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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

System I & System II

Here’s a puzzle: Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and bright. She majored in philosophy at an American university. As a student, she was deeply concerned with discrimination and social justice issues. Which is most probable? Linda is a bank teller. Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement. Linda is a […]

Underpants Gnomes

On an infamous episode of South Park, the boys do a school presentation about “underpants gnomes”— little elves that sneak into a house and steal underpants each night. The underpants gnomes have a sophisticated plan for their operation: It’s easy to mimic these underpants gnomes. For instance, every version of this newsletter is a fresh 3-pack […]

Mind Mapping

Sometimes a visual artifact helps us understand a problem. A mind map is a tool I like for getting stuff out of my head. How to mind map: 1) Start with a central idea. Maybe it’s a theme, a single word, a problem, an image, an experience, a feeling. 2) Draw related ideas. Use Why? […]

What? Why? How?

Creativity is seen as messy, chaotic, squishy, and overly associated with art, so its practical benefits are lost. But creativity can use a framework to make it less scary and undefined. Think of a three-question loop: Why? What If? How? Why? seeks understanding, and it can be intentionally challenging. For instance, how many squares are below? […]