On not writing books

“You should write a book.”

Sometimes I say this to other people, sometimes other people say this to me.

It came up again this week. Anjali and I had lunch, and spoke of our mutual delight on Neil announcing he’s writing a second book.

The first book is a super useful read, a manual to keep dipping in and out of. In fact, I have it in my bag now, as I’m rapidly scanning everything I can to get further into the deeper backstory of John Boyd’s OODA loops for various projects.

Like many folk, I’d perhaps only scratched the surface of OODA. I started using in in workshops and teaching back in 2015/15, but only lightly as part of the metamechanics collection, basing work on the elements of movement, maps, loops and layers which help people think about their work using the qualities and power of information in the internet age, rather than fighting against it.

But in wanting to delve deeper into the OODA loops, I found this, which contains Boyd’s original 327 slide briefing document, and an introduction from Dr Grant T. Hammond, in which he writes…

“In introducing the 327 slides of “A Discourse on Winning and Losing,” I am hesitant. Boyd’s briefings were never meant to be a compilation of doctrine or dogma about how to fight and win wars. They were meant to be conversations between him and his audiences.

He never gave a briefing in which he did not learn something. He might have poorly conveyed a particular idea or skipped a step in the logic trail. Alternatively, perhaps, he forgot something or someone had added to the examples he used, the references he had consulted, or provided a different interpretation that he should have considered more deeply.”

“He could not bring himself to publish anything because it was never complete. Coming from an essentially oral culture of briefings in the military, Boyd put carefully chosen words on view-graphs, but never in print. The “Discourse” was an unfinished conversation with each audience, part of a perpetual learning experience. He learned every time from each discussion with his audiences, and this necessitated changes for the next iteration. There was a succession of unfinished OODA Loops.”

I’m totally going to use this as my excuse for not writing books from now on.

Firstly, because I believe it; all of the various theories, models, tools and so on that have developed over eight years of Smithery are not ‘finished’; they work differently every time, and are contextually powerful because of that, and always send me away thinking new thinks.

And secondly, because from the outside, writing books looks hard and often joyless, and my hat goes off to all those who do. I look forward to reading them all.

One Reply to “On not writing books”

  1. […] somehow I saw a connection between Robin Houghton’s Work poems post and John Wilshere’s post about not writing […]


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