How To Build Something That’s Useful

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Monday, 9.02pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Deep down, I’m pretty superficial. – Ava Gardner

It’s amazing just how hard it is to do something that has depth, solidity – something that has solid foundations and that you can rely on.

Take writing, for example. It’s pretty easy to write, to rant, to ramble – but it’s much harder to make a point clearly. When you start trying to do that you see that there are many things that can trip you up, like the meanings of words that different people interpret differently.

In my last few posts, for example, I’ve been thinking about story. How is narrative different from story? To some people it isn’t – they’re the same thing. To others, story is the content while narrative is the vehicle. For example, there is a story of Peter Pan and there are narratives – the ones you read in a book or watch in a film or that you were told by your granny at bedtime. And then there’s another definition of a narrative as anything that’s told to you – even a shopping list read out is a narrative – but a narrative turns into a story when it has a purpose behind it, when there is something that brings it together.

Of course, these explanations of the difference between story and narrative are still fuzzy and don’t explain it very well. To do it better we need definitions, not to explain but to constrict and restrain. We need to know what something means in a particular context. We don’t need to know what a story is but what we mean as a story when we’re talking about using it in a business context. We need these definitions so that we can start to make statements that are built on those definitions. Once I define a story as a particular thing it can be used to explain and elaborate on whatever I’m trying to get across.

Statements don’t stand on their own, however, we’ve got to connect them and show the relationships that exist. This can be as simple as paragraphing and sectioning content, but you have to do this unless you want to end up with a wall of text that is impossible to penetrate and understand.

What one realises quickly is that this kind of thinking is hard, it takes time to build up definitions, statements and relationships that make sense. The more words you add the harder it becomes to keep them together, to have them keep making sense. That’s why when you come across a theory that has been well thought through and that hangs together you’re impressed – because you recognise the work that’s gone into it. And when you see something that’s superficial and cobbled together you feel a sense of disquiet, a sense that it’s missing something and that it has no foundations.

When you’re young you want to get to places quickly. Perhaps you have to get older, to realise that it takes time to build something worth having. And even more time to give yourself the permission to take the time that it’s going to take.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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