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 […]