Do. Then Learn

Annie Dillard is a well-known, highly-regarded Pulitzer Prize-winning American author. In The Writing Life she writes with extraordinary insight and eloquence about the experience of being a writer, and about the act of writing. This slim volume is a treasure-trove of jewel-like observations and remarkable sentences. It’s truly a pleasure to read.

On re-reading her book one passage in particular struck me. This is Dillard describing the act of writing:

“The line of words is a fiber optic, flexible as wire; it illuminates the path just before its fragile tip. You probe with it, delicate as a worm.”

Writing is an act of exploration for Dillard. The writer knows what to write only through the act of writing.

That got me thinking. It strikes me that Dillard’s wisdom has value and significance for all of us.

It is by doing that we learn. It is by doing that we solve and discover. We do not understand and then do. Only as we do, do we understand.

We separate strategy from execution at our peril. And for planners isolating themselves as the ‘thinkers‘ separate from the ‘makers’ is about the most dangerous thing they can do. Things cannot be solved in theory. Things cannot be solved without doing.

Dillard’s insight is that the vision and what is actually made are not one and the same thing:

“The work is not the vision itself, certainly. It is not the vision filled in, as if it had been a coloring book.”

We cannot know if our strategy is ‘right’ until we have started executing it. So let’s not get too caught up in our own cleverness. We must make stuff. Try stuff out. Get to beta-testing stuff quickly. We must fail faster. Use the act of making to assess whether the strategy is right. And above all we must expect stuff to change and evolve. The execution is not the plan coloured in.

I have no idea where I’m going. Illuminating the path just before. But I’m doing.