Start with the Jar

If you’ve seen Rudolph: The Red-Nosed Reindeer, you’ll remember the Island of Misfit Toys. When sitting around a fire on Christmas Eve, the sad little misfit doll said, “I haven’t any dreams left to dream.” This line contains a profound but familiar sadness—giving up on a better future because of continual disappointment. The more we […]

Four Frames

I have a document called “resolutions.doc,” where I log my new year’s resolutions. I’ve been writing resolutions for so long that the file predates Microsoft’s .docx format, and Word opens it in “compatibility mode.” As I sift through my archive, I see the same resolutions year after year because I repeatedly failed to achieve them. […]

Social Arithmetic

Any good novel or film illustrates that people “contain multitudes” and aren’t reducible to numbers. From a humanist perspective, this belief is sound. But from a practical standpoint, sometimes we should call a spade a spade. People as Values There’s something pure about basic math—numbers have a universality that transcends culture, and arithmetic equations are […]

The Conversational Octopus

The words we use to frame an interaction can flavor our behavior. For instance, are we having an argument or a conversation? Argument is War My recent fascination with the intersection of philosophy and linguistics has led me to Metaphors We Live By, which explores our relationship with metaphors and how they structure our social […]

Seven Puzzles

It’s puzzle season in North America. During these dark, cold months, I’ve come to enjoy jigsaw puzzles to get off screens, do a low-stress activity with loved ones, and labor on something with no meaningful goal. A recent jigsaw I did by the aptly named Magic Puzzle Company had clever eye candy on all 1000 […]

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 […]