Michiel Nuyts

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Thinking Week

May 20, 2020

Have you ever heard about the Bill Gates thinking week? Bill Gates, around twice a year, goes out to a cabin by himself with a bunch of books and just reads for an entire week. Just reading. The magic starts to happen when you focus on a single topic. If you fill up your brain with a bunch of information on a single topic and really focus on that for an entire week, the brain’s diffuse mode starts to kick in. It’s the most powerful part of our brain. You can think of diffuse mode as your subconscious working for you in the background. Remember those times when you are showering, taking a walk or exercising and the solution to a problem you have been thinking about a lot previously, just pops out out of nowhere? That’s called Diffuse Mode thinking.

Thinking week is similar to that, when you just read for an entire week and just about a single topic, you’ll begin to see connections in all of the information you are absorbing. So naturally I got interested in this and decided I need to give it a shot myself.

Writing

My chosen topic is writing, I enjoy doing it, but I want to get a lot better at it. Mostly business writing. Writing is an essential part of a software developer in a team. A written piece is always a better approach to convincing others of a potential idea you have. A regular meeting isn’t always the best platform to share ideas, especially when they are still young, writing incubates these ideas and transforms them into something useful and something you can share.

Incubating Ideas

Writing is essentially a robust tool that enables us to clarify and communicate our thoughts. While writing, you are forcing yourself to think critically and exercise parts of your brain that are typically on auto-pilot. As Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” In attempting to formulate a written piece, you are going through the exercise of transforming vague ideas into clarified concepts externally, but also internally.

You can make better arguments over time as you incubate ideas and elaborate more on them. With this network of thoughts and ideas, you can transfer that into the written word which usually makes for much better arguments as readers will get more of the full picture. Also, the written word can avoid some common mis-communication. Sometimes in a meeting you will have a fleeting thought or idea, when you share that idea in the meeting, it’s usually too early. There is a danger it will be dismissed because others lacked your surrounding context around the idea, so you might get biased about it and the value will have been lost.

So those are some good arguments for me to invest more time in my writing skill. I have selected 4 books for my first thinking week.

  • Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert Caro
  • Draft No. 4: On The Writing Process by John McPhee
  • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide To Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsse
  • On Writing by Stephen King

These books are from some of the best non-fiction writers around, and these books are highly praised and have heaps of amazing reviews on Goodreads. And I threw in one from Stephen King as well, it can never hurt to gain some ideas from the best fiction writer of modern times.

Finding Books That Resonate With You

Another useful tip to find great books is to use Kindle or Google Play books and download a sample of every book that seems even vaguely interesting. I do this once every few weeks, once I have a bit of time I’ll just read all the samples in one go. These samples are usually around the first 20 - 30 pages of the book. A general rule you can apply is, lot’s of input, and a strong filter. All of these samples are your input, and after 20 pages you’ll know for sure if it’s worth buying and finishing the book.

Something I’m not able to do in this thinking week, is going to a separate location, sometimes referred to as “A third place”, a hotel, or cabin in Bill’s case where you are in an environment where you can totally focus without distractions from co-workers, family or friends. If there are some results after this first thinking week, I’ll definitely need to try and rent a cabin somewhere in New Zealand’s nature and do it again with another topic. Might be the best financial investment around.