Early on in his latest book, Thank You for Being Late – An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, author and Pulitzer prize winning, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, embeds some tips for writing opinion pieces.
While this aspect of the book is precipitated by a chance encounter with a New York parking attendant who is also an Ethiopian blogger, his advice is widely both cogent and timely, especially for those of us striving for relevance in the blogging sphere.
Here is a summary of his guidelines:
One should strive to have opinions. The purpose of writing columns or blogs should be to influence or provoke reaction, not just to inform. (The latter is the role of reporters.) One should be prepared to argue for a certain perspective with such conviction that readers are persuaded to think or feel differently, perhaps more strongly or anew, about a subject.
The writer should have the attitude of being in the ‘heating business’ or the ‘lighting business’. This means illuminating an issue to inspire a fresh perspective, or stoking an emotional response, making the reader feel more intensely or at least differently about it.
Ideas for topics can come from every direction or from anything. Inspiration depends on what connections one makes and what insights bubble to the surface.
Column writing is an act of chemistry, mixing three basic ingredients: 1) one’s values, priorities, and aspirations; 2) how one thinks the world’s biggest forces (‘the Machine’, such as the world economy, and the ‘gears and pulleys’ which impact it) are shaping events; and 3) what one has learned about people and culture, and their level of reaction when forces emerge; the most effective columns ‘rub these three areas together’.
Writing about people evokes more positive reaction than writing about numbers.
Putting one’s values together with analysis of how ‘the Machine’ affects people and their cultures, in different circumstances, provides a worldview blueprint. This in turn can be applied to all kinds of situations, generating opinions which can be shared and debated.
As the world becomes more interdependent, complex, and ‘accelerated’, it becomes more vital to become exposed to the precipitation of ever-increasing innovation, and its generators. Be prepared to ‘widen one’s aperture’ and synthesize more perspectives.
Rather than looking at issues as ‘inside the box’, ‘outside the box’, or ‘there is no box’, the most logical way to thinking these days is ‘without a box’. Having no limits on curiosity or on disciplines allows one to understand how ‘the Machine’ works; it means bringing in, and maintaining for reference and anecdotal purposes, people, processes, organizations, and technologies.
This would seem to be a sound foundation.
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