I’ll be posting on Quora going forward, you can follow me there!
By Lulu on January 20, 2013
How many decisions do you make in a typical day?
15 to 20?
They add up pretty quickly: what time to set your alarm, whether to go to the gym before work or after, what to wear, what to eat for breakfast . . . And that’s before you’ve even arrived at work to tackle any higher order decisions for the day.
Research has shown that the simple act of making a decision impairs your ability to make further decisions. Like our reserve of willpower, our capacity to make crisp judgments is a finite resource that depletes throughout the day. It’s harder to pass on that afternoon cookie if you’ve already denied yourself a doughnut for breakfast. Similarly, if you spent 15 minutes debating what you were going to wear this morning, that’s already taken a small tax on your brain when you sit down later to figure out the research budget. It makes sense why people like Steve Jobs and Barack Obama keep a fairly homogeneous closet.
By eliminating (or at least reducing) choice for many daily tasks, you free up brainpower to tackle more impactful decisions. The key is to instill the right routines, of course—keeping the fridge stocked with fruits and vegetables, taking the stairs when it’s less than five floors, not bringing your laptop to bed 30 minutes before going to sleep, etc. The Power of Habit describes how you can introduce good impulses and alter bad ones by paying attention to the habit loop of cue, routine, and reward.
A second benefit of routine is its ability to nurture creativity. It’s a bit counter-intuitive at first, as we often associate the latter with spontaneity and trips to far-off places. But sustainable inspiration usually comes from an environment where the mind feels at ease, safe from external distractions and free to focus inward. That’s why writers and other artists typically have all sorts of idiosyncratic routines that help them get in the right mindset. Joan Didion, for instance, has to sleep in the same room as her book when she’s nearing the end of her writing process. And it’s why people are often struck by epiphanies during routine breaks like taking a shower or going for a run. Train your brain to expect periods in the day when it can put the rest of your body on autopilot and wander off on its own tangents. You’ll be surprised at how creatively productive that time can be.
By Lulu on January 19, 2013
Below are two hypothetical compliments:
A. “You’re such a natural public speaker. I wish I could present as well as you.”
B. “I really liked the way you structured that presentation. What was your thought process?”
Now, which would you rather receive?
At first blush this might seem like a silly question (a compliment’s a compliment, after all, just take it and be happy, Lulu) but my guess is that B sits better with most.
Statement A praises an innate ability, attributing success to an enviable predisposition. Statement B, on the other hand, commends someone’s process and approach, focusing on things that are fully under a person’s control.
More generally, you could say that the first encourages a “fixed mindset” while the latter favors a “growth mindset.” For a full explanation of the difference between the two mentalities, I recommend reading Sandra’s answer to the question “Why are some people more resilient than others?”
Turns out this distinction isn’t just something parents should keep in mind—it’s also a good rule of thumb for gauging the health of our relationships. In thinking about why I tend to feel more energized and optimistic after hanging out with certain people, I’ve realized that a commonality they share is a relish for seeking out learning opportunities and a belief that a successful outcome is always within reach.
“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with,” as the saying goes. With that in mind, one of my longer-term resolutions for the new year is to spend more time with people who exhibit a growth mindset.
By Lulu on January 6, 2013
Came across this interesting thought exercise in slide:ology by Nancy Duarte. Scan the following list of verbs and pick the 3 that resonate the most with you. Some of the options make you scratch your head a bit (what does it mean to “light” or “extend”?) but it’s a pretty simple way to reveal the underlying motivations and values that give our lives purpose and direction.
By Lulu on December 29, 2012
I was inspired to pick up Doris Goodwin’s Team of Rivals again after watching Lincoln. (As a side note, the book is a great way to endear yourself to middle-aged white men on the plane). Of all of Lincoln’s extraordinary gifts, I was struck most by his willingness, time and time again, to sacrifice his ego in pursuit of the greater good, even in interactions with those who routinely discounted his ability, challenged his authority, and questioned his character. Always the first to forget past offenses, Lincoln’s magnanimity, combined with his superb judgment, enabled him to make controversial decisions while earning not only the respect, but the adoration, of a nation torn apart by the moral issue of slavery. My favorite story from the book:
In the summer of 1855, disappointment piled upon disappointment. Six months after his loss to Trumbull, Lincoln’s involvement in a celebrated law case forced him to recognize that his legal reputation, secure as it might have been in frontier Illinois, carried little weight among the preeminent lawyers in the country.
The story began that June with the arrival in Springfield of Peter Watson, a young associate in the distinguished Philadelphia firm headed by George Harding, a nationally renowned patent specialist. Harding had been hired by the John Manny Company of Rockford, Illinois, to defend its mechanical reaping machine against a patent infringement charge brought by Cyrus McCormick, the original inventor of the reaper. McCormick v. Manny, better known as the “Reaper” suit, was considered an important test case, pitting two outstanding patent lawyers, Edward Dickerson of New York and former Attorney General Reverdy Johnson for McCormick, against Harding for Manny. Since the case was to be tried before a judge in Chicago, Harding decided to engage a local lawyer who “understood the judge and had his confidence,” though, from his Eastern perspective, he condescendingly expressed doubt he could find a lawyer in Illinois “who would be of real assistance” in arguing the case.
Watson was sent to Springfield to see if Abraham Lincoln, whose name had been recommended, was the right man for the position. His initial impression was not positive. Neither the small frame house on Eighth Street nor Lincoln’s appearance at the door with “neither coat nor vest” indicated a lawyer of sufficient standing for a case of this magnitude. After talking with Lincoln, however, Watson decided he might be “rather effective” after all. He paid Lincoln a retainer and arranged a substantial fee when the work was completed. Lincoln was thrilled with both the fee and the opportunity to test himself with the renowned Reverdy Johnson. He began working on the legal arguments for the case, understanding that Harding would present the scientific arguments.
Not long after Watson’s Springfield visit, Harding received word that the case had been transferred from Chicago to Cincinnati. The change of venue to Ohio “removed the one object” for employing Lincoln, allowing Harding to team up with the man he had wanted in the first place–the brilliant Edwin Stanton. Unaware of the changed situation, Lincoln continued to develop his case. “At our interview here in June,” he wrote Watson in late July, “I understood you to say you would send me copies of the Bill and Answer . . . and also of depositions . . . I have had nothing from you since. However, I attended the U.S. Court at Chicago, and while there, got copies . . . I write this particularly to urge you to forward on to me the additional evidence as fast as you can. During August, and the remainder of this month, I can devote some time to the case, and, of course, I want all the material that can be had. During my day at Chicago, I went out to Rockford, and spent half a day, examining and studying Manny’s machine.”
Though Lincoln never heard from Watson, he pieced together what he needed and in late September set out for Cincinnati with a lengthy brief in his hands. Arriving at the Burnet House where all the lawyers were lodged, he encountered Harding and Stanton as they left for the court. Years later, Harding could still recall the shock of his sight of the “tall, rawly boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue button umbrella with a ball on the end of the handle.” Lincoln introduced himself and proposed, “Let’s go up in a gang.” At this point, Stanton drew Harding aside and whispered, “Why did you bring that d—-d long armed Ape here . . . he does not know any thing and can do you no good.” With that, Stanton and Harding turned from Lincoln and continued to court on their own.
In the days that followed, Stanton “managed to make it plain to Lincoln” that he was expected to remove himself from the case. Lincoln did withdraw, though he remained in Cincinnati to hear the arguments. Harding never opened Lincoln’s manuscript, “so sure that it would be only trash.” Throughout that week, though Lincoln ate at the same hotel, Harding and Stanton never asked him to join them for a meal, or accompany them to or from court. When Judge John McLean hosted a dinner for the lawyers on both sides, Lincoln was not invited.
The hearing continued for a week. The sophisticated arguments were “a revelation” to Lincoln, recalled Ralph Emerson, one of Manny’s partners. So intrigued was he by Stanton’s speech, in particular, that he stood in “rapt attention . . . drinking in his words.” Never before, Emerson realized, had Lincoln seen anything so finished and elaborated, and so thoroughly prepared.” When the hearing was over, Lincoln told Emerson that he was going home “to study law.” Emerson did not understand at first what Lincoln meant by this, but Lincoln explained. “For any rough-and-tumble case (and a pretty good one, too), I am enough for any man we have out in that country; but these college-trained men are coming West. They have had all the advantages of a life-long training in the law, plenty of time to study and everything, perhaps, to fit them. Soon they will be in Illinois . . . and when they appear I will be ready.”
As Lincoln prepared to leave Cincinnati, he went to say goodbye to William Dickson, one of the few people who had shown him kindness that week. “You have made my stay here most agreeable, and I am a thousand times obliged to you,” Lincoln told Dickson’s wife, “but in reply to your request for me to come again I must say to you I never expect to be in Cincinnati again. I have nothing against the city, but things have so happened here as to make it undesirable for me ever to return here.”
After returning to Springfield, Lincoln received a check in the mail for the balance of his fee. He returned it, saying he had not earned it, never having made any argument. When Watson sent the check a second time, Lincoln cashed it.
Unimaginable as it might seem, after Stanton’s bearish behavior, at their next encounter six years later, Lincoln would offer Stanton “the most powerful civilian post within his gift”—the post of secretary of war. Lincoln’s choice of Stanton would reveal, as would his subsequent dealings with Trumbull and Judd, a singular ability to transcend personal vendetta, humiliation, or bitterness. As for Stanton, despite his initial contempt for the “long armed Ape,” he would not only accept the offer but come to respect and love Lincoln more than any person outside of his immediate family.
I can’t end this post without a tribute to Lincoln’s incredible literary skills. His Gettysburg Address is profound lyrical magic fashioned out of just over 260 words. You can’t do it justice without reading it aloud. If you’re a real nerd and have a bit of time to kill, try committing it to memory (who does that anymore??):
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here, have, thus far, so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
By Lulu on December 8, 2012
We recently finished a two week digital ethnography study on the intersection of search and social. Key assumptions to revisit:
- Search engines can approximate the proximity of social relationships just as well as people can.
- People don’t know who the relevant experts are in their network and lack efficient means of getting this information.
- More signal and more choice is better.
- Feedback from friends is more valuable than the wisdom of crowds.
- Users come to search engines in browse mode.
- People think their current search experience is broken and dissatisfying.
In the latter scenario, people derive emotional satisfaction from actively reaching out to their network and soliciting input. Not only do you lose this benefit of connecting with others when information is presented passively in the context of a search experience, it can also introduce a “creepiness” factor that wasn’t in the picture before.
Going forward, in evaluating any type of social integration with search, we should apply the criteria people use to judge the success of their search engine experience:
- Maximize relevance
- Minimize effort
- Reduce overload
By Lulu on December 2, 2012
A few weeks back I went to see an optometrist to update my contact lens prescription and switch from two-weeks to dailies. After trying a couple of disposable lenses that didn’t do much to improve the dryness I felt at the end of the day, I asked my doctor about Acuvue TruEye, which seemed to be the most comfortable line by that brand. He told me the office didn’t carry them so I asked what the equivalent in other brands would be.
Doctor: “What do you mean?”
Me: “I guess I’m wondering what the most breathable dailies are for the other brands?”
Doctor: “Oh, you can’t compare the lenses like that. [Insert a bunch of technical optometrist speak about the chemical makeup of different contact lenses]”
I’m in no position to argue with years of medical training; asking for the “most breathable” lenses was a major oversimplification, sure. But my doctor didn’t have much success getting buy-in for the lenses he recommended by speaking jargon. As a patient, I’m expecting him to recognize the spirit of my question and the underlying concerns motivating it, and respond in kind. I’m expecting, in essence, for him to tell me a story.
Storytelling is traditionally viewed as the domain of marketing departments, journalists, and recluse novelists holed up in cabins. The truth is that it touches every aspect of our personal and professional lives. You tell a story about yourself every day through the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the entertainment you consume, and the people with whom you choose to spend your free time.
On the job, storytelling is the skill of pulling back from the details of your day-to-day activities to help people understand why any of it matters.
Designers translate pixels and typefaces (among other things) into a visual identity.
Marketers translate specs and features into a product’s value prop and associated emotional benefits.
Doctors translate symptoms and medical histories into a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Lawyers translate precedents and statutes into a compelling case.
Bankers translate interest rate movements and investor sentiment into a capital raising strategy.
Whether it’s stated in your job description or not, storytelling is one of those intangibles that distinguishes out-performers across the board. Everyone can benefit from becoming a better storyteller and there are an endless number of mediums through which to develop the skills – writing, speaking, visual arts, movement, sound, physical design, etc. Find one that inspires you and practice, practice, practice, until you excel at it. (And then practice some more.)
By Lulu on November 19, 2012
I remember back in high school when you wanted to recommend a favorite book to a friend, you made a case for it. Laid out the selling points, fielded questions, maybe engaged in a bit of spirited back-and-forth.
The physical evidence of your love would have been obvious in the volume’s flattened spine, dog-eared corners, scribbling in the margin, highlighting that bled through multiple pages.
Now, endorsing something is as simple as clicking an ever-present “Share” button.
The resulting flood of likes, +1’s, retweets, pins, and upvotes is enough to make anyone want to snap their laptop lid shut for a breath of air.
What if every time you clicked a “like” button a prompt appeared asking for 1-2 sentences explaining what caught your attention? How would that change your behavior? How would the extra context help others prioritize where to spend their time?
A few weeks ago I tried a little experiment where I forced myself to be more discriminating with my Instagram likes; my index finger was struggling to keep up with the endless flow of beautiful pictures in my feed. I found myself substituting towards more substantive interactions like commenting to explain what caught my admiration or asking a question to learn more about the shot.
The same spirit inspired the creation of a Quora board called “Worth revisiting” as a home for content deserving of a long, happy shelf life and many rereadings.
I want my trail of digital bread crumbs to have weight, to signify, “If you only have time to read one thing, let this be it.”
The internet has accelerated the formation of and access to high-quality content like no other time before. And that’s awesome. What hasn’t changed is the amount of labor, care, and attention that goes into creating something truly great, something worthy of passing on. Let’s make sure that stuff, the stuff you truly love, is what makes it to the top.
Robin Sloan’s Fish (source of the title of this post)
By Lulu on November 18, 2012
Belated notes from a workshop at the Seattle Design Festival.
How do you design for the future?
Ask yourself: What’s changing? What’s enduring?
From an existing norm to an emerging pattern:
At the intersection of these [SHIFTS]
lies a plausible transformation for [TARGET]
to experience [VALUE / GOAL]
By Lulu on November 17, 2012
I’ve always found “networking” in the traditional sense to be a rather stressful activity. Recruiting events in college reminded me of scenes from a Nature special where some poor mom is encircled by ten hungry newborns.
Most of the time I was too distracted thinking about the logistics and etiquette of networking to really get to know the other person. Which group should I approach? How am I going to insert myself into this conversation non-awkwardly? Is my name tag visible? I feel like I’m smiling and nodding way too much right now…is this wine turning my teeth purple? Time to leave, how do I get the business card and make a graceful exit?
I realized that the chief source of my anxiety came from playing by those established rules. But rules are just a means to an end. And that end is to form a meaningful connection with someone. So now I opt for a more organic, leisurely route; no pressure to meet x number of people by the end of the hour. Instead of eight contrived conversations I come away with one or two insightful ones. And that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make any day.