Seth Godin, System 1 Thinking, and Self-Publishing Smoke Blowing

© Ramesh Chinnasamy |

Every so often someone (most recently Seth Godin) will regurgitate the list of luminaries who originally self-published, such as:

  • Emily Dickinson
  • Ezra Pound
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Virginia Woolf

The implication being that today’s self-published authors have something in common with these Greats. That’s as spurious an argument as suggesting I’m like a world class athlete because I also have two arms and two legs.

Writers like those listed above are not like most of us in several significant ways. For one thing, they thought longer and harder about their material, exemplifying what Daniel Kahneman calls System 2 thinking:

… our slow, deliberate, analytical and consciously effortful mode of reasoning about the world.

That’s not the case with today’s “write-a-book-in-90-days-or-less” authors. Consider this recent LinkedIn post from one self-published writer:

“Did I really just stay up all night writing? I guess I did! Another 2,200 words down and chapter 22 is done!”

Contrast that thinking with Aldous Huxley’s explanation of how he worked, which he shared in an interview published in The Paris Review Interviews’ Writers at Work Series 2:

Generally, I write everything many times over. All my thoughts are second thoughts. And I correct each page a great deal, or rewrite it several times as I go along.

The reason why many contemporary authors can write their books so quickly is because they are  System 1 Knowledge Tellers, rather than System 2 Knowledge Transformers. The two types of thinking are qualitatively different. And so is the quality of the books that each approach produces.

I’ll be writing more about this topic shortly, including why any reputation-guarding consultant or executive should operate from a System 2, Knowledge Transforming mode of thinking before writing their book. In the meantime: how many books have you read that seem to offer little more than “easy answers and half-baked solutions” typical of those unwilling to engage in System 2 thinking. 



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