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 […]