The Value of Slowthinking (Who doesn’t want to wear the ribbon?)

I was telling a friend yesterday how I often feel like people want answers from me before I’m ready to give them, before I even know what my answer might possibly be. 

It’s not so much overthinking things, more … slowthinking them, perhaps. Questions — and specifically, requests for decisions — start a snowball rolling down a hill for me. The bigger the decision, the longer the journey down that hill.

This can be detrimental in my personal life. I’ve come to understand — via feedback both solicited and unsolicited from many partners over many years 😂 — that I am a difficult person to make plans with and a difficult person to get to know. And I get it. Often, the only immediate response I have to a question is some version of: “That’s interesting. Let me begin to think about it.” This goes for anything from “What do you want your life to be like in five years?” all the way down to “Where would you like to get dinner this evening?”

Part of the reason for this slowthinking is that I’ve learned not to trust what I think I think, what I think I believe, what I think the answer is, right in the moment. This becomes very clear through my writing and journaling. Often, when reviewing things I’ve written — and therefore “believed” at one point in time, whether that was five seconds ago or five years ago — I’ll find that in fact I don’t believe that thing at all. Or perhaps I understand or believe it differently than how it’s expressed on the page. 

If you don’t do much personal writing, that might sound silly, but it’s a lesson many writers have learned many times: You can’t believe everything you write. The immediate stuff isn’t always the true stuff. And my values nudge me toward preferring saying nothing, or “I’d like to think about that”, versus saying something untrue just to fill space after the colon after my name in the implied script of whatever conversation I’m having.

I don’t say that judgmentally. Everyone is working at their own speed. But I also don’t say it apologetically. I am the way I am, too. Personally, I feel like there’s a too much urgency placed on too many decisions in too many aspects of life for no good goddamned reason, and that this false urgency is at the root of a great many problems I see in people’s personal and professional lives. But hey, maybe that’s just me.

This slowthinking has been somewhat less detrimental in my professional life, and is sometimes even advantageous. Not being in a hurry to decide is much of the value I can bring to a conversation; a long-honed instinct for what decisions are truly urgent, which are best left to ferment for a while, and which will never need to get made at all.

I share this by way of saying, in part, that I’m not sure if or when I’ll add my name to the new Content Design Manifesto that’s making the rounds. I am, generally, not a joiner — which is also not a judgment, just a fact. I’ll do the walk, but I don’t want to wear the ribbon. The CDM is obviously an interesting and well-intentioned project. Regardless of the specific contents of the manifesto, we need 10x more of this kind of thing in the industry. I’m grateful for every effort everyone makes in our field to further the conversation.

How I feel about the manifesto as a project and its contents in the particular — which I was given an opportunity to comment on — is a ball still gathering snow. And it has started some other snowballs rolling for me, about what seems like an impulse in our field to want everyone to align and agree rather than fostering discussion and debate, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing. And still other snowballs — you know, this metaphor isn’t working me anymore … maybe pots on to boil? … seeds planted? I like seeds — it’s planted other little seedlings for me on leadership versus thought leadership, on the seeming inability of our field to fully excise bad actors, on venerating and elevating individuals based on the size of the company on their business card, on tech not being everything and how tech does things not being right for everyone … it’s quite a little garden at this point, is what I’m saying. And if fostering thought, reflection, and discussion was one of the goals of this project, then for me at least, it’s already a rousing success.

A version of this post originally appeared as Issue 126 of the Content.Events newsletter.

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