Picture yourself standing in the woods. The world is unstructured. You could act on it any way you want. Pick up a leaf. Drop a leaf. We must make a decision to create structure. Structure narrows the set of possible actions. Structure gives our creative energy a channel to flow through. Not all actions are the same. You can pick up a leaf, drop a leaf. Or you can build a fire. Making a fire constrains you from doing many other things. Structure is constraining, but it is also generative (see The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz). Making a fire generates heat, light, and fuel for cooking.
Structure has rules. There are rules to building a fire. One rule is to optimize for flammability and dryness. But if you have something that is a little wet but highly flammable and you have just enough heat to dry it out, you can use something wet to build a fire. Some rules are in tension. The need for the fire to breathe is in tension with the need to concentrate the heat – two hot things close together are exponentially hotter than they are apart. But put them too close and you stifle growth. For a more primal feel of building a fire, there’s To Build a Fire by Jack London.
I was struggling to finish The Indie Guide to Building Your Legal Network. I had the core concepts in there, but I wanted to refine the narrative and deeply think about the path a reader would take through the book – why should they spend their precious time on my guide? I kept chasing new promising ideas and frameworks but I was getting stretched thin.
I had originally set the deadline to be my birthday, September 22. Heading into the weekend before, my girlfriend Emma asked me how the draft was coming along. I said I wasn’t finished and I had more ideas I was exploring and I wanted to extend the deadline so I could incorporate. Emma asked me to consider that people had prepaid for this product and were expecting it. And wouldn’t I feel better if I got it done on time – done is better than perfect.
So I got to work that weekend. I used the 80/20 rule to hone in on the most important revisions and formatting to make. Seemingly unrelated problems were resolved by resolving when the work would get done. Choosing to commit to a deadline created a generative system that clarified where to direct my energy. I even got the guide done in time to go camping. I built a fire.