I am a Melbourne based writer, primarily of speculative fiction. I find the writing process fascinating; the links below include examples of my work, fiction and non fiction, but also another story. How has a chapter evolved? How have places and the fictions of others informed and inspired my own. How do I research, develop ideas and turn them into narrative? Each page offers a different insight into the work and the story behind the work.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A scientific synergy that is like Christmas morning

Synergy is one of those words that sounds almost wonderfully onomatopoeic in a shiny abstract sort of way, and it should really be quite a wonderful word given it means to bring often unrelated things together, to make more in the whole than existed in the components. Indeed, in the contemporary sense it can also be used to describe emergent properties that could not have been predicted from the ingredients and might be something entirely new and surprising.

The process of creativity is in many respects one of synergy.

Nevertheless, if you have worked in the corporate world as I have, you have probably heard the word 'synergy' a fair bit, and If you have worked in the corporate world long enough you might well get rather fed up of hearing it at all. Rather like words such as "proactive' it gets used to the point where it becomes a kind of beads and bells mantra for folks in suits that is more about corporate mysticism that corporate strategy.

But let's forget the corporate world and synergies of teams and markets and all that. In fact, for a short period let's forget people other than oneself, or at least a self.

Synergies most certainly happen in and to people.

For some reason I have found there seem to be periods - in my life at least - where synergies happen rather more often than in other more lacklustre or mundane personal eras. For me, one of them is going on around about now. I wrote about an example in a post or so back; I wanted to take some photographs, get some exercise and had some vague notions of doing some projects, community and commercial based, during 2013 -  but wasn't quite sure exactly what.

Somehow or other, by wandering around Melbourne taking photographs and gradually more and more of Street art, I ended up quite spontaneously creating a entire website around the concept of a guide to Melbourne Street art on the 86 tram route. I also developed some budding skills in photography and a mild but functional level of fitness I very much doubt I would have if I had set out to do so intentionally - at least during the same relatively short period of time.

Wether a little me in my unconscious put these elements together with a quiet sense of purpose, I couldn't entirely say, but it doesn't seem unlikely there was a bit of that going on. Like many who have spent a significant proportion of their lives working on and writing novels, I am very used to taking images, themes, threads of experience and imagination and gradually weaving them into the whole interconnected system of ideas and meaning that is a finished novel. And no novel you work on turns out quite how you imagine it might when you first set out to develop and write it.

I may not have planned consciously to create a website and get enough exercise to loose weight and develop a particular sort of project I had never done before, but those desires were definitely there and it's not that unlikely I unconsciously figured out a way of putting all those elements together to generate a whole that pulled me forward. rather than saw me pushing and grunting ineffectually from behind.

Yet there is another example of a synergy that has been happening to me more recently that I can quite certainly say I did not engineer unconsciously or otherwise. It is something I rather enjoy because it indulges that fond personal Christmas morning streak of "may be there is magic in the world after all".

It is an example of a synergy between what I do for kicks - writing novels - and what I have ended up recently doing for a living for some of my professional time at least- market research for technology commercialisation.

To give a bit of context first - I was struggling over the past two or three years to learn more general science, physics in particular, as I have to develop some fairly complex but plausible science fiction idea for a novel I am working on - The Devil's PA, in which a young woman develops superpowers, but powers based on advanced manipulation of reality by a kind of wish fulfilling consciousness technology.  Towards this I have been poking at Wikipedia articles on energy and such, and bits and pieces of popular science books and more recently trying to make my way through a giant text book on the natural sciences called The Material World. I was getting there slowly, but It was proving slow going and it was all feeling a bit like the sort of homework I might want to avoid getting down to doing by playing computer games.

It so happened however, that part of my new job is to do market research reports on patented technical and scientific inventions. To be able to figure out what markets an invention might be suitable for and the sort of opportunities and hurdles it faces out there, I do have to understand a reasonable amount of the science behind the invention. There is no flicking over to wander around picking flowers in a computer game world at work, I have to get down to it and figure it all out. And though it is tough going at first, it becomes more and more enjoyable as it goes.

The synergy - what seems to be happening anyway, is that rather than having to plough through that impossible text book, different market research projects are intersecting various branches of natural science at angles and beginning to build up the general framework of scientific knowledge essential to refine the ideas for the novel. 

I only realised it today, but boy did I smile when I did - may be not quite the same as I might have on Christmas morning when I was young, but not far from it.

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