Steering Pegasus

Everyone has the potential to do great things, and I’d venture half of us have the ambition to realize that potential. But few can manage the pull of ambition. Imagine ambition as a Pegasus, the flying horse from Greek mythology. We’ve attached a chariot to this mighty beast, set it on a path, and now […]

Going Reptilian

The world is complex. But navigating complexity is taxing, so we gravitate toward simple dichotomies of this or that, one or two, red or blue. Binary situations have their place, but they’re restrictive when deciding how to invest one’s time, energy, or resources. Imagine a rope with two anchors—one on the left and one on […]

Thinking Caps

Are we anything but the roles we play? Be it at home, work, or play, we wear a dozen hats: Parent, friend, volunteer, manager, peer, runner, stamp collector. We might be more than the sum of our roles, but the hats we wear determine our perspective. Thinking about our roles as hats lets us change […]

Frankensteining

I hope you’re enjoying spooky season. With Halloween around the corner, I thought I’d spill some ink about a season classic: Frankenstein. Kitbashing Adam Savage, the former host of MythBusters and famous maker, started his career in set-making. To craft realistic-looking props for films like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, he took hobby modeling kits (for trains, […]

Finding and Making

I spent the last two weeks in Budapest visiting coworkers. Alongside goulash, bathhouses, and palinka, I enjoyed learning a Hungarian folk saying: A sült galamb nem repül a szájába, or “A roasted pigeon will not fly into one’s mouth.” A century ago, Hungarians in the countryside ate roasted quail (or pigeons, I guess). The folk […]

Embracing Seasonality

What if knowledge work changed with the seasons? Last week, my sister and I hiked the Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier—a beautiful romp through alpine meadows appropriately named “Paradise”—and spent some time watching marmots. The furry creatures crawled over rocks to nibble on vegetation, ravenously consuming calories in preparation for the long winter. Snow would […]

Caves and Cathedrals

How does our environment shape our thoughts? My favorite short story is “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. Carver is known for his grounded, minimalist writing that depicts working-class Americans in the 1980s. This style created a strong voice for the characters in “Cathedral.” In the story, a blind man taught a close-minded man to draw a […]

Exploring the Great Lake of Knowledge

Should we generalize or specialize? What if there was a sixth Great Lake? Beyond Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario, and Superior imagine you visited the Great Lake of Knowledge. You see waves going on for miles from your place on the beach, and you wonder what dwells along the shoreline or lurks beneath the surface. How […]

Creative Distillation

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” — Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, 1657 Imagine a world where ideas were concrete instead of abstract and thinking was a mechanical process. In this world, intellectuals have big funnels atop their heads to collect ideas. Here, ideas […]

Concentration Muscles

If I wasn’t sweating, I wasn’t working hard. This perspective served me well in entry-level jobs that required physical exertion, like hauling plants around a humid greenhouse. But it didn’t age well. As my career shifted to knowledge work, this “work hard” mindset translated to long hours in the office churning out high volumes of […]

Crawl, Walk, Run

Remember being a baby? Of course not! But let’s pretend we remember how it felt to drag our little bodies across the floor for the first time. None of us knew we could do it, but we tried anyway, making our blubbery arms hold up our chests in what must have felt like a Herculean […]

A Square Sees a Sphere

I have this strange little book on my shelf called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott. It’s not a particularly good book, but I keep it around because I love the premise: A square sees a sphere. The square’s perception of the third dimension is limited to the bounds of his reality in the […]

The Tragic Sandwich

A customer wanders into a deli to order a sandwich. He’s hungry after a long and stressful morning and wants something easy for lunch. Diabolical Deli was the best and nearest deli, and what could be more complicated than a sandwich? The worker slips on plastic gloves and asks, “What kind of bread?” Then: “What […]

Wicked Problems

Let’s talk about wizards and muggles. And no, not the Dursley kind of muggle. Jazz musicians in the 1920s coined the term “muggle” to describe the masses of “unimaginative adults” unable to riff with the free-flowing form of jazz. Those who were capable of creating musical magic were wizards. But wizards and muggles don’t only […]

Recursive Pareto

A rook, a bishop, and a pawn discovered a scroll. The pawn unrolled the parchment and read, “Buried treasure lies beneath the chessboard. Whoever amasses the greatest riches will rule the board.” The pieces leaned in, and the pawn continued: “Treasure lies beneath every square—” The rook leaped to the chessboard and ran across the […]

Four Stages of Competence

I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. But I’m also not the dullest. I am merely as sharp or dull as the average tool in the shed. Over time, most of us regress to the mean for any measure. That said, our sharpness or dullness is not a fixed state. Like most forces in […]

Wabi-Sabi

Picture a small clay bowl. It’s not quite a perfect circle. There’s a dimple on its rim and a chip on its side. This bowl is wabi-sabi (侘寂). Traditional Japanese aesthetics revolved around this concept of “flawed beauty.” A wabi-sabi object evokes a sense of “serene melancholy and spiritual longing.” You see the little bowl […]

Baseline vs. Target

How many words do you write each day? If you don’t have a clear and precise number, the answer is zero. To make progress on any metric, you need a baseline. To create a baseline, you need a measurement system. For instance, if you’re trying to measure the words you write daily, you could have […]

Input vs. Output

Imagine a big, strange Dr. Seussian machine. You feed it groceries, and it spits out gold bars or useless goop. You don’t know how the machine works, if it will produce, or when the gold or goop will arrive. All you control is what you feed the machine. Any goal is like this: You own […]

Cobra Effect

During the British rule of India, venomous cobras plagued Delhi. The government offered a bounty per dead cobra to reduce the snake population, but the plan backfired: Enterprising people began to breed cobras to kill them and earn the bounty money. When the government caught wind of this, they dropped the bounty program, and the […]

Dogfooding

Dog food is a $56B industry, only $11B short of the $67B baby food industry. Given declining birth rates and an ever-growing preference for dogs over people, it’s not hard to imagine dog food outgrowing the baby food industry in coming years. Pretty wild, considering dog food was hardly a business until World War II. […]

Localhost Trap

In the 2000 film How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Jim Carrey recited his to-do list, and one item was especially salient: “Solve world hunger, tell no one.” What a concept! Only someone with a heart two sizes too small could create a beautiful and necessary thing and then deprive the world of its value! Creators owe it […]

Vocal Minority vs. Mobile Minority

Two types of minority groups could drive majority change: one that exhibits perceived change and one that creates actual change. The Vocal Minority is the loud voice, like angry people on Twitter. They talk incessantly and pollute your feed with extremist content—making you perceive their views as commonplace when they’re mostly noise. Imagine a Vocal Minority of weirdos who […]

Red Pill or Blue Pill

Near the beginning of The Matrix, the protagonist receives two pills. Either he can take the Blue Pill to expunge dangerous thoughts and retain his everyday life or take the Red Pill and learn an unsettling but life-changing truth. Many controversial ideas have stolen this Red Pill/Blue Pill concept, and I will shamelessly do the same! […]

One-Way & Two-Way Doors

Amazon popularized the idea of one-way and two-way doors to encourage employee decision-making and appropriate risk-taking. One-Way Doors aren’t easily reversible decisions—like choosing hardware for tech projects, settling on a building location, and getting married. One-Way Doors require careful thought and planning, and they’re the perfect use case for System II, turtle-like thinking. But the […]