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Letter: "I've been pleasantly surprised how happy people are to move on to better ideas; when doing so doesn't involve loss of face."

Another brilliant reply to "Defecting by Accident - A Flaw Common to Analytical People" - this time from a civil servant, who has granted me permission to share this, but asked not to receive credit for obvious reasons :)

Hello Sebastian,

Just read your post on Defecting by Accident. I think there's some valuable insight there which fits with my own experience (I'm a junior civil servant in ---).

One tactic I've acquired/developed for the 'someone proposes something unworkable' situation is to: a) agree pleasantly and b) propose something different. People who have practised assuming an air of authority can come across as being more certain/committed to plans than they actually are. I've been pleasantly surprised how happy people are to move on to better ideas; when doing so doesn't involve loss of face. Doesn't work all the time, but it helps. Forgoing the temptation to nitpick requires a bit of willpower but it gets easier, like a diet.

There's a potential Nash equilibrium where you have a better idea, but think 'They seem to believe this strongly, so I'll just accept it and avoid conflict.'

Blogs are easy, essays are hard

On Isaac Lewis

Why is so much harder to write for university assignments than for this blog? Recently, I've made it an aim to write for this blog daily, and I'm currently managing roughly every other day. It's really not a chore at all -- I either pick some topic that is bouncing around my mind, or choose something from my ideas.txt file that I find interesting at that particular moment. Either way, churning out a first draft is actually pleasant -- it's more of a problem trying to write *less*, and prevent a "oh I'll just write a couple of paragraphs on this topic" turning into a 1000-word essay. And the first draft quality is not bad*. Most of the recent blog posts didn't receive much rewriting, only a sentence or two being tightened up here and there.

*(It's not great, either, and there's a lot of room for long-term improvement. Still, people seem to enjoy what I'm publishing so far.)

Which I why I was so surprised when I sat down to write a 3000-word university assignment, and inspiration just would not come. The assigned topic was interesting -- choose three from a list of ten emerging technologies, and discuss which are the most promising -- and I thought I could find interesting things to say about my chosen three. Still, I find myself staring at a blinking text cursor, with no idea what the next sentence will look like. What's the problem?

I thought of a few reasons why essay-writing is harder than blogging:

1. Knowing a piece of work will be graded is a great way to suck out all creativity. Instead of writing for an audience, you're writing for a mark scheme.

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