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 […]

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? […]

Faster Horses

People claim that if Henry Ford built what people asked for, we wouldn’t have cars; we’d have faster horses. This statement is more myth than truth, but the idea holds water. When I worked at GE, my users wanted “more storage” or “faster file transfer” when designing gas turbines. But these solutions were costly and […]

Framestorming

You can’t help but wonder: Is this the right problem? Brainstorming is fine, but you might solve the wrong problem without the right frame. Framestorming is a method to generate multiple questions and problems before considering solutions. In the words of Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking […]

Five Whys

You find out your team wants to deprecate a legacy codebase, but you don’t know why. So, you embrace your inner five-year-old and ask: “Why?” “To clear up tech debt.” “Why?” “To easily launch new features.” “Why?” “To attract new customers.” “Why?” “To earn more money.” “Why?” “The CEO wants to buy a new beach […]

In What Context?

You pass an old mare at pasture as you approach the farmhouse-style tech office. You enter the office and head to the conference room. “We should kill it.” You hear. “Yeah, it’s old, and no one uses it anymore, and it wastes resources keeping it live.” “Agreed. Becky, let’s kill HORSE.” “Don’t kill the horse!” […]

Cheap, Fast, and Good

People want an excellent product delivered quickly for a low price. But it often becomes a “you pick two” scenario. If it’s good and fast, it won’t be cheap (i.e., luxury cars) If it’s good and cheap, it won’t be fast (i.e., non-profit projects) If it’s cheap and fast, it won’t be good (i.e., fast […]

Inversion is Not

Inversion is not thinking forward. It’s thinking backward. Inversion is not pursuing positive outcomes. It’s avoiding negative inputs. Inversion is not converging. It’s diverging. Inversion is an approach to solving problems by flipping the direction. Let’s say a company wants to increase employee output. Their first approach is to mandate office attendance to better monitor labor. An […]

Four-Blade Razor

“Razors” are critical thinking tools designed to “shave away” complexity, and some are especially useful. Stay sharp with Turtle’s new four-blade razor! Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is often the best. Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to laziness. Hitchen’s Razor: If asserted without evidence, it can be dismissed without evidence. […]

Temperature Check

Weather is the universal small talk. Don’t let your struggles with temperature conversion force deeper conversation! Americans use Fahrenheit. It’s people-based, so 0 feels objectively cold, and 100 feels objectively hot. Everyone else uses Celsius. It’s water-based, so freezing occurs at 0, and boiling occurs at 100. When you speak with people who use the […]