RNA Polymerase producing mRNA from a double-stranded DNA template

  synthesis /sinthisiss/ n. (pl. syntheses /-seez/) 1 the process of building up separate elements, esp. ideas, into a connected whole, esp. a theory or system. (O.E.D.)  

Yesterday’s post entitled Recipes for success? seems to have generated quite a bit of feedback. In particular I had a couple of DMs from people I know on (that’s direct messages for the uninitiated) and some e-mails, each of which asked me why I was so against business books. One person even made the assumption that I was anti-books and anti-learning in general.

I guess I need to go on a course designed to help people to express themselves more clearly. I am a bibliophile and would describe myself as fanatically pro-learning. As I mentioned in a comment on the earlier article, I was employing hyperbole yesterday. I would even go so far as to unequivocally state that some business books occasionally contain a certain amount of mildly valuable information.

Of course, when someone approaches a new area, I would certainly recommend that they start by researching what others have already tried and that they attempt to learn from what has previously worked and what has not. Instead, the nub of my problem is when people never graduate beyond this stage. More specifically, I worry when someone finds a web-article listing “10 steps that, if repeated in the correct sequence, will automatically lead to success” and then uncritically applies this approach to whatever activity they are about to embark on.

Assuming that the activity is something more complicated than assembling Ikea furniture, I think it pays to do two further things: a) cast your net a little wider to gather a range of opinions and approaches, and b) assemble your own approach, based borrowing pieces from different sources and sprinkling this with your own new ideas, or maybe things that have worked for you in the past (even if these were in slightly different areas). My recommendation is thus not to find the methodology or design that most closely matches your requirements, but rather to roll your own, hopefully creating something that is a closer fit.

This act of creating something new – based on research, on leveraging appropriate bits of other people’s ideas, but importantly adding your own perspective and tweaking things to suit your own situation – is what I mean by synthesis.

Of course maybe what you come up with is not a million miles from one of the existing prêt-à-porter approaches, but it may be an improvement for you in your circumstances. Also, even if your new approach proves to be suboptimal, you have acquired something important; experience. Experience will guide you in your next attempt, where you may well do better. As the saying maybe ought to go – you learn more from your own mistakes than other people’s recipes for success.


The WordPress theme I use for this blog – Contempt – was written by Michael Heilemann a self-styled “Interface Designer, Web Developer, former Computer Game Developer and Film Lover”. Michael also writes a blog, Binary Bonsai and I felt that his article, George Lucas stole Chewbacca, but it’s OK, summed up (if you can apply the concept of summation to so detailed a piece of writing) a lot of what I am trying to cover in this piece. I’d recommend giving it a read, even if you aren’t a Star Wars fan-boy.

10 thoughts on “Synthesis

  1. Peter,
    It is obvious from reading your posts that you are a learned man, and books in general must play a good part in that. While many prefer quick-fix books, you have applied a “critical thinking” to reading and add your own thoughts to create something new and useful (at least to you). This is no “anti-book” or “anti-learning” behaviour and there is no need for you to be on the defensive.
    On the other hand, I am curious to hear the comments from the same people criticizing you regarding a recent blog from Seth Godin who claimed here that “Blogs have eliminated the reason for most business books to exist.”


    Blogs have eliminated the reason for most business books to exist.

  2. Peter, thanks works for me. The internet and electronic publishing makes it easy for lots of junk to be out there. Yet, this democracy of information is better than the closely guarded ivory tower of the past. On your point about synthesis, that works also. Must of the real value I bring to my clients is working across multiple best practices and my own teaching and consulting in my areas of speciality to provide the “best of the best.” When people want a synthesis in improve decision-making to get more business value from technology, I’m the spot. So I’m a living proof point for you. Best, Brian

    • Brian,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that there is little point yearning for the age of the printing press (or the illuminated scroll). Progress in information dissemination is overwhelmingly positive; if sometimes a little locally frustrating.


  3. Good story and cool picture. The need to distill what we need from the overwhelming availability of information and ideas is one of our biggest challenges. Most change is incremental and requires pruning and shaping of ideas from multiple sources.

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