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 […]


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? […]

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 […]

Red, Yellow, and Green Energy

Imagine you could plug yourself into a power outlet and work all night. Like a computer, you could crank away around the clock at a steady pace. Fortunately or unfortunately, humans don’t work like this (yet), so we must deal with the moist, temperamental machines inside our heads. Unlike computers, our brains perform at varying […]

Appetite Planning

With resolutions, our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs. It’s easy to set big, hairy, audacious, pie-in-the-sky goals without the time or energy to pursue them. Basecamp, a company that builds collaboration tools, runs many internal projects with appetite-based planning. Instead of saying, “We want a new email app with XYZ features by July,” they […]

A Ritual of Retrospectives

New Year’s Resolutions are forward-looking—commitments we make (and likely don’t keep) with ourselves to create a future we’d like to inhabit. But if we don’t consider the past, we might set our sights on the wrong destination. Retrospectives are a means to reflect on past performance and garner lessons to apply in the future. One-off […]

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 […]

New Math

I’m forever surprised by the strength of imprints. Despite overwhelming evidence that says otherwise, sugary breakfast cereals never feel unhealthy. This bias makes us hesitant to new ways of learning, doing, and thinking. Consider basic math. I learned to add 156+249 like this: “New math” suggests this method: I struggled with math as a kid, but this […]


An army of Twitter bots disguised as real people complain about cannibal rights. “The meatpacking industry is suppressing #CannibalRights!” “#FreeOurDiet from Big Meat’s stranglehold” “People have eaten people for centuries. Suppressing #cannibalism is cultural erasure!” Next, real Twitter accounts catch onto the idea due to herd instincts and a desire to hop on the “bandwagon.” […]

Poisoning the Well

A boss arranges one-on-one meetings with two underperforming employees: Becky and Bill. He plans to fire one of them. Boss: “Becky, why did you fail to meet this quarter’s performance goals?” Becky: *explains* Boss: “Thanks, Becky. Can you please tell Bill I’m ready?” Becky: “Of course. Assuming he’s on time this morning. You know how […]


In the 1944 film Gas Light, a husband turns on and off gaslights at night. When she brings it up in the morning, he tells her he didn’t experience the flickering gaslights. The malicious husband continues this charade until she loses her mind, so he can commit her to an insane asylum and pocket her inheritance. […]

Jakob’s Law & Decorum

Jakob Nielsen had a simple principle in web design: People expect your site to work like all others. People spend 99% of their time on other websites, so conforming to the model of those sites will make your site more palatable. For instance, social sites have a log-in button in the top right, news sites […]

First, Do No Harm

George Washington was out late riding his horse, got caught in the rain, and developed a sore throat. The next day, his doctor came to heal him. The doctor sliced open George and drained him of blood, a common medical practice in the 18th century. Due to lost blood, George died. The healing (bloodletting) caused […]

Unforced Errors

Tennis players make two errors: Forced. The player errors because of their opponent, like not returning a powerful first serve. Unforced. The player errors because of their mistakes, like serving into the net twice. What separates professionals from amateurs is the ratio of forced-to-unforced errors. The professional makes few unforced errors—they manage themselves to counter […]