Writing Is Thinking. For Example, Ken Traub

Ken Traub

Noted writer, editor, literary critic and teacher, William Zinsser, is known for the quote “writing is thinking on paper”.  Today I don’t think paper has much to do with it, but what I think he means is, the very process of writing something forces a person to think about the thing they are writing about, and then embody that thinking clearly in the written output (paper or electronic).  As you might imagine, I agree with this.  I like to write and I believe that my own experience with writing has greatly improved my thinking.  For a really great essay on the topic of writing and thinking, see The Secret About Writing That No One Has The Balls To Tell You by Pete Michaud…and don’t miss the many excellent comments below his essay.

I’ve been writing about ideas surrounding my professional experience much longer than the year and a half I have been writing RxTrace.  In fact, I have written some pretty legendary emails and other essays over my career.  Legendary because they raised ideas that were either unpopular or otherwise not wanted by the recipient(s).  If you know me very well then chances are you’ve read one or two of those.

In a previous job, I did a fair amount of technical writing including specifications, Request For Proposal (RFP) responses, proposals, user and technical manuals and program documentation.  I have also written a large amount of software during my career and I think that kind of “writing” definitely qualifies as “thinking”.  But RxTrace is my first experience with writing essays where my thinking is open to anonymous and public critical review.  That sharpens the mind even more.

Because I like to write, I like to read thinking that others have written and I really like finding and meeting highly skilled writers/thinkers.  I’ve read Newsweek since my first year of college.  For two decades I read it cover-to-cover almost every week—that’s right, every article, column, essay and letter in almost every issue.  That’s 20 years times 52 magazines per year…1040 issues!  In recent years I’ve been too busy to read it cover-to-cover.

Very recently I’ve started reading the Harvard Business Review magazine and their associated blogs which are both full of really great writing about ideas.  A lot of really great writer/thinkers have appeared in Newsweek and HBR magazines over the years I’ve been a subscriber and I like to think I’ve picked up a few things from them.  But, to paraphrase Pete Michaud and perhaps William Zinsser, reading is not thinking.  That is, reading is not enough.  To produce really new ideas, new perspectives and new thinking, one must write.


Not long ago, my professional experience introduced me to the writing of Ken Traub.  The first time I read something that Ken wrote I knew I liked him without meeting him or even knowing who he was.  That was back in 2005 when the company I worked for at the time had issued an RFP for help with an RFID pilot.  ConnecTerra was one of the companies who submitted a response and I was very impressed with the quality of the writing.  It was written in exactly the same style that I had used in the years that I wrote many RFP responses while working for Professional Control Corporation (PCC).  It had just the right balance of technical and business information and it was very easy to understand.  Sadly, my company did not select ConnecTerra as the vendor at that time for reasons not related to their proposal, but the high quality of that proposal stuck in my mind as a missed opportunity to meet someone who thought and wrote as I did.

Jumping ahead a year, while working on the GS1 EPCglobal Drug Pedigree Messaging Standard (DPMS), our team had an interest in creating a specification document that used the same style and approach that other good EPCglobal standards specifications had used.  Mark Frey, our excellent EPCglobal-assigned facilitator recommended the Tag Data Standard (TDS) and the Application Level Events (ALE) standard as examples of well-written specifications.  I think our Editor, Lucy Deus of SupplyScape (now TraceLink) did a fabulous job of replicating the style and structure of those two standards documents.

As one of the co-chairs of the DPMS work group I also participated in the EPCglobal Software Action Group (SAG) co-chair’s work group, led at that time by Bryan Tracey, then with GlobeRanger, and Margaret Wasserman of ThingMagic.  It was on the calls for this group that I first encountered the voice of Ken Traub.  I remember being very impressed with the few comments he made about various forgotten issues that this group dealt with back then.  It seemed that whenever he spoke up, he always made really good points—down-to-earth, logical, clear and consistent.  When Ken spoke, there was rarely a need to challenge or follow-up.  He just always made sense.

It wasn’t until one of the EPCglobal SAG face-to-face meetings in 2006 that I actually got a chance to meet Ken in person.  I remember chatting with him after being introduced by Bryan.  Ken explained that he had been one of the founders and the CIO of ConnecTerra before it had been acquired by BEA Systems in late 2005 (later BEA was acquired by Oracle).  I immediately made the connection.  Ken confirmed that he had been the author of the RFP response that had made such a positive impression on me the year before.  He had also served as the Lead Editor on both the TDS and ALE standards that we were using as good examples for the DPMS document.

In addition to TDS and ALE, Ken was also the Lead Editor of the Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) standard, the Core Business Vocabulary (CBV) standard, a key member of the EPCglobal Architectural Review Committee (ARC) and a member of the EPCglobal Joint Strategy and Planning Committee.  More than any other one person, I think Ken is most responsible for the implementation of the EPCglobal architectural vision.  “Writing is thinking” indeed, and Ken is a perfect example of that.  (For a complete list of committees Ken has served on, as well as a complete career history, see  Ken’s professional website.)

When I worked for SupplyScape I had the pleasure of co-authoring a white paper with Ken, Combining EPCIS with the Drug Pedigree Messaging Standard, and participating in a two-part series of webinars on the same topic with him.  We contracted with Ken as part of that effort to help us fully understand the EPCIS standard and figure out how it could be used in a regulated pedigree context.  Ken filled the role perfectly and, while the conclusions were all made by us at SupplyScape, our work with Ken is what ensured that our conclusions and our proposal fit properly within the intent of EPCIS and within its technical context.

More recently I have been involved in an EPCIS-based pilot with a major drug manufacturer who chose to retain Ken to help them understand EPCIS and the CBV and their application in drug serialization.  I have not been a direct party to their consulting sessions with Ken but I have benefitted indirectly from his counsel because this trading partner has made positive adjustments to our pilot as a result of Ken’s guidance.

If you are an end-user who is trying to figure out how to invest in GS1 EPCglobal serialization standards-based systems, or if you are a developer of applications who needs to understand how to properly incorporate those same standards into new or existing products, or if you are a regulatory agency who needs to understand the realistic capabilities of those standards, then I strongly recommend that you talk with Ken about what he can do to help you.

BTW, I feel very strongly about the exceptional quality that Ken delivers in all of his work so I feel very comfortable recommending him.  This recommendation was not solicited and I don’t have any business relationship with Ken.  This is what I believe.


My experience with Ken further strengthens the theory that “writing is thinking”.  He obviously likes to write, he’s really good at it and as a result, his great ideas are incorporated in GS1 EPCglobal’s standards.  GS1 is lucky to have his interest and his contribution.  The EPC architecture and standards are much better for it.

So if  writing is thinking, and blogging is writing, then blogging must also be thinking.  I aspire to someday be in the same writing/thinking league as Ken.  And so I continue to think, and to write, and to blog.

3 thoughts on “Writing Is Thinking. For Example, Ken Traub”

  1. Hello Dirk
    I met Ken earlier this year and have had one or two communications with him since then. I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments.
    With regard to the general point about writing, I think email encourages rapid-fire responses rather than thinking and then writing. The quality of written communication has become quite degraded as a result. We may have too much of a good thing with today’s instant communication. On a more positive note, good writing stands out even more and we recognize it the instant we see it.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Absolutely agree. The discipline of writing a regular blog forces me to stay current with new developments.

    But the blog, she can be a cruel mistress that requires constant attention.

    OK, back to work!


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