Saturday, January 06, 2018

New: #System #Design #Heuristics

You'd think that after publishing books for half a century, I'd know how to write a book. If that's what you think, you'd be wrong.

Sure, I've even written a book on writing books (Weinberg on Writing, the Fieldstone Method), and I've applied those methods to dozens of successful books. But way back around 1960, I started collecting notes on the process of design, thinking I would shortly gather them into a book. Back then, I didn't call these bits and pieces "fieldstones," but that's what they turned out to be: the pieces that, when assembled properly, would ultimately become my design book.

Ultimately? Assembled properly? Aye, there's the rub!

Building walls from randomly found fieldstones requires patience. So does writing books by the Fieldstone Method. My Introduction to General Systems Thinking took fourteen years to write. But a writer only lives one lifetime, so there's a limit to patience. I'm growing old, and I'm beginning to think that fifty years is as close to "ultimately" as I'm going to get.

So, I've begun to tackle the task of properly assembling my collection of design fieldstones. Unfortunately, it's a much larger collection that I'd ever tackled before. My Mac tells me I have more than 36,000,000 digitized bytes of notes. My filing cabinets told me I had more than twenty-five pounds of paper notes, but I've managed to digitize some of them and discard others, so there's only a bit more than ten pounds left to consider.

For the past couple of years, I've periodically perused these fieldstones and tried to assemble them "properly." I just can't seem to do it. I'm stuck.

Some writers would say I am suffering from "writer's block," but I believe "writer's block" is a myth. I've published three other books in these frustrating years, so I can't be "blocked" as a writer, but just over this specific design book. You can hear me talk more about the Writer's Block myth on YouTube 

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77xrdj9YH3M&t=7s]

but the short version is that "blocking" is simply a lack of ideas about how to write. I finally decided to take my own advice and conjure up some new ideas about how to write this design book.

Why I Was Stuck

To properly assemble a fieldstone pile, I always need an "organizing principle." For instance, my recent book, Do You Want to Be a (Better) Manager? is organized around the principle of better management. Or, for my book, Errors, the principle is actually the title.  So, I had been thinking the organizing principle for a book on design ought to be Design

Well, that seemed simple enough, but there was a problem. Everybody seemed to know what design is, but nobody seemed able to give a clear, consistent definition that covered all my notes. I finally came to the conclusion that's because "design" is not one thing, but many, many different things.

In the past, I ran a forum (SHAPE: Software as a Human Activity Practiced Effectively) whose members were among the most skilled software professionals in the world. We held a number of threads on the subject, "What is Design?" The result was several hundred pages of brilliant thoughts about design, all of which were correct in some context. But many of them were contradictory.

Some said design was a bottom-up process, but others asserted it was top-down. Still others talked about some kind of sideways process, and there were several of these. Some argued for an intuitive process, but others laid out an algorithmic, step-by-step process. There were many other variations: designs as imagined (intentional designs), designs as implemented, and designs as evolved in the world. All in all, there were simply too many organizing principles—certainly too many to compress into a title, let alone organize an entire book.

After two years of fumbling, I finally came up with an idea that couldn't have been implemented fifty years ago: the book will be composed of a variety of those consulting ideas that have been most helpful to my clients' designers. I will make no attempt (or very little) to organize them, but release them incrementally in an ever-growing ebook titled Design Heuristics.

How to Buy System Design Heuristics

My plan for offering the book is actually an old one, using a new technology. More than a century ago Charles Dickens released many of his immortal novels one chapter at a time in the weekly newspaper. Today, using the internet, I will release System Design Heuristics a single element at a time to subscribing readers.

To subscribe to the book, including all future additions, a reader will make a one-time payment. The price will be quite low when the collection is small, but will grow as the collection grows. That way, early subscribers will receive a bargain in compensation for the risk of an unknown future. Hopefully, however, even the small first collection will be worth the price. (If not, there will be a full money-back guarantee.)

Good designs tend to have unexpected benefits. When I first thought of this design, I didn't realize that it would allow readers to contribute ideas that I might incorporate in each new release. Now I aware of that potential benefit, and look forward to it.

Before I upload the first increment of System Design Heuristics, I'll wait a short while for feedback on this idea from my readers. If you'd like to tell me something about the plan, email me or write a comment on this blog.

Thanks for listening. Tell me what you think.

23 comments:

RocketBootKid said...

As a designer first and really tester second, I'm really looking forward to this. I like the release mechanism too. Can we just consider it a great idea and release already? Not sure I can wait.

Mean man said...

Can't wait for the first installment Jerry and live the approach you're taking

Bruce Eckel said...

I'm in. Sounds like it could have the same impact for me as "Secrets of Consulting" did.

Matthew said...

Where is the buy now button? :-)

Adrian DOZSA said...

Sounds good to me.

Yarrow Angelweed said...

Looking forward to it!

Matt_Middleton said...

Count me in!

Dwayne Green said...

I think this is a very interesting approach to releasing your book and I'm very interested in getting involved. How are you going to accept the feedback for each release?

Gerald M. Weinberg said...

For feedback, I will give each reader my email address, to contact me directly.

Griffin Jones said...

I'm in.

Marcus Blankenship said...

Where do I sign-up? :)

windchill said...

What are you waiting for? Just do it!

Jim McGee said...

Can't wait to sign up. I also think it's an excellent way to handle the intersection of this topic and your perspective. Looking forward to it

Gerald M. Weinberg said...

I'm have some problems with rendering the text. As soon as I clear them up, I'll publish about 30-40 pages, depending on the rendering.

Thanks for your interest and support.
Jerry

David Smith said...

Love the book concept and the distribution concept. I'm many years retired and enjoying writing *with* computer software but no longer *about* computer software, but I'm willing to bet my early subscription that I'll get lots that I can use and I know for a fact that I'll enjoy reading every word. Can't wait!

Yeong Sheng Tan said...

Brilliant idea 👍
I've enjoyed your Secrets of Consulting, and How to be a technical leader books tremendously.

Please do it and take my money.

Yeong Sheng Tan said...

Brilliant idea 👍
I've enjoyed your Secrets of Consulting, and How to be a technical leader books tremendously.

Please do it and take my money.

Ken Lloyd said...

Sometimes it take months or years for a clear picture of the "fieldstones" to come together. If writing were easy, anyone could do it.

Jon Jagger said...

I'm in too :-)

Michael Bolton http://www.developsense.com said...

Bring it! :)

Hank Roberts said...

Eagerly looking for the "send money" button ...

Gerald M. Weinberg said...

Sorry for that omission. You can easily buy the book through Leanpub.com. Go to

https://leanpub.com/systemdesignheuristics

Scroll down and buy the book. You can chhose your format, and even load directly to a Kindle if you wish.

There's a Happiness Guarantee, too.

Unknown said...

I'm already happy. I don't need a guarantee.