Viking Age Tar Production and the Decoupling of Ideas

Where do you get all your stories and examples from? This is a question that people often ask me after lectures and workshops. The short but unhelpful answer is that they come from my “ideas file”. This ideas file is not so much a file as a concept. At times it has been a box, a massive green folder, a notes file in my phone and all of the above.

But how do the ideas get into the file? This is where the real secret lies. Searching for ideas and examples when you need them is extremely difficult and often frustrating. The solution is to decouple the search from the need. My method is to scan news and new research routinely and then to squirrel away all the things that could be useful one day.

Some of these articles and research papers are useful almost immediately. Some wait in the conceptual ideas file for months or years before they suddenly become useful.

Let’s take a concrete example. In October 2018 Andreas Hennius of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University published a paper titled “Viking Age tar production and outland Exploitation.” This might not sound like a promising resource at first sight unless the history of tar production is your specialty. But this paper could turn out to be very useful one day.

A central argument in Hennius’s paper is that the ramp up of pine tar production in the 800s was a key technology enabler that allowed Vikings to build more and better ships. This ramp up had other consequences, too, mostly concerning the development of the tar production outlands, logistics and transport.

Why would that be useful? Right now I don’t know. But perhaps one day I am asked to write a speech or article for someone who works in a fairly dull B2B business and simply noting parallels with this historical episode makes their story more palatable. Or perhaps there is an interesting comparison to be made between some emergent business and this link between pine tar production and the Vikings.

Most likely Hennius’s paper will lie dormant in my ideas file for a long time, but then suddenly one day I will be ghost writing something for a client and need an interesting example relevant to the client’s business. I will remember the pine tar story and weave it into my narrative. And I won’t need to search for it because I already have a note safely stashed in the ideas file.

Some ideas are so interesting that they can form the backbone of any work, but in many cases it is more effective to combine several concepts to effectively create a new thought or interpretation. With a rich ideas file these combinations are easy to put together. One day I will find a connection between Viking tar production and two or three other new discoveries that together make a compelling story.

Adding new ideas to the ideas file is an ongoing process, but to make it work effectively you also need to scan through the content every so often to reinforce your memory. It is astonishing how much you can forget and this refreshing helps to keep your awareness of the ideas much stronger.

At this point the next question is usually about how I find the new ideas, new research and new interpretations to populate the ideas file. That’s another interesting story, but one for another time.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

If you would like to know more about interesting and useful lectures, effective workshops, intense coaching or writing by Andrew Hennigan you can contact him by email at speaker@andrewhennigan.com or phone at 0046 73 089 44 75. You can also find him through WhatsApp, Messenger, LinkedIn, Twitter and all the other usual places.

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