Dave Snowden

On writing

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I managed to write a whole article from start to finish today.  It's about Complexity and Lean for the special edition of a journal and ended up with the title Cooks in a Messy Kitchen, thanks to the overall editor Jim Sutton for that.   I also kept it under three thousand words on the first draft which looks to be the final draft.  I can say that as Jim has accepted it without knowledge of the creative process!   Now in IBM days I used to do this a lot.   Getting user orientated articles out was one of the things the Institute for Knowledge Management was measured on so it was a necessary feature of life.   I wrote nearly all of those early articles in a frantic creative session on the deadline.   I say with regret that my daughter has picked up the tendency but if that is nature or nurture I can't say.

I did resort from time to time to getting to the world limit and sending it to the editor with a this is part I comment and a request to do a concluding article.  That was often accepted, but in all cases I ended up with three parts.   In all cases I was thinking about the subject before, but the article was the point at which that thinking got manifested so the content expanded.   Writing nine thousand words is often easier than three thousand!   Of more recent years I have written fewer articles, more book chapters with a more academic bent so the old habits have not been reinforced for some time.   Also a lot of that energy has gone into the blog which I think is my natural medium.  most of the time I just open the editor and start writing then the subject comes.

So this piece was for a non-academic audience so I practiced the messages in a series of talks last week in Hong Kong.  That meant the material was refined and simplified before I sat down to write it.  OK half the time was spent getting the first three paragraphs right but after that things went quickly.   I didn't even attempt to include Cynefin, focusing on complexity alone and I let rip on issues of measurement and efficiency and the general sins of using ordered approaches in complex systems.   Success achieved I went on to clear 150 emails and one proposal so there is nothing like getting in the grove.

Writing is weird, sometimes it just happens, other times you sit in front of the screen hoping someone does something silly or evil in WIkipedia so you can distract yourself for a period.  Twitter is good for that as well!  I can clear email on planes, but writing articles needs a desk and classical music.  Yesterday I had iPlayer running through Goodall's history of music.  Rituals, habits, context its never a production line although I sometimes wish it was.