The Result of Investing Too Much Energy in Business — Enjoy!

It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on my latest NaNo novel, and I feel a bit of guilt when I don’t quite get there for the night.  I think about my novels all of the time; all too frequently, I realize that the amount of energy that I need in order to focus and the amount of energy that I have are two very different things.   Lately, there’s a lot of energy invested in work; quite a few late nights, despite wrestling with a nasty cold.  In addition, I’ve been on this one project for weeks – and hadn’t seen much headway.  At first, it improved in fits and starts, and then it went back to the drawing board.  Here it is on a Friday night, and my wife just went to bed after studying something for work, and I’m doing everything in my power to avoid studying for work.  I have a presentation in a week, and I’m not nearly as prepared as I was last year at this point.  Part of it goes to the constant back to the drawing board that I had about five to six weeks ago.

I also haven’t added much to this blog in months, and I’m sorry about that, as well.  There have been a few evocative discussions and studies that I’ve been doing lately concerned with data.  For those who know me on this side of the electronic ether, you’d know that data is what my company does.  But, in a previous life, I was a teacher.  On rare occasion, I wish I’d continued that path.

When thinking about my current job and my previous one, I think about how much we consider data.  Data is the new cultural currency – just ask Google, or Facebook, or just about every other major tech vendor out there.  It’s all about data. People will even pay for data in order to test out their latest invention.  In a way, it doesn’t come as a surprise.  After all, Orville and Wilbur Wright must have purchased the energy that they used at Kittyhawk from somewhere.  (Although, before I digress too much, wouldn’t it have been funny if it was entirely solar?)  At any rate, data is good; it’s essential.  One thing that I’ve learned through training employees and through educating students, is that many people don’t know what to do when handling data.  When I was teaching, one of the programs that I went through discussed a model for discussing data that is really effective; it’s proprietary, and I was using it through permission, as my mentor (the best teacher I’d ever had when it came to learning about teaching) passed the tradition on to her mentees.  It’s a great model, and if you ever come across the Bay Area Writing Project, ask them about Kermit the Frog.  I hope they’ll excuse the Jim Henson reference.  At any rate, it closely follows what we’ve come to know at my work as Bell’s hierarchy, or a hierarchy of knowledge that stems from a tradition attributed to Daniel Bell.

The hierarchy goes like this: data comes before information, information comes before knowledge, and knowledge comes before wisdom.  As a teacher, I was surprised when I’d hear phrases like “Curley’s wife is a ho-bag.” and not just because it was crude (aside: is it crude if it’s true?).  The problem I would have is that they’d reach these assertions, and not have the data (information, quotes) to back it up.  Was Curley’s Wife really a ‘ho-bag,’ as we come to see her in the movie, or was it that the limited perspective of the narration that makes Curley’s Wife a caricature?  After all, we don’t even get her name.  Whatever, the case, I’m dealing with stale data, as the last time I picked up Of Mice and Men is when I was devising the final for that class – back in early 2010.

Nevertheless, when we consider the data and information that we present in our own lives, we often like things distilled down to the point that we can count the key takeaways on our fingers.  Yes, it’s effective, and especially so if you’re writing a pamphlet, but the art of writing means that we bring together what scientists would call data in a way that is enriching and challenging.  Would it be so compelling if the Tell-Tale Heart revealed exactly what every character was thinking and when?  Would The Odyssey be all that interesting if it described their journey in exacting kilometers and days rather than making it feel so sweeping and amorphous. Dr. Who can get away with describing everything in terms of dates and events, and what should have happened.  Particularly with those episodes that take place in the past, this is gor good reason, as the show has its roots in education (ha, tell that to the Slitheen of Raxacoricofallapatorius).  At any rate, the endearing moments come in the form of the will-he or won’t-he relationships he has with his companions, the moments where he has a long drawn out “that can’t be,” and the moments where complex science is discussed as ‘timey-wimey stuff.’

The business world and the literature world cannot reconcile on this one point.  With business, it’s all about how fast I can get to the data, how specific is the data, and what can I extract from this mountain of stuff that is otherwise meaningless?  In writing and literature, it’s how can I lovingly obfuscate the data and where can I lose the data and find myself gently flowing down this river of images and feelings?  While the latter would never work in business – no matter how hard I try – the former only rarely works in literature.  Even then, the beauty of writers like Merwin and Hemingway is that they present data or information so starkly that they leave you to create the gaps.

Once this big project is done in about a week and a half, I want to dive back into my latest NaNo Novel.  In the meantime, I apologize if the blog is becoming quite sparse.

Oh, and for those of you who aren’t here for pleasure, but rather for business, here’s the three key takeaways:

  • Give deep thought to the data that you collect
  • Teach others how to interpret those data; give them a checklist, if need be
  • As much as they try to put science into literature, literature will always be art
  • Any ranting at 10pm on a Friday night is bound to make logical jumps.
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