and create something people actually want to read?

Now, please understand—I mean no disrespect to people who turn to the actual Bible for religious inspiration. But it does break some pretty fundamental rules of story-telling. I mean, let’s be honest: do we really need all of those “begats”?

And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth: 4 And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters:5 And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died. 6 And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos: 7 And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters.

And so it continues for the whole rest of Genesis, Chapter 5—and good luck remembering them all. Most of those folks never appear in the text again—violating a primary rule of writing a memorable story: don’t clutter it with extraneous information.

Bible-writing — is everything essential?

Does your corporate “bible” need that level of detail?

Bob got the idea for the new app while in a meeting with Jenny, who’s been with the firm since she got her engineering degree. And Jenny brought along Hal and Susie, the key members of her team. Bob invited people from his team as well…

Or even this level of detail?

First we tried X, yielding Y results. Then we moved to X+1, which brought us to…

That last sentence contains the seeds of something you want to include in your “bible”—but you need to plant those seeds in the fertile soil of a great story.

What challenges did you encounter with X that prompted your move to X+1? Start with the sticking point and let the reader see how you navigated around it.

Make your stories stick

If your “bible” documents a complex, multiyear process, make sure it contains lots and lots stories (as the original Bible does). But which stories?

Use the SUCCESs mnemonic from the Heath Brothers’ book Made to Stick and look for:

Simple
Unexpected
Concrete
Credible
Emotional
Stories

Think about the Bible stories you remember:

Abraham and the burning bush—God asks him to kill his son (unexpected); he nearly does it (emotional).

The birth of Jesus: homeless people seek shelter (simple); woman goes into labor (unexpected, concrete—parents of every generation understand what that entails); healthy baby born (emotional).

There’s a reason these stories have endured for millennia.

Find the stories like that in the work you’re documenting. Every corporate endeavor has inflection points where people wonder, try, and maybe even fail—before they eventually succeed enough to write a “bible” about it.

That’s the stuff that will get people reading—and remembering—all of the hard work you’re documenting. And, as regular readers have heard me ask before: If you don’t want to be remembered, then why are you bothering to write this stuff in the first place?


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