Designer Frank Chimero wrote down everything he knows about design and delivers it in rapid-fire style. It’s a fascinating no-frills retrospective, and it’s worth every minute of your time. Some of our favorites:
And perhaps the best of them all:
Weston McBride writes about what he calls a “moment of clarity.” While he was building a mobile shopping startup, McBride’s girlfriend challenged him. His dream in life was to help solve the world’s water problems. So why wasn’t he doing that? The subsequent soul-searching made McBride realize he was on the “deferred life plan.” His post explaining the jolting realization and the subsequent weeks are worth a read for anyone who doesn’t feel quite right. His take:
My immediate defensive reaction [to the question] was to explain my 5 year plan, as I had rehearsed: “I’ll be [there] soon enough. I just have to sell this mobile shopping company for $200M and then I can actually pursue my dream of solving the world’s water problems.”
But my girlfriend challenged this: “How does selling a consumer app company help you disrupt the potable water market?” She was right, and I knew it.
McBride then decided to act brashly.
I knew that I was powerfully unhappy, that something was wrong, but I was powerless to do anything about it.
It took a piercing question from my girlfriend to wake me from that trance. I knew I was working on a startup where I had no empathy for my users and had no passion for the space or the problems we were solving, and I knew that was wrong. But what I had to realize was that I didn’t need to do that.
That revelation liberated me. The next day, I talked with my co-founders and transitioned out of the company over the next 4 weeks.
McBride says he’s currently researching for his next project: solving the world’s water problems.
Brault writes about diffusing the excuse mechanism by embracing ignorance. We often see notable creatives say their success happened because they had no idea what was and wasn’t possible. The next time you find yourself in over your head, don’t panic. Embrace the uncertainty as a chance to push your limits. As Brault writers:
You already are who you are and the very want for doing it is the only call you need to make it happen. You don’t need permission and you don’t need to “become” something first.
Biz Stone is best known as the founder of Twitter, but things weren’t always so rosy for him:
My first startup, an online reviews site called Xanga, was struggling, and, tired of being broke in New York, I quit. My wife and I headed back to my hometown of Wellesley, Massachusetts, with tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt in tow. We moved into the basement of my mom’s house. I had no job. I tried to sell an old copy of Photoshop on eBay, but no one bought it.
Meanwhile Stone religiously kept a blog, and began to think of himself as an expert. On a whim he called Ev Williams who ran Blogger as part of Google and convinced him to bring him on. But even with Williams on his side, he had trouble getting the gig:
Larry and Sergey flat out said that he couldn’t hire me. Ev persisted. Finally, they begrudgingly agreed that Wayne Rosing—then Google’s senior VP of engineering—could talk to me on the phone. I waited nervously in my attic apartment. The phone rang, and as I reached for it something came over me. In that instant I decided to abandon all the failure I’d been carrying around. Instead, I would embody my alter ego.
It worked. Wayne told Larry and Sergey to hire me. Working at Google, my virtual and physical worlds collided: With the seemingly limitless resources, scientists, and secret projects, the place was practically Genius Labs.
Years later Williams and Stone would quit, leaving lots of pre-IPO money on the table to start their next project: Twitter.
Programmer Chris Maddox writes about the time he realized the benefit of expressing his opinions, even when he knew he had a lot to learn. He recalls a college economics class where Christina Romer, former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, was guest a lecturer:
Far too often, I have seen peers cowed in the face of brilliance and, as such, failed to leave with any useful knowledge. Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure if sending checks to Americans during the recession was a good idea. But I bet that if I told Christina Romer that the economics taught in our ivory tower ignored fundamental tenets of human psychology, she’d have a profoundly interesting answer. [So I asked.] She laughed…then tore me to pieces.
Those 90 seconds taught me more about economics than two semesters of lecture, problem sets, and pretty graphs.
Read his entire essay here.
The difference between success and failure often lies in bouncing back and re-igniting the artistic fire we need to work. So how exactly can we bounce back into creating? Fred Waitzkin, author of Searching for Bobby Fisher, says bouncing ideas off his wife (or anyone, really) helps:
I have a couple of friends that I rely upon. They are very perceptive about the human heart. I’ll talk quite specifically about what isn’t working in a section of my book. I listen closely to what they think. I’ve done this many times. My wife Bonnie has helped me many times like this.
Here is the curious thing. Often her advice or the idea of a friend isn’t what I end up doing. But listening to the ideas engenders a new idea. The whole point is that you have to get moving. Movement begets movement. You need to get unstuck.
The principle is to do anything that builds momentum. For example, if it’s writer’s block, and you truly can’t write – then tape yourself talking/ranting/raving about a subject, then type it out in a word processor. Talk to a friend about your concept. Or, lay out the overall structure of the piece.
Defeat your analysis paralysis by moving. Just make a move.
It doesn’t matter how creative you are, if you can’t communicate your vision to decision makers, you’ll forever be relegated to a supporting role. Like all communication, talking to busy people is all about empathy for the other person’s goals and priorities.
Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins write about the issue for the Harvard Business Review, using a client named Jason as an example:
Jason often got mired in the details when communicating with higher level colleagues, and therefore missed opportunities to share his insights. To stop this from happening, he started to prepare two to three key messages before every meeting, and made sure to focus on how his group’s analytical work drove value for the organization. In essence, Jason conditioned himself for the expected, leaving his “thinking on his feet” energy for those situations that were least predictable.
Even if you’re the youngest person at the table, you’re at the table. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard. Just make it count.