The Whys
March 11th, 2017

I’m constantly reminded that writing/blogging is good for the Silicon Valley soul, but I wanted to justify it before I dove in. Think of this as the manifesto for my writing. Hopefully this can keep me accountable to writing more too. Yeah, let’s go with that.

I plan to clearly distinguish claims to help myself identify the exact topics I need to substantiate. In articulating my claims, I’m hoping to be a “slow thinker” to catch myself using flawed logic. I’m essentially preparing the Google queries I want to make to support my claims.

Another reason to distinguish claims is to solicit more feedback. Hopefully identifying claims can facilitate more direct discussion around a topic and help me learn even more. I want to make my writing as public as possible so I can leverage other people’s knowledge to fill gaps in mine.

So, why am I doing this?

I want to learn

The most effective way to learn something is to teach it. Lol jk. In trying to justify this claim about learning that I previously took as a given, I found that the substantiation behind it is essentially urban legend. Good thing I’m doing this whole manifesto thing!

Regardless, I feel that with my current learning style, I would retain more by writing it down. This is an experiment to test the idea that writing improves retention. My claim is: with respect to comprehension, an effective reading strategy is deeply engaging with the content. In seeking to write well-substantiated content that I’d be comfortable sharing, I’ll actively engage with the topics I’m trying to explore. Ideally, writing is even more effective than actively reading, assuming writing adds a procedural layer to the strategy of active reading. Meaning, for writing to be more effective than actively writing, I’d expect the time it takes me to learn a topic by writing about it to be lower than the time it takes me to learn a topic by actively reading about it. Hopefully I can revisit this claim with more substantiation after I write about some topics.

Also, I really just want to learn about some crazy and random stuff. It’s fun. Here, learn about fonts. I like them a lot.

I want to communicate effectively

From my shallow understanding of cognitive functions, our brains do not store information in the form of sentences and paragraphs. Instead, we build “mental models” of a topic which could be most-closely represented by a node-edge graph. Unfortunately, it’s very tough to convey an entire mental model verbally or even via writing because in the best case scenario, your mental model is rich with connections to other topics. Such connections are difficult to explore and revisit in the very linear and non-relational formats of speaking and writing. In identifying these shortcomings of conveying information, I seek to work on communicating effectively.

To make this thought slightly technical, I’ll share an interesting anecdote from a colleague of mine, Tim Mansfield. When discussing curriculum development, we both agreed that related topics are most accurately represented in the form of a node-edge graph. However, in trying to present it to a student, the content must be transformed from its node-edge form into some kind of linear progression. But with many different connections to different topics, there’s no one right way to present that topic to an entire group of students. Tim described this process as attempting to convert a node-edge graph into a linked-list to maintain relationships, but limit connectivity to one topic at a time to reduce confusion. This concept resonates strongly with me. I don’t think curriculum development and effective communication are too dissimilar. Essentially, both processes are an attempt at taking a node-edge graph in your brain, converting it to a linked-list, with the hope that the recipient will be able to reassemble your brain’s node-edge graph accurately in their own brain. The transformation will probably be lossy, but I claim that what makes an effective communicator and/or educator is their ability to reduce that loss to near-zero.

A node-edge graph (source)

A linked-list (source)

I want to expose my brain

To everyone but zombies. They can stay the hell away from my brain. But seriously, I’ve done some hiring and interviewing recently, and despite employing questions I deem to be the most information-revealing, it’s remarkably difficult to really get an accurate read on someone’s abilities without actually working with them. In the best case scenario, you can see their output firsthand. In doing so, you can inspect their problem-solving processes, productivity workflows and subject matter fluency. I’d say the next best case would be some rich documentation of their work product, and that’s something I’m seeking to achieve in my writing.

I claim that my writing will increase the fidelity with which people who haven’t worked with me can understand me. This is my effort to have people understand more about the way I think, and thus the way I communicate and get things done, with more data points than just a resume, title, name, background, etc. Maybe this is me overcompensating for not looking great on paper and not having a very traditional career trajectory, but it sounds effective to me. I claim that in exposing my thoughts and ideas, I can leverage and cross paths with more interesting people and opportunities.

Bonus: The Hows


Be evidence-based

Researching stuff takes a really long time. Every time I realize I’m making some faulty claim or that I need more substantiation, I begin querying the subject matter, but quickly I realize that I can research the topic for days. Regardless, I plan to be as evidence-based as possible to ground my learning in sound reasoning.

Be practical

When trying to learn something new, I want to make it as applicable as possible. Whether that’s walking through a real-life scenario of the subject or trying to implement a newly-discovered strategy/tool, I’m striving to be as practical as possible.

Reduce, not produce

Part of the reason I’m beginning this writing journey is that I frequently talk or write too much. As such, I want to use this outlet as a means to reduce my filler words, adjectives, and overall content to create clear and poignant work. Call me out for bad grammar or structure!

Be empathetic

Humans are my audience and I want my writing to resonate with people. I’m seeking out to keep people in mind while creating any content.