The intentionally bad draft

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OK, since it seems people are more interested in thoughts on writing a book than they are on my thoughts on technology, I thought I’d use a couple of these next posts to talk about how one of our chapters evolved from some early ideas in college to what will actually be Chapter 5 of Reboot.

This chapter is about a tool for strategic thinking called the Hypothesis Driven Approach. There were three main events that influenced the writing of this chapter (one of which Lisa and I shared). But this first one goes back even further . . . college.

In 1991, I took a really important class at Trinity University: Writing Workshop. The professor (Dr. David Middleton) taught me many things, but one was transformational for me: the Intentionally Bad Draft. (I’m pretty sure Dr. Middleton wouldn’t have capitalized that and I’m not sure I remember his exact words 20 years later, but this is the general idea.) He taught this to a whining amateur writer (me) who was in his office complaining about “writer’s block” and no doubt trying to use so called “writers block” as an excuse for missing a due date.

Here’s the idea. Often we get stuck. We have too many built in hang-ups when we start trying to create something and it is hard to get moving. It is easy to get stuck on the first sentence in an endless mental loop. Where do I begin? What is the first paragraph going to be about? What is the outline going to be? What is my first sentence? There are so many questions to answer in any writing project, that it can be easy to get stuck in the questions. Perversely, this is even more true if you care about what you are writing because you want even more to do it well.

The solution recommended by the Intentionally Bad Draft is to just start writing. Write an Intentionally Bad Draft and allow yourself to get moving. The sentence structure can be bad. There can be huge gaps in your structure. It can be horribly messy. But, you’ll often be amazed at how good that first draft actually is.

We’ll talk more about it in the next post, but this idea can easily be applied to strategic thinking. Often, we experience the same problem when we’re working on strategy projects. There is too much data, too many overlapping problems, too many questions, too many options and too many constraints. We’ve seen project teams get stuck for weeks (or even months) trying to wade through this morass.

The solution is to try an Intentionally Bad Draft. Let go of all the issues and constraints and just start writing and see what comes out. You can always change it later!

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