The question that I answer with this book is….
When faced with completing that sentence, what’s your initial response? Most likely it will be to choose a question you already know how to answer, in the hope that it’s also one of interest to your target audience.
This kind of “knowledge sharing” is the default for most people. It’s also the reason why their books are ones that any other subject matter expert could have written – and may already have. These books are typically knocked out quickly and easily (always the carrot dangled by those “write your book in a month” programs). With few exceptions they’re so-so books written by — forgive me for saying so — average thinkers.
Don’t you want to write something more unique? A book that is superior in content? One that not only meets your readers’ needs, but offers you greater satisfaction as the writer — because it takes you longer and is a bigger challenge? A book that changes you as a consequence of birthing it? One that makes you — well, smarter?
Here’s how. Learn, provoke, challenge yourself to think like a knowledge discoverer instead!
There are two kinds of writers — that I’m calling knowledge sharers and knowledge discoverers — who have been found by psychologists, who study the science behind how and what we write, to produce vastly different experiences both for their readers and for themselves.
Knowledge sharers are content to write about what they already know. For them it’s a simple case of extracting what’s in their heads, figuring out some kind of organizational structure, and then writing their books. When answering the question I posed above they go immediately to: What do I already know? And that’s what they share. These people may be adults but, in scientific terms at least, they are “immature” writers. Meaning that their approach is simplistic and not particularly sophisticated, cognitively speaking. Really, they’re not using much of their minds.
This approach is qualitatively different from what knowledge discoverers do.
When faced with completing that first sentence outlined above, knowledge discoverers set themselves a greater challenge. They may begin with a general theme for their book and then ask themselves, What do I need to know that I don’t already about this topic? That, then, is their self-appointed quest — to find out. In doing so they have a greater chance of uncovering material that likely has never been offered before. And they increase their odds of being able to write more intriguing and valuable thought leadership books.
Put simply, knowledge sharers focus more on what they do know. Whereas knowledge discoverers are more interested in what they don’t know — and what they have to do or find out to plug those gaps. This not only makes them much more interesting authors, from a reader’s perspective, but superior thinkers.
As Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia point out in The Psychology of Written Composition:
The composing behavior of expert writers may in these terms be distinguished from that of novices by the greater frequency with which regulatory mechanisms are used compared to nonregulatory mechanisms such as generating and transcribing.
Put simply, knowledge discoverers — “expert” writers by dint of the greater mental effort they bring to bear to the task of writing — not only use different, cognitively sophisticated parts of the brain but in doing so they more successfully stimulate and expand their minds.
In an age when just about every man and his dog is now an “author,” isn’t a goal of yours to distinguish yourself from so-so writers and thinkers? Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing more about the ways in which the knowledge discoverers I work with not only transform the quality of their work, but the quality of their thoughts because of the process we go through together.
In the meantime, however, think about this. Next time you sit down to write — your book, your blog, an article, white paper or whatever — challenge yourself by asking, What still needs to be discovered about this topic? What don’t I know that I’m excited to find out? What’s missing from what’s typically being written?
Then again, maybe you don’t want to be a thought leader. And are content to be a so-so author instead.