November 7, 2012

Why Write?

It is important to write, for everyone. Why? Because writing gives your ideas the ability to stand on their own two legs. Because in order to know something truly you must first be able to teach it. Because, in this day and age, three people united can be 30 times as powerful as they are alone (not 3 times).

Before you read the rest of this page, pick an idea or a project of yours and keep it in your mind. Ready?

Write to give your idea legs

When we have new ideas they often seem to be really good ideas. At first glance we tend to focus on our ideas' brilliance and see only their upsides. And since they appear to be such great ideas there is no point in trying to find problems with them. Right?

Unfortunately, many people stop there. Their idea is just great, it has no faults, and all it it needs is "someone to build it".

The reality is that every worthwhile idea has problems. In order to bring an idea into reality we must explore its entire problem space - find all the issues, pose hypothetical solutions, make connections, discoveries and tradeoffs. A session of deep mental exploration is the fastest form of idea iteration you can hope to achieve.

So what about writing? Well, putting an idea on paper in succinct words forces us to concretize our ideas. When done properly it brings our assumptions out of hiding. Think of it as building a house from a blueprint. The house may look great in a drawing but could defy gravity if built. M.C Escher comes to mind.

MC Escher MC Escher MC Escher MC Escher MC Escher

Writing down an idea in great detail forces us to explore its problem space, and helps us tease out our hidden assumptions. By writing, we give our ideas legs to stand on their own. (And sometimes even wings to fly).

Write to teach, teach to learn

When we truly know something it becomes simple to teach to others: When we know every in and out of a thing and its every perspective, then any student can approach us with their particular position of understanding and we will always see a way to bring the student closer to the thing. And so, teaching becomes a way to know how well we understand something. If you imagine a student in front of you, how simply and to what depth can you explain your idea to her?

When we write there is always an audience, a circle of students to learn from us. Even if you are the only person to read what you write, you become a student of your own writing as you edit and re-read.

We never know our ideas perfectly: there are new perspectives to explore and hidden assumptions to discover. If your ideas matter to you then find an audience who is willing to learn from you, in order to understand how well you know your ideas. A willing audience can be hard to find, but paper and pen are always listening.

Write to communicate well and work together

There is an interesting phenomenon in the tech industry and elsewhere: given the right circumstances, the productivity of a group of people scales geometrically with the number of people in the group, not linearly. Basically, the value add of three people working in sync and harmony can be an order of magnitude greater than the three of them working independently.

So what are "the right circumstances"? Obviously I can't say. But I do know that people who work well together communicate effectively, and as a team's productivity increases the cost of time spent communicating goes up. Even when team communication is all spoken, writing teaches us to explore our ideas before exposing them to others and to adapt our ideas to other people's perspective.

Are you convinced?

If you are convinced then go ahead and write about the idea you picked at the beginning of this page! What you write is less important than that you write.

If you are not convinced then I would appreciate if you took a moment to put your opposing thoughts into clear writing in the comments :)