Purposefully doing things the slowest way possible
Today, there is an obsessive devotion to increasing efficiencies based on an implicit belief that faster equals better, always. Great, we closed the books in 15 days, let’s make it 10. Awesome, it took 1 hour to create this report, lets figure out a way to automate it in 1 minute. Sweet, we ran a mile in 6 minutes, let’s do it in 5:30. And on and on it goes.
However, sometimes we stumble across something that is delightfully different and really makes us stop and think. One such surprise was a great interview with Robert Caro, author of The Power Broker (about Robert Moses) and The Path To Power (a four book series about Lyndon B. Johnson, with the fifth forthcoming).
Now, Caro is not your run-of-the-mill autobiographer. Rather, his books, which explore power dynamics in deep and unexpected ways, are, as Conan O’Brien put it, basically Harry Potter for adults. There is also similarity in that Caro’s books are also incredibly long and detailed (i.e., the four volumes of Path To Power have more than 3,000 pages). Given the sheer volume of his output, it was surprising to us that Caro actually drafts his work longhand. For the raisin-free millennials among our readership, THAT MEANS HE USES HIS HAND AND A PEN TO WRITE WORDS ON PAPER! Amazing. When asked why he works this way, Caro provided the following insight:
“… It’s because of something that was said to me at Princeton, by a professor, a very courtly gentleman, southern gentleman, who was my creative writing teacher. Every two weeks you had to hand in a short story, I was in his course for two years. For two years he gave me high marks but I always did these short stories at the last minute, I remember we used to call it pulling allnighter. I remember because I would always start at the last minute and just type because I could write really fast. At our last session, he hands back my short story with the usual compliments and as I’m getting up to go, he says, but you know Mr. Caro, you will never achieve what you want to achieve unless you stop thinking with your fingers. You know I say in Working, did you ever realize that somebody has seen right through you? I realized he had seen right through me all along. He knew that I wasn’t putting any thought into these, I was just writing because writing was so easy for me. So when I was a newspaper man, I was a really fast rewrite man, but when I quit to do a book and I began to realize how complex the story of Robert Moses was, I said I must make myself think things all the way through and the slowest way of committing your thoughts to paper is by writing in hand. So I write three or four, sometimes more drafts by hand then I go to my typewriter, and that’s how I write.”
We think that’s great. It’s a healthy reminder that quality of thought often comes when we force ourselves to slow down processing speed, so we can see connections we might otherwise miss. With some reflection, for our team, the process of writing Weekly Thoughts is one mechanism we have deployed to force ourselves to stop, think, and write about something, anything other than daily minutiae. That said, with due respect to Caro, we’ll still probably use a computer.