Lindy Effect

“Older is better.” When I lived in California, I drove a 19-year-old truck with electrical issues. I took it to a few mechanics, but they all refused to fix it since the car wouldn’t meet emissions standards. Ironically, if I could keep the truck alive for another year, it could become a “classic,” immune from […]

Locksmith Paradox

“Faster value is perceived as worse.” I once slept in a Walmart parking lot in West Virginia. Late that night, I arose to use the restroom and locked myself out of my car, sealing my keys, phone, and wallet inside. I wandered into the store, and a cashier was kind enough to call me a […]

Aesthetic-Usability Effect

“Beauty over function.” In 1995, researchers at the Hitachi Design Center studied the “aesthetic-usability effect” with an ATM. A less usable but good-looking ATM interface beat easier-to-use UIs with poor aesthetics. The researchers found that a positive emotional response from visual design makes the user more tolerant of issues—such as software bugs, poor latency, or […]

The Tokyo Effect

Tokyo has ~14M people, making it the largest city on Earth. It has thousands of unique stores, like Ma-suya Azabu-Juban—a shop that only sells salt. A store like this couldn’t exist in an average city (like my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan) because the place wouldn’t get enough foot traffic to find customers interested in its […]

Stonecutter vs. Mechanic

The other week, my friend and I went skiing on Mount Baker—a glaciated volcano near the Canadian border. We cruised along gravel roads until I hit a pothole and broke the undercarriage cover off my Prius. I needed to hold up the cover to return home, so I kept adding duct tape until nothing moved. […]

Fragile, Resilient, Antifragile

Last month, the power went out at the gym. Lights went black, the treadmills stopped moving, and huge, medieval-looking doors slammed shut around us—sealing us inside like the plot of an Agatha Christie novel. It made me realize how fragile my workout was: No electricity, no running. In Greek Mythology, the Sword of Damocles is […]

Zeignarik Effect

In the 1920s, Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik observed a waiter taking orders at a restaurant. When prompted, the waiter could easily recall items from unpaid orders but couldn’t recite a single item after the patrons had paid their bills. Zeigarnik published her seminal work, hereafter referred to by her namesake. The Zeigarnik Effect states that […]

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 […]

The Hedgehog & The Fox

The Fox knows many things, and the Hedgehog knows one big thing. Presented in a 1953 book of the same title, The Hedgehog and The Fox defines a survival strategy. The Fox has many tactical skills, is clever at getting unstuck, and can figure out how to make things happen through adaptability. The Hedgehog has a conviction on […]

The Overton Window

What is tolerable to the public? What will 80% of people tolerate? The Overton Window defines the answer to these questions as it sets the acceptable range of ideas in culture. Both sides of the political aisle and major media companies—no matter how different they seem—share ideas within a relatively narrow scope. The public (or […]