Whoever knows me from high school knows what a “Gadon Story” is. It stands for my unique ability to tell long and pointless stories. I was so good at telling bad stories — that a whole term was created on behalf of my name.
I liked the attention so I kept going with it, but I had no idea how much it’s going to affect me in the future.
Eventually I became a software engineer in a mid-size organization. At some point, I had an idea for a project I wanted to pursue with my team. I tried continuously to convince the leadership on the importance of that project. The idea was unique to these days — an internal data-access framework for real time systems. A big investment in something that its value for customers is invisible and only shown in the long term with happy, efficient developers and stable infrastructure.
When I tried to present my ideas, no one understood my intentions and the project’s potential value. It was a complete communication disaster that continued for a year while the project was running. I was frustrated, the team was frustrated — but we completed the project anyway.
Seven years later — this framework drives the entire real time architecture of the organization, and no one doubts its value. Why couldn’t I explain it well enough in the first place?
These days at FB, I take part in projects with so many smart engineers around — and I’m expected to lead. It’s hard for me since in order to lead in a place like FB, it isn’t enough to be smart — you have to think and communicate your thoughts clearly. And I find clear and accurate communication to be extremely hard.
Understanding what should be done is the easy part for me. Explaining this to other people is what I find impossible.
At some point, it stroke me — This inability to deliver a message — the same cause for the big misunderstanding seven years ago, and the same weakness these days at FB — is the same pointlessness from my childhood, with a different expression of it. Gadon Stories were just an early signal for unclear thinking and unclear communication.
I started writing after one of those miscommunication events. I knew my thoughts were not well-organized, I knew no one understood me. I needed a non-judgmental place to organize my thoughts.
At the beginning, I was dumping thoughts into a doc. After that, I started shaping it into messages I can deliver to other people. I read it. It was unclear, it was quite obvious why people did not understand. I realized — my writing is not clear, probably my thoughts are not clear. So I say down, and rewrote everything. And rewrote again, and again. Until it sounded solid.
Practicing thinking with writing
Warren Buffet describes writing as a key way to refining his thoughts. Bill Gates suggests it is a way to sit down and re-evaluate your thoughts.
At the end of the day, writing is thinking on paper. Writing well means thinking well. Practicing writing is practicing thinking.
This is why I write. I want to practice clear thinking. This is also why I publish my writing. The fact that other people are going to read it makes it even more acute. The message has to be clear. Readers have to know what it is that you want from them. Publishing your work raises the bar.
When I write, it requires me to take a stand with conviction. To know what it is I am trying to say, and stick with it. The stand I take should not be obvious, and make the reader think about the content later. It requires the message to be as simple as possible.
I try to focus on keeping the content clear, simple, and short. Each post goes for a single message that is easy to repeat. In this post — writing as a tool for clear thinking practice. In any other post I try to do the same. It makes me focused. It helps me restore the sequence of ideas and deductions that made the idea so clear to me, and bring them on paper so the readers can understand.
How to get there — that’s all about rewriting and sharpening the content. Only the lead to this post was rewritten ten times before settling on the final version. The fact I use a computer to write is a gift for that. Every rewrite is a chance for refining the message I want to deliver. Every rewrite is a chance to think more carefully about the words I use, about how each part leads to another. Every rewrite is a thinking practice.
For me, it helps. Gadon Stories is a long memory by now. I’m still far from writing well, and very far from communicating clearly and thinking clearly all the time. But the process works, and I become better at it as time goes by, also outside the scope of writing itself.