Monday, February 13, 2006

AG: The Right Question

In the most recent issue of Discover Magazine appears an article about Amory Lovins (as told to Cal Fussman). Haven’t heard of him? Neither had I, but he’s made a name for himself by having innovative ideas about energy, oil, and the like. He’s a physicist, economist, inventor, automobile designer and several other things to make mortals like me feel like gross underachievers. In the article he discusses ways to deal with the world’s energy problems, but that’s not why I mention him. Although I found his thoughts interesting, I found his way of thinking even more so.

He made a point by describing a man who walks into a hardware store to buy a drill bit. Lovins asks, “What does the man really want?” My knee-jerk response: Um, a drill bit? But no. The man wants a hole. Okay, that seems pretty basic but how many of us think that way? Much of creativity, innovation, and artistic endeavor comes from asking the right question.

Maybe another example.

At the turn of the last century one of the first (maybe the very first) woman business consultants, Mary Parker Follet, was working with a company that made lamp shades. She asked a question that at first stumped them. “What business are you in?” Like me they went for the obvious, “Um, lamp shades?”

“No, you’re in the light control business.” Seems too subtle to make a difference, but then the, well, light went on. “You mean we can make window shades, too?” The ideas began to flow. The failure to ask and properly answer this question almost doomed the railroads that had difficulty seeing that they were in the transportation business, not the railroad business (which meant they missed out on many opportunities).

Now, what business are writers in? Are novelists in the fiction business? Are periodical writers just in the magazine business? Are editors in the word refining business? What about publishers? Are they just in the book business?

And what about our man in the hardware store? He’s there to buy a bit, not because he likes the design and feel of the bit, but because he needs a hole bored into something. What’s your real need; your real desire; your real goal? If everything worked perfectly, what would your writing business look like and how would you measure its success? The man with the drill bit measures his success by the holes that he drills. Those holes are evidence of achievement. What is the writer’s proof of accomplishment?

What business are you in? What is your real goal?

Instead of me providing an answer, let’s hear from you. Later I’ll give my opinion in the comments section.

Alton Gansky,


At 8:46 AM, Blogger Deborah Raney said...

As a writer, I think I am foremost in the entertainment business. I hope my work also offers comfort, hope, insight and Truth, but I know as a reader myself, I choose a novel first for the sheer pleasure of story.

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Patty said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Ane Mulligan said...

I'm in the agricultural business - planting seeds of God's word in the soil of fiction.

Great kick-off for my Monday muse. THanks, Al!

At 11:39 AM, Blogger Domino said...

I think many authors focus on entertaining their readers, and I agree that a good story should be entertaining. But Christian fiction offers much more than just entertainment.

Maybe readers pick up a book based on the promise of being entertained, and then they set it down having read a life-changing message from God. I want my future readers to put down a finished book more in awe of God than when they began it.

I have to entertain readers in order to get a book published, but that's not why I write.

God has a message of love for readers that involves forgiveness, reconcilliation, hope, and healing. I have to obey His call to write so that He can reach my readers and draw them closer.

I'm not trying to buy a drill bit. I'm trying to be a God-pleaser.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Patty said...

I think there is an unfinished story in every heart. This longing causes us to keep reading until we can find that story that “finishes” a part of us. When a story lays another stroke to the unfinished masterpiece of our life, there’s a great sense of satisfaction. I think the reader’s “hole” is the great mystery waiting to be filled. We yearn and find connection through story.

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Cheryl Russell said...

Hmmm. Interesting question. I'd say I'm in the exploration business. Exploring unusual territory and sharing discoveries in story form.

Or maybe mining. Digging deep into the unknown and holding up what I've found for all to see, touch, hold and take with them. I can always go back for more.

Definately miner. **claps on hard hat** Hi ho, Hi ho, off to work I go. ;-)

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Angela said...

Hmm. Okay, the way I see it, entertainment equals the drill bit. That's the obvious thing my reader wants.

But what I want to do--bottom line--is teach. I want to impart something God has shown me. The trick is doing it in a painless, non-didactic way.

An aside--my neighborhood book club is supposed to meet tonight. The novel we chose for discussion won a Pulitzer prize. But so far I've had FOUR women call to say they couldn't get into the book and so they're not coming. I got through the book through sheer force of will.

What does that tell me? That entertainment part had better be good and strong. [VBG]


At 4:12 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I had the same thought myself some months ago. I didn't articulate it as well as you, nor did I share it like you--as I should have.

I concluded that I'm in the story-telling business.

At 10:46 PM, Blogger Bonnie Calhoun said...

I want to be in the "entertaining with written words business". I want to excite them and thrill them, and make their hearts beat faster and in the end ai want them to be satisfied with what they've read!

Like I am with everything that I've ever read of yours...and I've read them all!

At 11:44 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Eww, I just love this. As an artist, this is a question I pondered a long time ago when I struggled with my motivation for spending time making things or painting. Then I realized God is a creative being, and we are created in his image to be creative beings. Then I had my "aha" moment. I do these things to satisfy my need to create and be creative. A story is creating a world with characters and situations that combine into a whole picture. I see so many connections between writing and traditional art. Simply said, I write to create.

At 5:45 AM, Blogger Carol Collett said...

Very interesting question. I'm going to have to think about that for a while, but my first response is that I want to connect and to make a difference.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Alton Gansky said...

Okay, a few days have trickled by since this blog posting appeared and I promised to give my opinion to the questions, “What business are you in? What is your real goal?”

First, I want you to know that these are questions I ask myself frequently. Life changes us, the industry changes, readers change; therefore we need to be flexible. The answer to the question should never be chiseled in stone but allowed to adapt to our ever altering interests, skills, and world.

That being said, here’s are my answers (remember these are my answers for my situations—they are not meant to be universally applied).

“What business are you in?” I am in the communication business. I peddle ideas, sell concepts, and market thoughts. Of course, as a Christian, most of what I communicate touches on faith and the way it is lived out.

Am I a novelist? Yes, but I write nonfiction as well. Am I then a writer of books? Sure, but I also write short pieces, blogs, articles…. Okay, then, that makes me a wordsmith. That’s true it does, but I also lecture, give interviews, teach classes…. You get the idea.

The purpose of my article was to get us to think wider and deeper. What do we really want to achieve. I asked, “What is your real goal?” Mine is this: I want to make people think. That’s it. Don’t I want to entertain? Of course I do, but entertainment isn’t the goal, it’s the means. I want people to say, “Wow,” “Great,” “Gripping,” but most of all I want them to go, “Hmmm.”

I feel most successful when I, through written or spoken words, reach into someone’s mind and tickle it with a new thought.

That’s how I measure success.


At 3:00 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Dear Mr. Gansky,
I read your article on Feb 13. I came back today (22) for your promised opinion.

Sir, with all respect, I confess that I didn't say "Wow," "Great," "Gripping," or even "Hmmmm." I didn't detect any tickling sensations, either. I did go "Ho-hum, though."


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