Sunday, July 08, 2007

How to Say Something New

In general, if you want to say something innovative there are four ways to do it:

  1. The first is to ignore anything said in the past. This can sometimes be misinterpreted as ignorance, so only established experts can get away with it.

  2. The second is to selectively quote from the past in order to build your way up to your jump-off point. This way, you minimize the radicalness of your idea and create the impression -- perhaps correct, perhaps not -- of being steeped in tradition. This is sometimes done disingenuously, either by cherry-picking minority views or by misrepresenting the past.

  3. The third is to quote the past and explain why you dismiss it. This can be seen as disrespectful but it is honest and direct. I wouldn't recommend it, though.

  4. And the fourth is to quote the past and then to humbly and deferentially offer an alternative approach, very carefully choosing every word and making sure not to offend those with whom one is disagreeing.

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