I went to college as an English major. As such, I had to write a lot of papers.
When my brother was in college, he had to pay a dollar a page to have someone type up his papers. I took typing in high school so that I could avoid such an expense. I was a good enough typist that I could compose my thoughts on the keyboard and considered retyping to edit my paper before submission to be the problem to be solved.
Editing was a lot different in those days. I thought there would be a lot of value in having a teletype, like they had in the "computer lab," so I could punch tapes and not have to retype everything all the time. Instead, I had my grandfather's big upright manual Underwood typewriter. When I put together a CP/M computer, a dozen or so years later, ease of editing text was still a big part of my interest.
In my college days, though, having my own computer wasn't even a thought. I didn't even have a login on the college's timeshare account. I did stumble on a different way to make writing papers easier.
I started writing my first drafts pen on paper. I initially did that so I could work on them anywhere, rather than go home to my typewriter. I always had a steno pad on campus for taking notes. When I did this, I made a rather startling discovery—it was easier to write. I pondered why was it easier.
I considered that the width of a steno pad seemed ideal for easy writing—narrow enough to require little hand movement but not so narrow as to require a lot of vertical movement. It was also trivial to jump back and adjust something a few sentences before to go with a slightly later thought. I could even add an asterisk to insert a body of several paragraphs, possibly written lower on the same page. I could add proofreading marks to swap words and phrases without rewriting them.
These advantages helped increase the efficiency of my writing, but I also discovered something else that was completely different. Writing by hand was slower for me than typing was, at least for the recording of consecutive words without amendments. Somehow that slower method of recording my thoughts seemed to help my thoughts come faster. When I typed, it was as if my hands were always saying "come on, brain, what's the next word?" When writing, my brain was ahead of my hand, and didn't feel rushed. I explained it to myself with an impedance matching metaphor—by raising the impedance of the writing stage, there was less load on the thinking stage driving it, with no loss of information.
I've recently read Seeing What Others Don't by Gary Klein. In this book Gary talks about performance improvements being dependent on both reducing errors and increasing insights. It's very easy for people, and organizations, to focus on the more straightforward and more easily measured process of reducing errors, but I think the big wins come from insights. Why?
Like reducing costs, you cannot reduce errors below zero, but the upside potential of insights or increased value creation is unlimited. I think it may be a rule of existence that generative effort is always more powerful than defensive.
That doesn't mean you should ignore errors or costs. Take the most straightforward ways to keep these in check. But there's no point in pushing harder on them, as you'll only run into the law of diminishing returns. Instead, focus your more significant efforts on creating value you haven't yet imagined, and finding insights that unlock your potential.
P.S. I've got more ideas on this topic than will fit in a newsletter. Hit me up if you're interested in exploring this topic together. I think there's more we can do with it, and there's more to be gained exploring it together than separately. You can schedule a Zoom Call to chat about it.
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