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 […]

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 […]

Eudaimonia

Language constrains our range of expression. It isn’t easy to express a thought or a feeling with words when the language doesn’t have a matching concept. We resort to other forms of expression—paintings, dance, music, stories—to express the things we cannot name. That exploration is beautiful and results in art that can move us. But […]

Potemkin Village

To impress Empress Catherine II during her journey to Crimea in 1787, Grigory Potemkin supposedly built fake, portable villages along her route. His people would disassemble the structures after she passed and re-assemble them farther along her path, making his village appear larger than it was. A “Potemkin village” is a vanity display to make […]

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 […]

Zone Two

I’ve been training for my first marathon for the last few months. I’ve never been much of a distance runner, so my running workouts were always short and exhausting—a few miles at a quick pace. But that’s not sustainable. To ascend to 9-, 12-, or 15-mile runs, I needed a steady (dare I say turtle’s) […]

Magical Buckets

Sometimes I think about that scene from Fight Club when Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) holds a gas station attendant at gunpoint and asks him what dream he quit. The sobbing attendant confesses he wanted to be a veterinarian, but it was too hard. Durden allows him to live, and with the fear of death in […]

The Slowest Hiker

I love the scenic beauty of Washington State—it’s the main reason I moved here. The problem is that everyone here loves the scenic beauty, so most hiking trails are crowded. When I hike, I constantly pass big groups because they can only move as fast as the slowest hiker. Like the ancient adage, “A chain […]

Secondhand Smoke

I’m always amazed by how quickly a clever framing can sway public opinion. In the US, smoking went from a commonplace activity to a near-villainous crime within a half-century, almost entirely through advertising. Compared to other vices—alcohol, gambling, porn—smoking rarely resulted in violence, financial loss, or broken relationships. But, more than any other vice, smoking […]

Gravitational Pull

Imagine a group of people as a solar system. Be it a family, company, sports team, organization, church community, or a gaggle of friends—someone in the group is the sun, around which activities, decisions, and conversations orbit. A sun has gravity, and a sun-like person has the gravitas to pull others toward them. In bigger […]

Eating the Frog

My cousins and I used to visit a place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula called “Black Rocks”—cliffs beside the icy waters of Lake Superior. The thirty-foot drop was scary, so my cousins and I teetered at the edge for many minutes, summoning the courage to jump. But the longer we took, the harder it became to […]

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 […]

Gray Time

Imagine time as black and white, where black is work time, and white is playtime. If our days were a chessboard of activity, we’d starkly transform from work to play and play to work and have clear compartmentalization. The reality is that we mix colors: We muddle our time and spend many hours dwelling in […]

Chronos & Kairos

The Ancient Greeks had two concepts for time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is quantitative, purpose-driven, and marked by hours and minutes, and Kairos is qualitative, having no measure or agenda. No surprise, but Chronos was portrayed as stodgy and evil, whereas Kairos was romantic, pure, and beautiful. Reducing Chronos and Kairos to simplistic terms like […]

Cliffhangers

King Shahryar’s wife cheated on him, so he beheaded her in rage. Her beheading wasn’t enough to assuage his anger, so he picked up a gruesome habit of marrying a new woman each morning and beheading her each night. He did this to many wives for many nights until one woman—Scheherazade—told him a story. But […]

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 […]

Warrior vs. Soldier vs. Police

A “marketer” in a year-old, ten-person tech startup will vastly differ from a “marketer” in a fifty-year-old, five-thousand-person Fortune 500 conglomerate. Even other teams may have different expectations for the same role. The organization’s size, scope, and maturity dramatically influence jobs with the same title. Knowing the position you’re in (or interviewing for) can set […]

Maker vs. Manager vs. Minder

Investor Paul Graham once argued that a maker (such as a software engineer) requires long bouts of uninterrupted time to create valuable work and cannot be incessantly interrupted by a manager (such as a project lead)—whose primary job is orchestrating the activities of others. Cal Newport expanded on this idea, adding a third persona: a minder. This administrative profile (such […]

Reader vs. Listener

To improve at anything, we must learn. To learn, we must know how we process information. In Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker claims that most people process information as readers or listeners. Readers process information through their eyes, in silence and alone—with books, wikis, or email newsletters. Listeners process information through their ears—via lectures, conversations, or podcasts. While neither method […]

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? […]