Generation & Revision (Paradox Pair #71)

Selecting what to cut and exclude is more powerful than adding new features to an already complicated product.

A factory with heavy equipment, in a cartoon stylized art form
Generation & Revision, JLP

The creative process begins with an initial idea, yet it is through revision that we bring an interesting idea to life. From our exploration of Headway & Recoil we learned that setbacks, while frustrating, provide crucial feedback to help lead us to a better solution. However, we can jumpstart our process by embracing a revisionist mindset that allows us time and space to hone and craft our ideas.

Revising in this context really means "re-seeing", reflecting on feedback and observations to improve our solution. Taking a lesson from from Ownership & The Tie-Breaker, we overcome the pride of authorship and enter a cycle of continuous improvement. Here the process is to add depth and detail while also narrowing our focus. This is a delicate balance that when done well develops a mature, elegant solution. When executed poorly our proposal fails to tie together, is burdened by too large a scope, or creates too much risk.

The process of revision is often one of omission, a sort of discovery by erasure. Selecting what to cut and exclude is more powerful than adding new features to an already complicated product. Of Shakespeare, literary critic Harold Bloom wrote: "Increasingly in his work, what he leaves out becomes much more important than what he puts in, and so he takes literature beyond its limits." We have much we can learn from Shakespeare's technique.

Once we've embraced a winning idea we have a foothold from which to plan our approach. We recognize that endless choices lead to dissatisfaction, and our goal is to solve the immediate problem as simply as possible. Only through revision do we find our clearest path forward.


The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us.  A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.