Working on important problems

It takes just as much energy to solve important problems as it does to solve unimportant ones. My friend said this the other day and it really got me thinking.

In some ways it’s true. If you’re going to work 40 hours per week, it might as well be on something you care about. In other ways, it’s not. When you care deeply enough, the emotion of the situation bleeds over. It keeps you up at night.

While the amount of billable hours might be the same, the amount of emotional labor is lopsided. That doesn’t mean you should turn away. In fact, the level of emotion is often an indicator you’re running in the right direction. Let it be your compass.

Show up in a way that matters and don’t be afraid to bring emotions. We’re designing for humans, not robots.

The shortest distance

When you recognize that the point of your project is to deeply change a human being, then you can ask the question: what’s the shortest distance between those two points?

A new question to optimize for

What if we optimized for what lights students up?

Rather than developing worksheets and assigning reading, how might we make sure the student is activated first? We can still assign the reading and do the worksheets! But we just have to wait a little bit until they feel engaged in the learning.

In reality, it doesn’t have to change the entire class. It just has to change the approach in one tiny way: asking students what they care about. Theoretically, asking this question is a little tweak, but in practice, it catalyzes a massive perspective shift. It might even cause you to rethink everything.

Creating space for others

As space was created for us, we must create space for others.

Space to take risks, to learn, to be vulnerable, to be our true selves.

Because if we look around, we’ll see that space is abundant. What’s scarce are the people creating the conditions for others to seize the opportunity.

So let’s be those people and let’s create space for more people to be heard.

Unpacking ideas

When you set out to solve a problem, it’s useful to make a table. Starting with the problem, across the top, dig into why it’s a problem. Each answer to “why” is a new column. Below each “why,” start to unpack some of the assumptions you’re making about that “why.”

Each one of these “whys” will help you hone in on a specific part of the problem that you want to solve. Meanwhile, each box containing assumptions represents a test that needs to be run.

The table might look a little something like this:


Why #1

Why #2

Why #3

Why #4

Why #5

assumption about Why #1

assumption about Why #2

assumption about Why #1

assumption about Why #1

Modes of thinking

divergent – convergent

generative – evaluative

flaring out – focusing in

coming up with ideas – deciding on the best ideas

Whatever you call it, it’s important to note there are different modes of thinking. Neither is better or worse than the other, just more optimal in certain situations. When you want to come up with ideas, you should steer clear of evaluating ideas at the same time. When you want to focus in on the best ideas, you should put a hold on generating more.

Know where you are in the process and wear that hat accordingly. You’ll need them both, but not at the same time.

A million

Instead of changing of changing a million people, how could you change one person a million times over?

That might not even be a good idea, but it’s worth thinking about.

Untied shoes and unspoken assumptions

I used to have a big problem with my shoes coming untied. I could double knot them, but I didn’t like the way that looked and it was difficult to undo.

The solution I came up with was to add magnets to the tips of my shoelaces and to the inside of my shoes. Thus the tips of the laces couldn’t move around and come undone. It wasn’t super hard to test, but I bought magnets, glued them to my shoe and then got stuck because I couldn’t find a way to get metal onto my shoe lace.

So I never solved the problem. I resorted to double knotting my shoes for a long time until I saw a very short TED talk where a man outlines how to tie a more secure knot. It looks the same as your typical knot, but it’s tied slightly differently and it’s much more stable.

Now I tie my shoes that way and they very rarely come undone.

For years I struggled because I didn’t test my assumptions about the knot! I made the situation way more complicated by adding 4 magnets to my shoe (I even pitched this idea in a business class and a group of people joined me on the project) rather than just learning a better knot.

Maybe the solution is just a slightly different knot. You never know until you try.

17 bad films

You can’t just write a great film. You have to first write 17 bad films, THEN you can write a great one.

Some might call that sad, but I think it’s the truth. The first thing you make in any field isn’t going to be great. Neither are the following few. The only way you’ll ever get to the gold is if you put in the work.

If you accept the fact that we have 17 bad films in all of us, your job is to get them out so one day, number 18 can shine.

Thank you Arian Moayed for this idea.

We’re missing the frame

Everyone has problems. We’re all facing our own challenges, so why are so few people talking to each other about them?

I think we’re missing the frame for such conversations to happen. We have plenty of willing listeners, and plenty of people ready to share their problems. But there’s no space for them to do so. No way to match these two parties.

What’s so beautiful is that when you create the proper frame, anyone could be a talker and a listener. Anyone can share what’s on their mind, while at the same time empathizing with others.

Feeling heard is not a zero sum game. The potential is abundant and right now it’s untapped.

How might we create space for people to share and listen about what really matters?