In the Beginning…

…we all like to think… well, hold that thought.  First, a short digression.

About a month ago, Mrs. Stagger and I went to see and hear a guy named David Wroblewski.  He wrote a novel called The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, currently a NYT bestseller and Oprah book club pick.  This book is 566 pages, took him twelve years to write, and was rejected by something like 15 agents.  There’s more to the story but, basically, this guy is a case study in artistic determination.  Funny too.

But that’s not why I bring him up.  One of the things he talked about was his experience in software design and the art, rather than just the science, involved in it.  He said that often he was halfway through writing the code before he knew explicitly what he was doing and how he was doing it.  As with his novel, he started without the benefit of full fledged plan.  And he expressed suspicion toward anyone in any field who claimed to be capable of such comprehensive visionary feats.

By way of a down-to-earth example, he cited a study in which someone (sociologists?) secretly video-taped the performance of office personnel operating a sophisticated copy machine.  The tape  revealed that in performing difficult copying tasks people often used all kinds of trial and error, making multiple mistakes before finally getting everything loaded correctly and all the right buttons pushed.  However, when interviewed after the fact, the same people did not hesitate to explain their actions as the result of some smooth logical strategy which they were fully confident they’d employed right from the outset. 

I suppose there are a number of take-aways here.  One might be this: In the beginning… we all like to think that we know what we’re doing.  And we’d like others to think that we know what we’re doing too.  But, in the actual practice of anything more complicated than organizing your sock drawer,  it’s probably pretty rare for that to be the case. 

Here goes the Obama presidency.  Think he knows what he’s doing?  He sure looks and sounds like he does, I’ll give him that.



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