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Isaac Asimov

Blog: Bridgeland and Zahavi on Business Modeling

Thirty-five years ago, when I was 12, I received a postcard from New York. The postcard read:

Dear David,
The whole country is humming with the news that you are a
fan of mine. I hear about it everywhere, and I think that’s

I wish you all possible success as a science fiction writer
and as an astronomer.

Isaac Asimov

I was stunned.  The Great Man had written me! Wishing me success!

Of course my mom had arranged it. She had written Asimov a week earlier, asking him to write me. And his practice was to reply to fans. Over the course of his 72 years, he wrote an estimated 9000 postcards and letters, many to his fans. Including one to me.

Peter Graham once noted that the “golden age of science fiction was twelve”. For me, twelve was the golden age of Isaac Asimov.  I tried to read everything he had written, all the science fiction of course, but also the popular science and the history. I even tried “Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor” and “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible”. (I did not like either.)

When I was twelve, I did in fact want to be an astronomer and a science fiction writer, as my Asimov postcard attests. But later, I lost interest in the inner workings of the stars, and instead became fascinated with the inner workings of algorithms and software. And starting in my early twenties, I became increasing interested in the dynamics of business. Others read the Wall Street Journal and the Economist out of professional obligation. I read them for fun, trading my youthful passion for tales of space travel and time travel with the sagas of the long decline of General Motors and the rise and fall of AIG.

But through these 35 years, one aspect of my career has not changed: I have wanted to write a book. 35 years ago, I wanted to write science fiction novels. Since then, my ambition changed to nonfiction. I have started several books. I worked for a bit in the early 1990s on a book about business process modeling and business process simulation, with my then colleagues Ralph Welborn and Brian Otis. We never progressed further than a detailed outline, although Ralph later published two books on related topics. In the late 1990s I became convinced that technical recruiting was practiced poorly everywhere, and I knew how to do it better. I started a book on recruiting, but never finished. (It still is practiced poorly, by the way.) Earlier this decade I helped Deutsche Bank launch a startup—Cokinetic Systems—and wrote a book on their innovative RIA technology I3ML. But I never found a publisher for the book. (Cokinetic has since pioneered a rich media platform for air passengers, based on I3ML.)

The fourth attempt was more successful. Our book was published in mid-December. It is not science fiction of course. It is nonfiction about a rather arcane topic, creating models of business situations. But it does include a fictional story within it. We needed examples to illustrate the business modeling techniques and disciplines. Some of the needed examples were supplied by case studies, real business modeling situations that either Ron or I had experienced in our consulting work. But we needed both more examples and different ones than the case studies provided. So we created a single fictional business—Mykonos Dining Corporation—that owns and manages 200 high end restaurants. Neither Ron nor I have any experience running restaurants, but we knew people who did, and more importantly the restaurant business is accessible to a wide audience. Everyone eats in restaurants, and many people have fantasized about opening their own.

Writing a book was much harder than I anticipated. The biggest problem was keeping everything consistent across the 12 chapters: keeping the wording consistent, the structure of the chapters, the models we explain, and the storyline about Mykonos Dining Corp. We made hundreds of changes to keep things consistent. Fortunately for me, Ron has an eye for inconsistency, and spotted the vast majority of the problems.

Isaac Asimov wrote many books during his life. Perhaps 468. Or perhaps 515. There is some controversy about the count, about which books should be included. But in any case, hundreds. He was astonishingly prolific. I am more astonished now, after having written one, that Asimov wrote so many.

One key to Asimov’s productivity was the quality of his first drafts. Another key was the lack of revision.  Apparently Asimov rarely revised anything he wrote. He claimed to be incapable of seeing the flaws in his own sentences, so his first drafts were submitted to his editor, and often published as they were. I do not share that particular weakness. I see the flaws in my own sentences quite well. So I rewrite, and rewrite again.

I know my continual revisions drove Ron crazy. Several times he pointed out that I was revising a paragraph I had already revised. As late as September, we were fixing problems introduced in the production process, and I found some more wording I did not like. Ron tried to talk me out of changing it.

Curiously, Ron was also an Isaac Asimov fan as a boy. While I was reading the Foundation Series in downstate Illinois, he was reading it 6000 miles away in Israel. Ron credits Asimov with his early interest in computers and modeling, and in retrospect, so do I.

I dedicated the book to my daughters, Miranda, Isabel, and Alexandra. Ron’s dedication was to his mother and to the memory of his father. But perhaps we should have both dedicated it to Isaac Asimov.

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