Why You Need To Take Time To Do Before You Can See


Monday, 9.52pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort. – Jesse Owens

Have you ever wondered how some people got so good at doing what they do? Why it is that one box set on TV draws you in while another you abandon in minutes – just knowing that it isn’t worth your time. Do people just wake up knowing what to do – perfect at their art?

Well, you know the answer to that is no – but it’s not an easy lesson to learn or one that we’re particularly open to learning. It would be so much easier if we could just do things well without all that messy practice and repetition and trial and error.

When it comes to writing, for example, an essential first step is research. You can’t just will something into existence without first doing some of the background work. With non-fiction that’s the research, the study of existing material with lots of note-taking and sense-making. With fiction it’s the creation of your world and characters and then seeing what they do there and if it works as a story. All this is the hard grind, the labour, the work which then results in something that stands on its own, we hope.

So, after a year of frenetic writing I think this year is going to have to be about reading and note-taking in addition to working on the drawing skills I talked about earlier in the year. And that means perhaps reflecting on the things that I’m reading and learning about.

There are three things that are occupying me at the moment.

The first has to do with treating content as a construction task. so, for example, rather than writing something in Microsoft Word as one long document, you write things in markdown chunks and then stitch them together, like you would a computer program. That’s interesting and it works pretty well. You can even include images and scale them to the right size using a width attribute.

The second is continuing chatter in the Systems Thinking community and it’s throwing up a few useful concepts. This is an interesting, if complicated look at the complex systems world with an intricate map of Complexity science. I’m hoping someone isn’t maintaining that by hand because that would be hard…

I also came across the book The Innovation Delusion: How Our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most which talks about the importance of maintenance and the right to repair rather than buying new all the time. That resonates with me – I’m keeping several computers going and have nursed a printer along for ten years rather than get a new one. The really important point here is that what we don’t need in our lives is new and innovative stuff. We need stuff we can rely on and that we can maintain easily.

The last one is a book called Visual Thinking: for Design by Colin Ware that takes a biologically based view of design which makes it very easy to see what kind of approaches help to make visual information easier to process. Just reading the first few chapters helped me improve my note-taking process, giving me ideas on how to structure information so it’s easier to comprehend. That fits in nicely with the book I’ve just finished called Algorithms to live by which ends with an ask to be computationally kind – make it easier for others to process what you’re asking them to do.

So, that’s that then.


Karthik Suresh

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