Cool Is Conservative Fear (and 42 Other Rules)

The Incomplete Manifesto [PDF link] summarizes the design approach of Bruce Mau Design, a multidisciplinary brand and environment firm. The manifesto includes 43 strategies to inspire innovation in every project. Some highlights:  

Don’t be cool: Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.

Avoid software: The problem with software is that everyone has it.

Slow down: Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.

Stay up late: Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.

Don’t clean your desk: You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.

Capture accidents: The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.

Don’t feel like reading through all 43 statements? Watch a video adaption of the manifesto created by animation student Timbo Johnson:


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Why “Giving” Is the Best Metric for Success


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“It’s easy to miss the real point of our lives even
 as we’re living them,” writes Arianna Huffington in her book Thrive. “And it is very telling what we don’t hear in eulogies.” Those things include making senior vice president, sacrificing kids’ Little League games to go over those numbers one more time, or my personal favorite: “she dealt with every email in her inbox every night.”

“You never hear, ‘George increased market share by 30 percent,’” Huffington said at a recent event at Soho House in New York City. What you do hear in eulogies, she says, are stories of “small kindnesses.”

It’s well known that details make good art great. Subtle word choices separate great poets from amateurs. Small flourishes define superlative architecture. Tiny considerations make products world-class (“Jobs spent days agonizing over just how rounded the corners should be,” writes Walter Isaacson about the Apple II in Steve Jobs).

I think the same can be said about building a great business. Tiny considerations in the interactions companies have with their customers are all about focusing on people before profits—and, paradoxically, this can yield huge returns. This is the mentality that Wharton professor Adam Grant talks about in his research on corporate “givers” versus “takers.” In various now-famous studies in his book Give and Take, Grant has shown that the most successful people in the workplace tend to be the ones who give selflessly to others without expectation of returned favors. Research by Jim Stengel, former global marketing head at Procter & Gamble, shows that this also works at a corporate level. Businesses “center[ed] on improving people’s lives outperform their competitors,” he writes, after studying a decade of market performance of fifty thousand brands.

In Thrive, Huffington argues that power and money have too long been life’s main yardsticks of success, and that we should measure our achievements instead by four new metrics: Wisdom, Wonder, Well-Being, and Giving. If the eulogy test is an indication, Giving is likely the most memorable of the four.

“It’s tempting to reserve the giver label for larger-than-life heroes such as Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi, but being a giver doesn’t require extraordinary acts of sacrifice,” Grant writes in Give and Take. “It just involves a focus on acting in the interests of others.”

This is an excerpt from 99U’s new book, Make Your Mark. It features 21 essays and interviews on building a creative business with impact, including the full text of this essay by Contently co-founder and journalist Shane Snow.

Get  “Make Your Mark” now –>


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How to Get 90% of Your Work Done Before Lunch

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Over on Inc., Neil Patel, co-founder of KISSmetrics, shares 16 tips for getting 90 percent of your work done in the morning, after which you can push back from your desk to enjoy a leisurely lunch.

His approach is built on the Pareto principle, which holds that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts. Arrange the layout of your work day by front-loading, so that you’re executing the meat of your workload when you’re freshest and firing on all cylinders.

A few favorites from his suggestions:

Schedule your day the night before. Every day, you should list all your tasks and when you’re going to do them the following day. You will not be productive unless you plan out everything you’re going to do the next morning. Quick tip: Don’t schedule too much. Keep your to-do schedule light to actually accomplish real work.

Make 60-second decisions. Decision making is a time-draining vortex. When you’re faced with a decision in the course of your work, give yourself a one-minute limit. Your decision will be just as good, but it will take less time.

Do your writing early on. Writing is one of the most mentally demanding tasks. However, writing also has the power of focusing your brain and improving your productivity. Do you writing early in the day, and you’ll improve both the quality of your writing and the rest of your day.

Reward yourself at a certain time. Set the clock–a countdown timer if you have to. At a certain point, you’re going to stop. So, stop. Break out the kazoos, throw some confetti, and do your happy dance. It’s time to reward yourself.

What better motivation than a refreshing mid-day break and the knowledge that you’ve drilled through the bulk of your workload? You’ll be primed to zero in on the remaining 10 percent.


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Why Quitting Is OK

By Bettina Tan

By Bettina Tan

Conventional wisdom holds that the higher echelons of any industry are populated by people who never quit. But writer and designer Sarah Kathleen Peck suggests that quitting is not only OK, it can be richly constructive.

In a post on Medium, Peck describes what she learned from observing her enduring pattern of enthusiastically starting projects, pausing partway through, and beating herself up for failing to ship:

What was happening? Why was I quitting? Life happened. Things got hard, they got rough: deadlines built up. Real work pulled me in. The need to take a run and take care of my body surfaced. The competing pulls of attention and focus and deadlines wrapped me in their compelling arms. But something else was happening, too. Ten days of paper-crafting…led me to building an entirely new online program of my own.

Skimming the lessons in a business-building mastermind opened up a new way of creating sales pages. Reading half of a book propelled me into my next project. And then it hit me: what if I was getting exactly what I needed?

The idea is that quitting can beneficially lead to embarking on a different project that’s informed and nourished by the abandoned one. Peck suggests that it’s possible the ego is the only part of ourselves that actually cares about finishing, at least when it comes to exploratory creative work:

You don’t have to do everything to get something out of it…. No one said you have to get 100% done and be perfect to enjoy the fruits of your progress.

If you’re working on something that’s not beholden to someone else’s deadline or parameters, don’t finish for the sake of finishing. Quit to see what space you’ve opened up for something even greater.


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WALL-E & Why You Should Embrace Creative Wandering

On the commentary track (around 5:11) for Pixar’s animated film, WALL-E, director and writer Andrew Stanton discusses how the creative process can sometimes lead you to unexpected places and hard decisions:   

I always sort of always equate story development to an archaeological dig, in that you kind of know the dinosaur you want to dig up and where it is. You pick a piece on the ground and you start digging and you bring up bones and you start trying to piece together this dinosaur or the story you’re trying to find, but you just don’t have much say about which bones you’re going to get and what bones they are…

Stanton understands that sometimes everything about your dig will point to a tyrannosaurus rex. Then at the last minute you’ll dig up something and realize all your bones were backwards and you actually have a stegosaurus. He asks the hard question: do you shift everything around at the last minute to show a stegosaurus or do you just force it to be a tyrannosaurus rex?

Even if it extends the deadline, it’s better to realign your project then to force it to be something it’s not. When the creative process takes your concept for a spin, go with it. Stanton concludes, “I am very, very lucky that I work for a place that encourages last minutes ideas.”


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When Decision-Making Becomes Procrastination



Jason Norcross, executive creative director at advertising agency 72andSunny, knows that when you have too many ideas or options, it’s easy to overanalyze every option before making a decision. In an interview with Fast Company, he says the best option is just to pick one and see what happens:

The best way to learn, create and move forward is to be decisive. It’s OK to be wrong, but make a decision because then you’ll learn. At least you’ll know you’re wrong and can move on. As opposed to just over-thinking and debating things… If it seems like it’s meeting the brief and it’s the right thing to do, then pursue it. If it doesn’t come to life for whatever reason, then reboot and go in a new direction.

When you spend so much time trying to decide what the best direction is, you burn people out and stop making progress. No one has time for that. Select an idea that fits the solution and leave time to try another idea if it doesn’t work out. If something is going to fail, it’s better to find out sooner than later so you can change direction.


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Get to Inbox Zero: Email Like a Journalist

Photo by Herschell Hershey

Photo by Herschell Hershey

Lost productivity is costly. According to multiple research studies, the average person receives more than 304 business emails a week. The average worker checks their inbox 36 times in an hour, and then spends about 16 minutes refocusing after handling incoming email. The studies show that the annual productivity costs per employee are $1250 for spam emails, $1800 for unnecessary emails, and $2100-$4100 just for poorly written ones. 

Founder, and the author of Work Simply, Carson Tate, explains:

“We are all bogged down by the sheer volume of email we receive and to which we must respond. That volume grows even more daunting because so much of that communication is unclear, ambiguous and flat out sloppy. These sloppy emails waste your time. And they cost you hours each week. Which means they’re also costing you money.”

She suggests that we can dramatically reduce the volume of email messages we receive by crafting email messages using the key foundations of journalism: who, what, why, and how. It may seem obvious, but utilizing all four in one emails ensures that your message is understood upon the first read, and does not require multiple back and forth emails asking clarifying questions.

Who?  This breaks down into two sub-questions: “Who needs to respond to, take action on, or make a decision about this information?” Put their name(s) on the to: line. “Who needs to know this information?” Put their name(s) on the cc: line.

Why? Look back at the names on the to: line and the cc: line. For each name, ask yourself, “Why is this person involved in the project?”…Make sure the tone, style, and content of your email matches up—just as you would choose appropriate words, tone, and body language if you were sitting across a table from them and discussing the topic in person…

What? “What is the purpose of the email?…What are the key facts? What references or research data need to be included?”…

How? Ask yourself, “How do I want recipients to respond?” Describe this explicitly in your email. If there’s a deadline, say so. If you want an email response, say that…Never assume that people will understand what you want—tell them as straightforwardly as possible.


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