Why I Write

You can get away with a lot of nonsense when you talk. As a teacher, I know this all too well. You can say things that sound articulate, but that don’t really hold together upon closer inspection.

Writing, on the other hand, requires you to collect your ideas, and present them in a linear manner in order to form a set of cohesive thoughts. This is why I write about the things I teach — it forces me to really examine the concepts (editing them again and again) until I’m much more confident that my ideas make sense. As Flannery O’Connor expressed so well, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

My favorite part of writing is editing. Once the initial words are on the page, I love rearranging them, replacing words to make the meaning more crisp, and chopping out entire sections that are superfluous or distracting. It is like a tailor taking a piece of cloth and fashioning it into a shirt. The cloth is necessary, but the garment isn’t done until there has been lots of cutting, sewing, and fitting to make sure it is serves its intended purpose.

In my book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, I explored what it means to have an entrepreneurial mindset, which involves seeing problems as opportunities, challenging assumptions, making your own luck, recovering from failures, and crafting a path toward the future you desire. The process of writing that book revealed that each of these requires actively giving yourself permission to do what you likely already know you need to do. I wouldn’t have found the overarching theme had I not written the entire book.

My next book, inGenius, allowed me to explore the levers we have at our disposal for increasing creativity and innovation in individuals, teams, and organizations. This was a topic I had been teaching for many years. While writing this book I realized that the material was interesting, but wasn’t holding together in a meaningful way. It felt like a laundry list. This forced me to zoom out to look at the concepts from a fresh perspective. That led me to develop the Innovation Engine model that describes the relationships between your knowledge, skills, and attitudes, as well as the habitat, resources, and culture of your organization. I went back to the beginning of the book and started over again, using this model as a framework that held the content together, creating a coherent way to understand how all the levers work and influence each other.

My most recent book, Insight Out, allowed me to tackle a problem that had been vexing me. Why do people continue to think that you can’t teach creativity and entrepreneurship? I realized that it resulted from a lack of a clear set of definitions, relationships, and a framework for the entire process of going from the seeds of an idea through implementation. My goal was to do just that. Before I started writing, I spent nearly a year developing a model — the Invention Cycle — that shows how imagination, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship are related, and the required attitudes and actions at each stage of the cycle. The writing process allowed me to flesh out the model and to bring in examples that demonstrated how it works. By writing, I found new insights as well as flaws that needed to be fixed. In the end, I felt satisfied that I had created a framework that could be used to understand, teach, and learn how to bring innovative ideas to fruition.

Each book is hard, and when I’m done I swear I won’t write another one. But, I know that the work is worth it. Writing forces me to dig deep to discover the important questions and to explore the answers. By writing I become a better teacher, much more confident that the ideas are sound, and remain open to debates that will push the ideas further.