The Pile of Old Ideas — Volume 1

This is a pile of old ideas that I had collected and partially developed over a period of many years.

I wrote about the process of accumulating these ideas, the stress it caused me, and how I ultimately decided to resolve the situation in an article called How I Got Out of Idea Debt.

This list is sort of an appendix to that article, and isn’t really intended to be read on its own (or at all). I’d strongly recommend checking out out the Idea Debt article if you plan to read this one.

The original Pile of ideas was even bigger than this, but there were many ideas on the list that were so stupid, undercooked or confusing that I just deleted them outright. Below are the ideas that I thought deserved at least a few sentences of closure before putting them out to pasture.

They are loosely categorized and barely edited. Some of them are just lists of facts or notes from books, while others are article ideas or my own opinions. I cannot vouch for their quality or accuracy. If something on this list interests you, by all means take it and use it however you see fit.



Part 1. On The Brain

Brain Facts Megalist

A huge list of brain facts, such as: The average brain weighs 3 pounds, contains 1.1 trillion cells, and 100 billion neurons. Even though it’s only 2% of body weight, it uses 25% of our oxygen and glucose. It uses the same amount of energy whether we’re asleep or awake. The average neuron receives about 5 thousand connections, called synapses, from other neurons, and fires from 5–50 times per section. That means Quadrillions of signals are firing within your brain at any given time. The number of possible neural states is far greater than the number of ATOMS IN THE UNIVERSE. Do you want to finish this article for me?

Information Addiction: Breaking Dopamine Loops

Pairing cues such as sounds with arrival of information motivates people to seek it more. Giving small bits of information and then providing a way for people to get more information results in increased information-seeking behavior. The more unpredictable nature of the arrival of information is, the more people will be addicted to seeking it. This is how casinos, apps and video games get you addicted.

The A-Ha Moment

The A-HA Moment is the equivalent of a “high five” between groups of neurons making bold new connections.

Science of Choking Under Pressure

When people who are experienced at a task they should allow their automatic systems to handle the execution. When people are new at a task it helps to think about the details of how you are doing it. At this point you are forming the networks that will allow you to do the task automatically later.

How to Learn

Failing is a prerequisite for learning in the brain. learn how to fail fast so you can learn. prediction errors get translated into intuitive knowledge. learn to trust instincts through practice. must study mistakes to learn to do it better next time. must steal as much wisdom as possible from inevitable errors.

To Change Behavior, You Must Change Environment

Data from the book Honest Signals that shows that to change a person’s behavior, you get the people that surround that person to behave in a different way. Also from Future by Design guy (Jacque Fresco) talking about the need to change environment to affect long-term change in people. If you try to change a person’s behavior but leave their environment the same, they will almost always regress.

Reducing Choice Overload

Notes and insights from Sheena Iyengar’s TED talk: Choosing What to Choose. Reduce total number of choices. Make choices feel concrete. Visualize the choices. Use categories to “chunk” groups of similar choices. Categories must be relevant to the chooser. Build up to complexity: go from fewer choices to more choices.

Fear and Negativity

Fear moves us away from the thing which caused us to experience it. Fear prompts us to move away from potentially dangerous situations so that we can live another day. In a world where we face more emotional and intellectual dangers than physical ones, negativity, naysaying, or bad attitudes function to “move us away” from ideas that we don’t like.

Fear Creates Mediocrity

What is really much more dangerous than the often-dreaded (but almost never real) outright bomb, is the ubiquitous stream of mediocre, boring, low-brow improv shows that hundreds of troupes and theaters churn out across the country every single night. These are the shows that people walk away from moderately entertained. It wasn’t so bad that they could enjoy the train-wreck aspect of it, and it wasn’t so bad that they’ll make allowances and maybe try improv again at another time or place later — “That was horrendous, but ALL improv can’t be that bad. Let’s just go somewhere else next time.” They’ll walk away thinking, “So THAT was improv. No need to see that ever again.”

Get Unstick: Ignite Your Creativity with Movement

Physical action helps with cognitive processing. This article built upon a Cognitive Daily article that describes a study in which test subjects were asked to count objects and do simple arithmetic. They found that subjects had an easier time performing these tasks when they nodded at, pointed to, or touched the objects they were assigned to count. The study shows that when people can’t engage physically, they talk.

Getting What You Want and Suffering Anyway

A collection of thoughts on how suffering works in the brain, and why getting what we want isn’t always the answer. Desiring can be an unpleasant experience. When you can’t have the things you want, frustration and disappointment result. When you do fulfill a desire, the rewards that follow often don’t meet expectations. Even the best experiences must eventually end, and they get replaced with additional desires. External experiences are thus incapable of providing complete satisfaction and are an unreliable basis for happiness. A more reliable source for happiness comes from within, and from reducing external desires.

Key Brain Areas for Creativity, Teamwork and Emotional Intelligence

A ridiculously long overview of key brain areas involved in these different skills. Prefrontal Cortex: sets goals, makes plays, directs actions, shapes emotion by inhibiting limbic system. Parietal Lobes: separation and boundaries between self and environment. Anterior Cingulate Cortex: steadies attention, monitors plans, helps integrate thinking and feeling. Insula: Senses internal state of body, gut feelings, helps empathy. Thalamus: major relay for sensory information. Brain Stem: sends neuromodulators such as serotonin and dopamine to the rest of the brain. Corpus Callosum: Passes information between the two hemispheres of the brain. Cerebellum: regulates movement. Limbic System: central to emotional and motivation. Basal Ganglia: involved with rewards, stimulation seeking, and movement. Hippocampus: forms new memories, helps detect threats. Amygdala: “alarm bell” that responds to emotionally charged or negative stimuli. Hypothalamus: regulates primal drives, makes oxytocin, activates pituitary gland. Pituitary Gland: makes endorphins, triggers stress hormones, stores and releases oxytocin.

Overview of Key Neurochemicals

Summary of some major chemicals in your brain that affect neural activity. Glutamate: excites receiving neurons. GABA: inhibits receiving neurons. Serotonin: regulates mood, sleep, digestion. Dopamine: rewards and attention, promotes approach behaviors. Norepinephrine: alerts and arouses. Acetylcholine: promotes wakefulness and learning. Opiods (including endorphins): buffer stress, soothe and reduce pain, produce pleasure. Oxytocin: promotes nurturing behaviors and bonding, closeness and love. Vasopressin: promotes pair bonding, aggressiveness towards romantic rivals. Cortisol: released by adrenal glands during stress, stimulates amygdala (stress, fear), inhibits hippocampus (learning).

Setting and Pursuing Goals: Understanding the Neuroaxis

Overview of the “neuroaxis”, a network of systems in the brain that establish new intentions and produce motivation to pursue goals. Exploring the role of many brain areas in this process, including: Brain Stem, Diencephalon, Limbic System, Cortex, Anterior Cingulate Cortex, Amygdala and more.

Intentions and Suffering

Overview of positive vs. negative intentions, desire, craving, how these manifest in the brain, and what we can control to ensure we have more positive experiences.

How Mental States Affect Your Brain — Neuroplasticity

Neural circuits started forming before you were born, and your brain will keep learning and changing up to your very last breath. When your mind changes, your brain changes, too. Mental activity creates new neural structures. You can use your mind to change your brain for the better!(or for the worse, so be careful).

Neuroscience of Fear

An overview of how Fear works in the brain. It originates from the emotional, “feeling” part of the brain (the limbic system), which is separate from the rational, “thinking” part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex). Most of our fears are rooted in ancient brain machinery that has, unfortunately, not evolved to adapt to our rapidly changing — but comparatively safe — world.

Neuroscience of Laughter

An overview of how Laughter works in the brain. Laughter bonds people together. It is universal; all human cultures laugh. Genuine laughter is unconscious and automatic. Laughter is a tool for social communication; people rarely laugh when alone. It is contagious. Laughter actually isn’t about humor — only 20% of laughter is from “jokes”. People rarely laugh in the middle of a sentence, usually at the end. Speakers laugh much more than listeners. Women laugh more than men. In social hierarchies, higher status means less laughter. Best way to get others to laugh is to laugh yourself.

Your Brain is the Ultimate Virtual Reality Device

Our experience of the world is 100% generated by our brains. It is interpreted based on inputs from our body and our environment, but it’s critical to understand that it’s not a direct experience. Our brain is constantly filling in games, generating assumptions, rewriting memories and otherwise “creating” our experience of the world. It’s also simulating possibilities, future events, and doing much more at all times. In effect, our “selves” (if there even is such a thing) are trapped inside the VR simulator of our brains, and that is the only way we can access the world.

The Power of Surprise: Unexpected Rewards Feel Best — And Hook Us

We get the biggest rush of dopamine, the brain’s reward chemical, when we’re faced with unexpected rewards. The burst of dopamine feels good, and it tells our brain “here’s something that’s worth paying attention to”. Once over the initial rush of good feelings, our brains will start trying to predict when the next reward will come, and sets expectations in the process. When those expectations are met, we feel good, and when they are violated, we feel disappointment. When patterns are truly random, our brains will fixate on trying to figure out how to predict rewards, even though it isn’t possible. This is the start of addictive behaviors, and it’s what Casinos, Apps, and Video Games use to get you hooked.

Your Brain is an Asshole: Negativity Bias of the Brain

Exploration of several different aspects of the brain’s negativity bias. We have a built-in negativity bias that causes us to avoid things we perceive as negative. While originally intended to promote survival, this negativity bias causes us a number of problems in our relatively safe (compared to when humans were evolving) modern world. The negativity bias can generate anxiety, cause us to be disconnected from the present, fixate on past losses and failures, downplay present abilities, exaggerate future obstacles, unfairly judge other people, and much more. Basically our brain is built to be a giant asshole in order to keep us alive. We have to work to overcome these biases, and knowing about them in the first place is a good starting point.

Neurons: The Ultimate Team

Neurons are the basic building blocks of our nervous system. Their primary job is to communicate with each other to send signals across the brain and body. There are many types of neurons, but they all serve similar functions. Neurons are like the ultimate team because billions of them cooperate in unison to make millions of decisions every second, and their output is usually coordinated and coherent enough for us to go about our day to day lives without much trouble. Neurons don’t argue, they don’t debate who is right, or what is funny, or what’s the right strategy — they just pass along their signals without judgment and in doing so, facilitate our amazing experience of life.

The Informed Unconscious and Pattern Recognition in the Brain

A huge amount of our behavior is either unconscious, automatic, or determined by our environment and social structures. Unconscious thinking is frequently more effective than conscious thought. Unconscious thinking can integrate lots of information in parallel to make an overall judgment, while conscious thinking cannot handle multiple simultaneous tradeoffs. In essence, subconscious decision making is an advanced form of pattern recognition. That’s why practice and “reps” are so important for skill-based tasks like playing music, chess, or even improvisation. But this unconscious mind needs raw data to draw on in order to make these assessments accurately. Filling our minds with experience and information to draw on can be thought of as creating an “informed unconscious”.

Part 2. Creativity and Innovation

Strategy for Innovation: Convention Plus Extension

An article about a study on innovation from Northwestern’s Brian Uzzi. He argues that the “optimal” amount of new “stuff” in a new product or offering should be 10–15%, with 85–90% remaining familiar. The best creative work is “Convention plus extension”. Make it new but keep it relatable.

Clearing Out the Mental Queue

Making room for new ideas by finishing old ones. New ones cannot appear until old ones have been addressed in some way.

Dimensions of Learning

Declarative: Fact-based, Propositional, Know-That, Classroom discussion, Case Study. Procedural: Skill-based, Intuitive, Know-How, Experiential Learning Exercises.

Importance of Framing

Framing is about establish the focus and constraints. One common problem with brainstorming sessions is that they are too loose. When people are given a completely blank slate and are free to do anything at all, they tend to stick to well-worn patterns of thinking and acting, or get overwhelmed and do nothing. Framing a brainstorming session with specific questions, topics, or problems serves a dual purpose. First, it helps keep the scope of the session manageable. Second, it focuses people’s imagination and sets them off along a particular line of inquiry. As the session progresses, you can refer back to the original framing questions to get people re-focused, or you can update and re-frame the focus as new information comes to light.

Problem Solving: Thinking is Stupid, Doing is Smart

Trying to think your way through a problem without writing, drawing, mapping it out or putting pen to paper in a meaningful attempt to solve the problem is mostly a waste of time. The act of trying to solve the problem is what generates insights, not endlessly kicking around whatever happens to be in your head at the time. The act of working through the problem — or Continually reframing it in new ways — is where progress happens.

Communicate Your Intentions as well as Information

Either explicitly or with your time, it’s important to communicate your intentions along with your information.

Lifecycle of an Idea

Generate, Explore, Connect, Decide, Execute, Maintain. Techniques and methodologies are drawn from business, art, science and design. The exercises are designed to effect shifts in perception, and help people break out of traditional mind-sets and re-frame their world-view from multiple perspectives.

Getting To Obvious

Break down mental models and preconceived notions about what something is or wha problems you have etc. Since our brain fills in so much, we have to work hard to see what is right in front of us. It takes many exposures and repeat observations or problems to see an ‘obvious’ solution. These connections are easy to see in retrospect, but difficult to perceive in the first place.

Creativity and Conflict

Creativity requires some sort of conflict, because without any obstacles or constraints there would be no need to be creative. However, it is essential that the conflict come from outside the group solving the problem — it must be an external constraint — rather than an internal conflict between team members. The team should work cooperatively to generate a creative solution to the outside challenge.

Evaluating Ideas

How can you tell if an idea is good? What makes it good? It’s impossible to judge what an idea will become based on the idea itself, so how can we evaluate ideas at all? One way is to think about how well the idea aligns with the overall purpose and values of your business or organization.

Features of Innovative Companies

A megalist of things that innovative companies have in common. Including: Comfortable with change, tolerant of risk or ambiguity, slow to judgment, sense of playfulness and fun to the work, individuals are given freedom, atmosphere of exploration, teamwork is encouraged, company facilitates cross-disciplinary interaction, limited hierarchy, short feedback cycles, clear and challenging goals, accountability and clear deadlines.

Tips for Adults Who Want to Remember How to Play

Play is a natural human behavior that helps us learn, be creative, and bond. As we grow up, play gets squeezed out of our lives and sometimes disappears. Some tips for introducing play back into our lives as adults: (1) Be willing to fail, (2) Take risks so you can make mistakes and learn from them, (3) Fully commit to whatever you do and be present, (4) Don’t take yourself too seriously, (5) Be a good sport, be gracious to others (6) Don’t worry about the rules, (7) Don’t self-censor, (8) Be Obvious, (9) Give up control, (10) Just get started.

Blocks to Creativity

Article exploring the different kinds of blockers to creativity that people my experience — and ideas for how to overcome them. Cognitive: difficulty making associations, ineffective processes or language. Emotional: fear, negativity, judgment, misalignment. Cultural: Status, judgment, denial, restrictions.

Your Mouth is a Minefield: To Be Creative, Shut Up!

When you’re working on an innovation project, it’s much better to let your work and prototypes do the talking. Just like with brainstorming, trying to predict the outcomes of innovative work through discussion alone is guaranteed to lead you astray. Instead of talking about ideas, try drawing pictures, building prototypes, or otherwise testing them out in the real world.

Creativity vs. Innovation: What’s the Difference?

Article exploring the difference between creativity and innovation, along with approaches for getting better at each. Creativity is about generating new ideas, and Innovation is about putting those ideas into practice in a way that benefits people.

The Mental Workbench: Working Memory and Creative Restructuring

Our brains like to search for connections between ideas. Like a kid working a puzzle, they will try to connect the idea in-hand with all of those around it. To make novel associations between concepts and ideas, it’s important to bring them into “mental proximity” by putting them into our mental workbench — thinking about them, basically — around the same time. This will help your brain look for points of connection between the ideas.

Brainstorming With Omnigraffle

I like to brainstorm with sticky notes, but don’t always have them on hand, or the right wall isn’t always available. I’ve found it difficult to brainstorm effectively on the computer because you lose that tactile feel. You might be able to do a brain-dump, but this isn’t the same as an effective brainstorm. Proximity helps our brains associate different ideas, so I wanted an easy way to play with moving ideas around on the computer in a way that was more visual than a list or spreadsheet. To help with this I created a set of virtual sticky notes in the diagramming software Omnigraffle. I was going to talk about this process and release the template for free.

Four Ways to Be Creative

A structured way of looking at creativity that categorizes types of creativity based on which brain regions they engage. (1) Deliberate and Cognitive — Innovation: Prefrontal cortex, focused attention, make connections via working memory, need pre-existing knowledge, putting together existing information in new ways. (2) Deliberate and Emotional — Therapeutic A-Has: Prefrontal cortex for attention, cingulate cortex bridges cognition and emotion, cingulate relates how you feel about yourself, others, the world, insights related to feelings or emotions. (3) Spontaneous and Cognitive — Insights: Prefrontal cortex, Basal Ganglia, dopamine, “out of the box” thinking when not consciously trying to work on problems, requires existing knowledge so prefrontal cortex can connect conscious to subconscious. (4) Spontaneous and Emotional — Art: Amygdala drives basic emotions, intuition, instinct, does not require specific bits of knowledge, but does require skill such as writing, art, music etc. to actually execute the idea.

Exploring Intersections: Neuroscience and Improv

Importance of patterns, why patterns are funny to the brain, how imagination makes improv possible for audience and performers, why authenticity and vulnerability are powerful, why people laugh, how to be funny, psychology of storytelling, what improv behaviors are counterintuitive to our brains, how to be more effective speaker, communicator, teacher. Empathy. Helping scientists communicate better, helping people understand how creativity works, learn to trust our intuition, looking for unexpected connections, collaborate more effectively and easily, seeing things from other points of view, tailoring your message to your audience, deal with things as they are vs. as you wish they were.

Exploring Intersections: Neuroscience and Design

How to design for the brain, color psychology, crafting effective calls to action, attention span and patience, user experience design, understanding the brain = understanding people, subconscious influence in marketing, speak to emotional part of brain first, how creativity works, understanding how brain works makes communication more effective.

Exploring Intersections: Improv and Design

Better communication skills, better client relationships, more effective processes, more flexibility, seeing new lines of creative exploration, less self-judgment, less ego, embracing your natural creativity and point of view, communicate value more effectively, connect with audiences through humor, adapt strategy to changing demands, improved negotiation experiences and outcomes.

Tension Between People vs. Tension Between Ideas

Great creative work often requires challenging convention, challenging your own ideas and those of others, pushing ideas beyond their comfort zone, and refusing to settle for half-assed efforts. All of these things can create tension, but it’s important to realize the difference in Tension Between People and Tension Between Ideas. Tension Between Ideas is good, because it can lead to productive discussions, new insights, different ways of looking at a problem, and creative breakthroughs. Tension Between People isn’t good, because it can people that people are working at cross-purposes, or basing creative disagreements on personal issues rather than the ideas at hand. Next time you are experiencing creative tension, try identifying whether you’re dealing with tension between people or tension between ideas — and try to limit your tension to the ideas only, while treating the people with respect.

A Hypothetical Brainstorming Session

Illustrating common problems and pitfalls that many people experience during brainstorming sessions — followed by tips, suggestions and an alternative approach.

Brainstorming Techniques

A list of effective brainstorming techniques. The theme is that they focus on people working individually and then combining and synthesizing their output to produce something more than the sum of their parts, instead of trying to talk through individual ideas in a linear fashion.

Conducting an Effective Brainstorming Session

Contrary to popular belief, the best brainstorming sessions are highly structured, not wide open free-for-alls. Important stages in the brainstorming process include “Framing”, “Opening”, “Exploring” and “Closing”.

Anatomy of an Effective Facilitator

Outlining the traits and behaviors of a successful brainstorm / ideation facilitator. Provide clear directions. Define boundaries. Define desired outcomes. Make the team feel safe. Listen carefully. Clarify questions. Allow junior members of the team to go first. Push the team. Play “angel’s advocate”. Make everyone feel included. Help people see the big picture. Provide a unified sense of purpose. Help people see how their efforts now will have an impact later. Acknowledge contributions. Give credit. Put the well-being of the group first.

Part 3. On Business, Strategy, Design & Branding

Using Questions to Hook People in Presentations

Too many presentations feel more like lectures than shared experiences. Don’t give away your main point up front — ask questions to make people think about it and arrive at potential conclusions on their own. Having people engage with your ideas and take ownership of the topic in this way will get them more invested and improve enjoyment and retention.

Your Product Is Not Your Business

A product may be the main focus of the business, and it may even be the only thing that the business “makes”, but the product and the business are not the same thing. The product is just one possible solution to the bigger problem your company is aiming at solving. You still need the bigger vision, so that the company can live on in case another product is added or this one changes.

Authenticity in Pitches

Looking at different pitching tactics for businesses. Using Shark Tank pitches as a starting point, compare those that feel authentic vs. those that feel cheesy or overly rehearsed. People respond well to authenticity, yet many pitches look like they are trying to imitate what they’ve seen on TV instead of actually connecting with their audience. Includes some tips on how to maintain authenticity when pitching.

Hosting Business Speed Dating Events

How to conduct a fun business speed dating event at a coworking space to help people connect with one another. The speed-dating format quickly builds rapport between participants. Ideal attendees are entrepreneurs, startups, or established businesses that are looking to connect with others to discover new opportunities.

Hosting Successful Lunch and Learn Events

A good Lunch and Learn is not a sales pitch, and not pure marketing of your business. Good lunch and learns incorporate benefits of discussion and reflection, creative thinking, problem solving, action planning, and fun, collaborative interactive activities. A suggested format: 20 minutes for presentation, 5 minutes for questions, 30 minutes for activity / interactive portion, 5 minutes for cleanup. Presentation format: Cover slide, Intro Slide, 8–12 content slides, Recap slide, Self-Promotion Slide, Q&A. Provide takeaway materials to attendees to supplement the presentation or activities.

Notes on Ensemble from Philip Glass

Notes on ensemble from listening to an interview with Philip Glass. He self-funded, wrote and performed his own music. He didn’t have to ask for anyone’s permission or approval. He submitted the music to anyone else. He never played anyone else’s music. He didn’t get grants or awards because he didn’t need them. He didn’t depend on grants, because there were no grants designed for musicians like him. He created his own ensemble and kept them together. They stayed together because he made the job a good job. He supported them; he wasn’t living off of them, they were living off of him. He paid their unemployment insurance, health insurance, etc. and paid them as much as he could. They are still together after many decades, and Philip Glass is one of the most prolific composers ever.

Notes from Steve Jobs WWDC Keynote

Focusing is about saying no. Result of focus is a product where whole is greater than sum of its parts. You build icebergs from the bottom up. Know what to use vs. what to invent. Don’t care about being different, care about being much better. You’ll have to be different in order to be much better, but the prize is being much better, not difference itself. Fix the obvious stuff. Don’t get in a position where for you to win, someone else has to lose. Don’t wage war against competitors; ignore them and go straight to customers. Start with customer experience and work backwards to technology. Mistakes are ok, because mistakes usually mean that decisions were being made, and decisions are hugely important.

The MVP Before Your MVP

You need to understand your Mission Vision Positioning before you create your Minimum Viable Product.

On SEO: Do You Deserve to be Found?

Everyone wants to rank #1 on Google, but most of the time the fact is that their content simply isn’t good enough, and they don’t deserve to be #1. So maybe instead of asking how to improve search rankings when you don’t have substantial content, it would be better to focus on how you could produce content that will help your customers. That will naturally produce better search rankings.

On Growing a Business: Bodies are not a substitute for Clarity.

Adding more people when a strategy is not clear only increases confusion, and causes you to diverge quicker as everyone creates their own interpretation of the goal

Leadership Gamified

Teaching leadership, communication and creativity lessons through interactive games. We design experiential games and exercises to teach important lessons on business and creativity

Our Way vs. The Best / Newest Way

Article about the benefits of finding your own approach to something and sticking with it and improving it. Learning how to use your own tools and processes more effectively is often better than constantly switching tools in an attempt to find the best one.

Thoughts Inspired by “Ira Glass on Storytelling” series.

A four-part commentary piece on the excellent video series “Ira Glass on Storytelling”. The parts: (1) The Building Blocks of Story, (2) Are Great Stories Found or Made? (3) Do Your Imagination Justice by Improving Your Technique, (4) Be Yourself.

A Personal Branding Case Study

An in-depth breakdown of the process of defining a personal branding statement, showing how words and concepts can be combined, streamlined, and made stronger through iterating on language.

Mission Statement Reviews

A compilation and comparison of Mission statements from many different companies, with notes on each one. Emphasizing good qualities (simplicity, clarity, concreteness, actionable), and critiquing bad ones (broad, generic language, wordiness, vagueness, not actionable)

You Don’t Need 12 Logo Concepts

Solving the problem should result in one right solution — perhaps a couple of variations on that to account for taste. But if the problem has been properly defined and understood, so many possible solutions should not be necessary.

Case Studies as Stories

Rather than simply presenting the finished output for a project, the case study should show the evolution of the project as well as the results, all in story format. Start with the business problem, describe your approach, present your results, and then describe the impact of your work.

Ideas vs. Execution and Enjoying the Process

Article about focusing on skill development and enjoying the process of your creative work as an end unto itself, rather than a means to an end. Emphasis on practice both as a way to develop skill, and as a way to be more invested in, grounded in, and connected to your work.

Part 4. On Life

Accidents or Opportunities

Learning to see the positives in so-called “mistakes”. The difference between “accidents” and “mistakes” is largely a matter of our perception. An accident is not inherently bad, but mistake implies badness. Learn how to reframe the accidental or unexpected as an opportunity, rather than a mistake.

Be Interesting by Being Interested

Give attention in order to get attention. Give interest in order to get it in return. If you don’t have any interest or investment in what your team is creating, that will create tension between individuals and a weak team.

Doing Work that “Matters” vs. Work that Matters TO YOU

Doing something because it is “important work” or because you think you are supposed to do it will only take you so far. Some day, you will reach a point at which the work becomes too difficult to complete simply out of obligation or mere curiosity. You need passion, to really care about your work and to want to do it for its own sake, in order to persevere past this point. You need to find the work that matters TO YOU. Then, if you do it well enough, it might have an impact on the world at large — thereby becoming that that “Matters”.

You Won’t Get What You Think You Want, And That’s OK

You won’t get what you think you want, but you have to want it anyway so you can eventually get something better. Wanting something is what gets you to take action in the first place, even though what you want often changes by the time you get there. So it’s important to want things and set goals, but not get fixated on achieving those exact goals, because better goals may come along as you work toward the original ones.

Moving to Chicago for Improv

Article about my decision to move to Chicago to get involved with the improv community there. The story of how I got involved in improv in the first place, what it meant to me, and what I hoped to accomplish in Chicago. Spoiler alert: After I moved to Chicago, I quickly landed a big client contract, started a new business, started dating the woman who would become my wife, and promptly quit doing improv at all.

Moving to Los Angeles for my Wife’s TV Show

Article about the unexpected move to Los Angeles and what that meant to me. Lots of praise for my wife Katie and her new TV Show Teachers, and ideas for what I might pursue in the new city.

Follow the Fear

There is a particular kind of fear that arises when we want to pursue something, but are afraid that we might fail at it. We might think that we aren’t experienced enough, that we don’t have the resources, that management wouldn’t go for it, that we just aren’t creative, or that trying and failing would compromise our job or our self-worth. We talk ourselves out of things all the time. Ironically, it is by giving in to this fear that we accept failure by default, remaining stuck right where we are and becoming even less likely to pursue the next opportunity. “Follow the Fear” gives us a new, more productive way to think about fear By recognizing that fear only occurs when something is important to us, we can transform our fear (over sharing an idea, pursuing a project, introducing a new product, challenging an industry norm, or revealing personal information to a friend or colleague), from something that prevents us from taking action into a powerful compass that points us to exciting territory that is worth exploring. “Follow the Fear” empowers you to act in spite of fear, to stop waiting for the “right” moment (which never comes), to stop making excuses, and to find that one important reason to do it anyway.

Planning vs. Discovery

In creativity and innovation, there is a need to balance some planning — having goals, and a general direction, for example — with the need to explore and discover new things. This article explores that delicate balance, and defines some ways to check whether you need more or less planning at any given stage of an innovation project.

The False Prize of Being Right

People spend far too much time end energy on “being right”. This can have big consequences for business and personal relationships. It’s a bad sign when people are more worried about how they will be perceived if an idea is “wrong” vs. the cost to the company or team moving forward with an idea that truly is bad. To avoid this, try to align people around a bigger purpose that goes beyond individual contributions.

Emergent Properties of Teamwork: The Fifth Note

The concept of the “fifth note” comes from barbershop quartets. When four people sing together and harmonize in just the right way, it creates the impression of a fifth voice that ties all the voices together. This is called a “ringing chord” and it is an emergent property of group cohesion. It’s the living embodiment of something being “more than the sum of its parts”.

Trust is the Reward for Consistent Behavior

Trust is a requirement for any successful relationship. But what is Trust, really? How do we gain it and lose it? In this article I argue that one helpful way to think about Trust is as a “reward for consistent behavior”. Maintaining a consistent pattern of behavior can help build trust, and breaking or violating that pattern will lose it. This happens whether we’re conscious of it or not, but thinking about things in this way can help make you conscious of it, and therefore more likely to build and retain trust.

What I Learned About Myself From Leaving My Job

People take jobs for different reasons. Maybe it’s to follow a career path, to get a certain type of experience, or just for a paycheck. Economic factors aside, your values will influence the kind of jobs you seek out, which ones you accept, and where you can ultimately be happy. I recently left a job that, while highly lucrative, was conflicting with my values in a variety of important ways. Here’s what I learned about myself in the process.

Unlearning Academia

I spent over a decade in Academia (graduate school and post doc), and that time exposed me to many negative and unhealthy lifestyles and ways of viewing that world that have taken a toll on my life outside of work. I’ve been working for years to “unlearn” these things, including: excessive need to research things, uncomfortable with failure, value being determined by achievements, undue concern with perfection, too much emphasis on grades, talking about things rather than acting on them, too much pressure, fighting for funding, feeling alienated from “normal people”, excessively long cycle times for projects, never feeling satisfied or that work is complete or “good enough”, unhealthy levels of delayed gratification, disconnect between time investment and value created.

On Finding a Voice and Believing in Your Contributions

I have been very reluctant to express myself online, mostly out of fear. Fear that I didn’t have anything of value to offer, that I wasn’t established enough in any given field to make meaningful contributions, that I wasn’t part of a special group, that I didn’t want to identify too strongly with any particular group, industry or hobby. As a result I feel like I’ve failed to establish a meaningful identity of any kind. This article is about getting over that, and embracing the act of sharing ideas and participating in the things that interest me without regard for other people’s perceptions (which I cannot control anyway).

Simplicity and Consistency: The Keys to Success

I believe the recipe for success is to make your life and work as simple as possible, commit to getting good at something, and then consistently execute on that decision to the highest degree possible. It’s as much about deciding what you want your life to be as it is actually doing the work — both parts are difficult and both parts are important. But you can make the ongoing execution part of life much easier if you limit the scope of what you need to do — that is, making life simple to begin with.

Social Sharing: The Feeling of Being First

People share funny stuff because they want to be the first ones in their peer group to see and share the latest and greatest things. They share it because finding the latest new thing makes them cool. So the thing here is to be first. To be the one that found the hidden treasure, that knows something that somebody else knows. As long as people can get that feeling of being the one to turn other people on to something new and cool, they will share it. It’s not about the bands, or their music, or the actual content of that funny video; it is about the person doing the sharing and how it makes them feel to know something that nobody else knows. And once other people jump on the bandwagon of whatever was shared, it’ll be time to move on — because it wasn’t ever about the material, it was about the feeling of being first.

Part 5. On Improvisation and Improv Comedy

My Comedy Role Models

Overview of several comedy role models and why I look up to them. Includes John Cleese, Jerry Seinfeld, Conan O’Brien. Themes of education, integrity, unique point of view, leadership.

When “No” Means “Yes, And” — Understanding Improv’s #1 Rule

“Yes, And” is a fundamental rule of improv, but like the Bible, it’s not meant to be taken literally. It’s ok to literally say “Yes, and” for factual statements, but when emotions and character development is involved, “yes, anding” the situation can actually mean saying “No” to things — as long as you understand what you’re doing.

How Improv Applies to Business

Exploring the many way improv skills apply to business. Some key points include: staying present, active listening, improved authenticity and vulnerability, increased confidence, reduced fear, open-mindedness, increased trust in one’s self and others, identifying and changing behavior patterns, empathy, adapting to change, seeing opportunities in the unexpected, improved leadership, resilience to setbacks, decisiveness, taking initiative. these are fundamental creativity, communication, collaboration and leadership skills. They aren’t necessarily unique to improvisation. However, improvisation happens to be uniquely well-suited to teach the skills and behaviors that make effective leaders in a fast, efficient, and fun manner.

Improv is the Art of Open Mindedness

Improvisation is not about being funny. It is actually about listening carefully to others, reacting honestly and authentically, supporting the ideas of others, making bold contributions of your own, and working collaboratively to create something that no individual could have created alone. It is the art of open-mindedness.

A Conversation Without Words

How our brains interpret spoken language vs. body language differently, and how our meanings and associations with words impacts our ability to cooperate when our main mode of interacting with others is speaking or writing instead of doing an activity. Why can we cooperate so much better when we are doing things vs. talking about things.

Relationship Between Action and Emotion

We can best show our emotions through our actions rather than indicating or stating them directly. The things we do reflect the things that we want, because an unmet need is what creates action. Emotions both prompt our actions, and emerge from them.

Bubble Theory of Improv

Think of an improv scene as a delicate bubble that exists solely because of the fact that you believe it does. As soon as you stop, it vanishes and the audience can see the improvisers, not the characters, questioning themselves on stage. Confidence in that illusion is what makes it effective. The audience will believe anything that you believe, but you can’t trick them, and they will hate you for trying.

Science of Seating in an Improv Theatre

Why does it lose something when far away or more than 125 people? What’s the “sweet spot” for number of seats in an improv theater? What’s happening at that breaking point where we lose our sense of intimacy?

Large Team Sizes are Dooming the Harold to Failure

The “Harold” is a popular long-form improv show format. It’s notoriously complicated and difficult to perform well. In my experience, maybe 2 out of every 10 Harold shows turn out “good” or better. I think one of the main reasons why people struggle to perform this format successfully is because most Harold teams are too large — about 10 people. I this article I would argue why 6–8 people would be much more effective, and would dramatically improv show quality.

Improv is 100% Execution

Improv is completely execution. The idea doesn’t matter. The entire artform is based on the concept that the idea doesn’t matter The audience can yell out anything Cat show pzza xmas And the show will be great Execution is all that matters Scenework is a muscle Must pratice agreement until it is in involuntary

Getting over Stage Fright

Notes on helping people get over stage fright. Nervousness is good — lends energy to performance. Goal is not to get rid of butterflies, but to get them to fly in formation. Don’t let fear or nervousness rob the audience of the great experience or message you have to share

Mirror Neurons in Improv

Mirror neurons are special neurons that activate in the brain when we observe others performing tasks or express emotions. They play a large role in empathy, relating to others and so-called “theory of mind” in which we can try to see the world from other people’s point of view. This article was meant to be an in-depth look at how mirror neurons work, and explore what role they play in improvisation from the perspectives of the performers and the audience.

Don’t Enter Unless You are Needed

Sometimes we get involved because we want to, or we want to be a part of something cool that is already going on, but we don’t think about whether we are really needed or, more importantly, how our presence might change this already-good thing.

Key Improv Concepts for Life and Business

A collection of concepts from improv that translate well into business and everyday life. Including: The improvisers mindset, “Yes, And”, “Bring a Brick, Not a Cathedral”, “Follow the Fear”, “What’s Obvious to You is a Surprise to Others”.

Important Questions for New Comedy Groups

Advice to people who want to form a comedy group that stands the test of time. Discuss each person’s reasons for wanting to form the group. Set clearly defined goals. Make sure each person on the team contributes something unique, and avoid overlap when possible. Reinforce and play to each person’s strengths. Determine the group’s comic voice and point of view. Decide what you’re trying to say, beyond just “being funny”. Come up with an approach for developing new material, and stick to that approach. Make sure everyone understands the amount of time and energy required. Have a leader who is empowered to make tough decisions.

Improv as a way to increase Empathy for Customers and Users

Personas enable a design team to communicate nuance and emotion about a target audience in a way that isn’t possible through market research or statistics. Improvisers excel at creating characters, putting themselves in the shoes of people that might be very different from themselves, and playing out scenes as those people. Improv could be a good skill set for product design teams to explore when trying to increase empathy for users of their product.

Defining “Scene” in Improv

Improvisation is hard enough on its own, and it becomes nearly impossible when the people involved don’t have a common definition of what they are trying to achieve. It dawned on me one day that many of the improvisers I knew didn’t even have a common definition for “scene”, this most basic building block of an improv show of any kind. This article explores that idea and proposes a working definition.

Developmental Stages of an Improviser

Breaking the developmental stages of an improviser into 6 stages: Beginner, Novice, Intermediate, Experienced, and Expert, Master. Common characteristics and challenges are outlined for each stage.

Improv Book Outline

A detailed outline for a book on improv that I wanted to write. Would cover everything from creating and leading a group, to improv philosophy, to teaching and coaching techniques, to improv mechanics, to the business side of opening a theater and marketing your improv-based business.

The “Enemies of Comedy” Cartoon Characters

Like Garbage Pail Kids. A collection of cartoony “villains” personifying bad improv habits. They would have been illustrated and possibly star in a comic strip. Includes: “Miss Management”, “Anxiety Boy”, “Motor Mouth”, “Fact Checker”, “The Steamroller”, “The Zamboni”, “Echo & Narcissus”, “NeuroSis”, “Doughboy”, “One-Upsman”, “Slow Pitch Mitch”, “Steven Stealburg”.

10 Ways Improv Can Help Your Company

The interpersonal communications and adaptive skills required in improvisation are similar to those in business. Here are just some of the benefits that improv training can offer your team: (1) Increased awareness, listening, being present (2) Increase capacity for courage, risk-taking, shedding inhibitions, (3) Faster learning, improved adaptability, (4) Open-mindedness, positivity, (5) Sharing Leadership, (6) Fostering and Experiencing Trust, (7) Positivity, Supporting Others, (8) Reduce compulsion to control, (9) Honesty and vulnerability, (10) Improved collaboration / connecting in groups.

An Outline for an Ideal Improv Team

My “wish list” for an ideal improv team, including: membership by invitation only, team acts as a cohesive unit, chemistry is more important than raw talent, long-term commitment to growth, 5–7 members, everyone gives feedback to one another, “form” and structure are absolutely minimal, no improv games or gimmicks, based on shared philosophy, desire for mastery of improv fundamentals, focus on the basics, emphasize joy of discovery from working well together.

If This is True, What Else is True?

A handy question for finding logical connections that may not be obvious at first glance. Draws on our pattern-making and associative powers of the brain. Create new and surprising insights by following connections from what is already obvious. Encourages exploration of branching paths and provides a systematic way to navigate choices.

Understanding “Groupmind” in Improv

“Groupmind” may be thought of as shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration of many individuals. Groupmind represents a state in which the whole group operates as a cohesive unit. It is instinctual rather than rational, intuitive rather than cognitive. It is especially prevalent when peers with similar value systems, knowledge, and capabilities share a single focus of attention. It can be thought of as a “flow” state for an entire group; an intuitive and direct communication of intentions, needs, feelings, and objectives that does not require an intermediate step such as writing, talking, drawing pictures. The article would have also gone into differences between Groupmind and “Groupthink” and “Hive Mind”

Groupmind vs Groupthink in Business

In “Groupmind” there is no explicit leadership, no protracted debate or discussion, and no need to seek an externalized form of agreement such as a formal plan before committing to a path of action. No debate is necessary because the entire group intuitively senses the appropriate direction and pursues it without the need for discussion. Groupmind occurs when the internal values of the team are completely aligned and focused; it results in an instinctual, collective cooperation in which everyone contributes equally, there is no distinct “leader” and nobody has to express or suppress objections because everyone intuitively knows what to do. By contrast, ““Groupthink” is a mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive in group that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action.

Improv is a Lab for Human Behavior

Improv scenes are a safe place to try out different human behaviors in a kind of simulated space. I don’t know of any other place where you can effectively “practice” human interaction and get immediate notes and feedback without any major “real life” consequences. You get to interact with a group of people in a variety of imaginary circumstances and in “real life” at the same time. One thing that I have learned through my years of studying the brain is that it is extremely effective at simulating scenarios through imagination. So when you interact with people in an improv scene, even if the premise is outrageous, your brain can make it very “real”.

Improv Principles in Social Media

Social media is complicated because people are complicated. It is complicated because relationships are complicated. So if certain ideas and practices from Improv can help us improve our relationships with people, those ideas should translate into our social media interactions too. This article explores how six key improv concepts translate into social media: (1) Yes, And, (2) Bring a Brick, Not a Cathedral, (3), Follow the Fear, (4), What’s Obvious to You is a Surprise to Others, (5) Accidents are Opportunities, (6) Make Yourself Look Good by Making Others look good.

Improv Show Evaluation Rubric

A template form for evaluating improv shows that goes beyond random one-off notes. Categories for: Emotional honesty, Show vs. Tell, Patterns/Games, Objects/Environment Work, Stage Picture, Characters, Transitions, Clear Group Identity, Professionalism, Pacing, and Surprises. Each category is scored on a scale of 1–5. Could be used to track growth and progress over time, or identify weak areas to work on.

Improv Shows: The Original User Generated Content

Before there was YouTube and other online user generated content platforms, Improv Shows were one of the earliest ways that an audience member could see one of their ideas brought to life on-demand and in front of other people. Improvised shows are the only form of entertainment where the audience gets to see THEIR ideas come to life before their eyes. Improvisers strive to take audience suggestions and develop them into something neither the audience nor the players had thought of before, resulting in a satisfying entertainment experience that is hilarious, honest, and interesting.

Helping Audiences Enjoy Improv Shows Better

In many improv shows the audience is unclear on what the players are trying to do on stage. Especially in longform improv, many show formats are complicated and not easy to follow (let alone perform). When the audience doesn’t understand what they are watching, it will be harder to enjoy because they will be wasting mental energy trying (and possibly failing) to figure out. We can help the audience enjoy our shows more by helping them understand up front what they are about to see.

Constantly Changing your Show Format is Hurting Your Team

Why do so many improv groups constantly feel the need to change their shows? Just when a group starts to get good at one thing, they decide to switch to something else — as if one or two successful shows with a given format means there’s nothing else to explore. As if improv weren’t ephemeral enough already, it’s as if many improvisers aren’t content to simply never do the same scene twice; on top of that, they have to never do the same _type of show_ too many times. Instead of format-hopping, try sticking with the same format and going deeper on the things that matter: team connection, vulnerability, and solid fundamentals. If you really need some sort of added challenge, give yourself (or have your coach give you) personal goals like clearer space work or bigger physicality for a few shows.

Thoughts on Developing a New Improv Training Program

I was developing a training curriculum of my own and wanted to avoid what I thought were common problems among other training programs. Explored problems like recruitment, retention, class cycle lengths, what students are working toward, gamification, showcases, digital teaching tools, modular class program, and key skills.

Questionnaire for New Improv Teams

A welcome questionnaire to be given to improv teams to make sure everyone is on the same page. Given when the team first forms, or when the team gets a new coach. Included (among others): What got you into improv? What do you enjoy most about improv? What frustrates you most? Greatest strength? Weakness? What would your ideal show or performance look like? How could we improve this city’s improve scene? Tell us a secret!

Realism vs. Believability in Improv

Improv doesn’t need to be “realistic”, but it does need to be “believable.” Honesty can come from comic situations where the circumstances are unrealistic, but the emotional responses are believable. The scene can have unrealistic circumstances as long as the characters have believable emotions.

Listening to Your Team Off Stage, Too

For as important as communication is on stage for improvisers, it has been my experience that communication off the stage has been quite poor in most improv companies. This undermines the message of listening and support that most improvisers preach. The quality of a team depends on the level of trust among its members, and that trust is built as much, if not more, off the stage rather than on.

Living in Scenes vs. Talking About Them

Many improvisers seem to think that describing their circumstances in a funny or clever or self aware fashion is sufficient for an improv scene. It isn’t. In fact, it prevents scenes from happening at all. Instead of describing circumstances or, worst yet, commenting on them, you can easily create better scenes by simply living in those circumstances, and saying and doing the things that would come naturally in that situation. Let your circumstances inform your actions and dialog, don’t make your dialog about your circumstances.

Make Yourself Look Good by Making Others Look Good

Successful teams and respected leaders honor and support the contributions of others and who give and take equally. They focus on what they can contribute to the group as a whole, not on their own personal gain. It’s the “brothers in arms” effect that inspires soldiers. Have each other’s backs, work as a team and leave nobody behind. In doing so, you will avoid the roadblocks created by selfishness and will foster a sense of connection and mutual respect that will allow your entire team to flourish. When it is all said and done, you just might end up looking great too.

Social Media is to Improvisation as Advertising is to Stand-Up

Exploring different types of marketing interactions by analogy to comedy. A stand up comedian stands before an audience and delivers his or her product (jokes) in the hopes or eliciting the desired response (laughs). This is similar to a television commercial or an advertisement in a magazine. The company says: here is this thing we made, we hope you buy it. An improviser invites the audience to become a part of the show, to participate in and even affects its outcome. Businesses should approach social media with a similar attitude of inclusiveness and co-creation.

Tweet-sized Scene Inspiration

I had the idea to start a Twitter account that would tweet out scene suggestions every day. That way improvisers in different cities could all create scenes from a common suggestion — something that is normally impossible — and potentially talk about and maybe even share video of how they all played out differently. I wrote up about 50 prompts but never actually followed through.

The Improviser’s Mindset

Introducing the concept of the Improviser’s mindset, a way of viewing the world that offers a unique way of approaching relationships, is positive, supportive, generous, and flexible. Someone with the Improviser’s mindset: views change as an opportunity for exploration, innovation and discovery; actively listens to others without judgment; accepts what is offered by others and builds on it; notices details that others miss; supports their team; has confidence in the value and uniqueness of their own contributions; easily lets go of preconceived notions; tolerates ambiguity well; is able to play and be curious; shares focus and leadership; speaks and acts with honesty and authenticity; keeps an open mind; views problems from multiple points of view.

The Standard Improv Rules Aren’t Enough

Digging into the “Rules of Improv”, and why getting hung up on common improv rules (e.g. “don’t ask questions”, “yes and everything”, “don’t say no”, “don’t argue”, “focus on the relationship”, “don’t do transactions”) does not guarantee good outcomes, and may actually do more harm than good. The problem is that simply following these rules does not necessarily produce a good improv scene. And that breaking them doesn’t necessarily produce a bad one.

What Makes Improv Different From Other Forms of Theatre

Improv provides a wonderful sense of discovery as the show unfolds from moment to moment. In our shows, literally nobody in the world knows what will happen next. And since we aren’t bound by props or sets or costumes, what happens next could be anything that we and the audience can collectively imagine. Improv is a great workout for the imagination. With a book or a play or a movie, you know it’s been written, the end is planned out, and the actors been through those moments dozens or hundreds of times before. Those things can still be very powerful, of course, but they cannot capture that electrifying, real-people-doing-things-right-here-right-now quality that improv can provide.

Yes, And: How a Core Improv Concept Can Benefit Your Business

Widely accepted to be the fundamental tenet of improvisation, “Yes, And” revolves around listening to, accepting and advancing the ideas of others rather than blocking, changing, criticizing, judging, or dismissing them outright. The concept suggests that, by working together in a creative environment of collective brainstorming and support, teams can achieve greater heights than they ever would if each individual member were working on their own. Use Yes, And to: generate new ideas with depth by building upon what other people offer rather than jumping from idea to idea; push yourself to be positive by looking for creative ways to support the ideas of others rather than knock them down; get a group of individuals to build something together rather than separately.

Yes, There Are Mistakes In Improv

Some people argue that there are “no mistakes in improv”, but I disagree. A mistake in improv occurs when people aren’t paying attention and add something extraneous to the scene, or ignore something important that’s been established already, or generally disrespect one another or the audience. Basically anything that doesn’t respect what has been created, or the intent of the team to build something together.

A List of Key Improv Skillsets

These are what I believe to be the primary skills for improvisers: Specificity, Directing Attention, Accepting Information, Agreement, Heightening, Relationship Building, Character Development, Emotional Honesty, Playfulness, Group Chemistry, Environment Creation, Basic Improv Mechanics (edits, staging, patters, etc.)

Part 6. On Web Development

Building Sites Jekyll First

Make sure markup and styles are a clean as possible. Get client approval on prototype. integrate WordPress later.

Code is a Commodity

Code is a commodity; problem solving, personal attention, and careful thinking are priceless. The real value of an engineer is their critical thinking and problem solving process, not the code that they produce. The code is just the byproduct and crystallization of clear thinking.

Your Two Brains in Web Design

Article about Left Brain and Right Brain approach to design Wireframe and Moodboard together = Groupmind. We use both brains. Emotional and rational Logic and creative Big picture and attention to detail Ratios and relationships. Better web thinking.

The Theme Options Arms Race

I feel like theme developers are adding options to their themes just because other themes have those options, not because they are necessary or helpful to the theme. If you have to learn so many unique settings, options, and short codes just to get a theme set up, you might as well just learn to program so you can create a theme yourself. I believe frameworks are great for developers, the average Joe Public would rather just have a theme that does one thing and does it really well. I don’t imagine they really want to configure a hundred buttons and knobs just to get the theme looking like it did in the screenshot.

Lifecycle of a Website: Different Designs for Different Stages

Just as a business grows and evolves, and has different activities and needs at different stages in its lifecycle, the company’s website should grow and evolve accordingly as well. Too many businesses want to start with a fully-fleshed-out, content rich website before they’re really ready to support it. This article outlines different site “sizes” and designs that would be appropriate at different stages in a company’s lifecycle.

Understanding Your Tools is More Important Than The Tool Itself

Getting really good with the tools / software / language that you use is more important that constantly switching to the latest and greatest new framework or library. Expertise comes from you understanding the ins-and-outs of your tools, not from picking the newest tool that will magically improve your skills. Switching tools has a high cost, even if the new tool is better, because you are constantly resetting yourself on the learning curve.

Establishing Trust in Web Design

When someone lands on your website, even if they aren’t consciously aware of it, one question is repeated over and over again in the back of their minds. It is: do I trust you? Trust is built slowly and is lost quickly. Once lost, it may be difficult or impossible to regain. Said another way, trust is built through consistency. This article covers proven tactics to build and reinforce trust with your website visitors — and to avoid losing it once you have it.

Don’t Solve The Same Problem More Than Once

In the process of building websites for many clients over the years, I’ve encountered the same sorts of problems and challenges again and again. It’s important to develop a structured way of solving common challenges that is repeatable, reusable, and can be built upon so that we don’t waste countless hours solving similar one-off problems again and again. Solve it once, keep track of your solution, and continue to refine it over time to make it better and better.

Producer vs. Project Manager

When I was co-leading a production team at a digital agency I would often be asked about the difference between Producer and Project Manager. Here’s my answer in brief: A producer has more ownership and input into the overall direction of the project, and can influence the final product in a way that someone just managing the project might not. I want my producers to be synthesizers who make a project more than the sum of its parts. They should understand all aspects of the work and be able to make connections between concepts, people and departments to improve the project as a whole. In my mind, a producer is more of a leader who influences a project while also ensuring it gets done on time and on budget. I would view a project manager more as someone who ensures that a project is executed according to a specific plan or methodology. A producer is concerned with the what and why in addition to the how and when.

Part 7. On Gaming

DLC is Content Strategy for Video Games

monthly stuff, community created content, ways to engage users online and offline, competing with friends — ghosts in single player on forza horizon.

The Forza Intro Videos are the Perfect Examples of “Start With Why”

Forza 5 Intro Video: “What are Cars?”
Forze 6 Intro Video: “Why do we race?”

Video Games are Experiences for Any Time

Lots of articles recently talking about how experiences are better than things for making people happy. But video games are things you can buy that give you experiences and stories whenever you want them. Unlike the rest of life, games are interactive experiences that you can start and stop any time.

Game Stories: Story Telling vs. Story Generating

How well does a game need to tell its own story vs. how well does it help you create your own NEW stories? The popularity of open world games and online multiplayer games suggests that the ability of games to help players create their own new stories is much more important than any story the game wants to tell.

Games Should Be More PLAYFUL, Not More Cinematic or Difficult

Many games try to derive enjoyment from difficulty, by making enemies tougher or more lethal. This is challenging, but it isn’t necessarily fun, and it probably isn’t “Play”. I argue that games should be more deliberately Playful to encourage experimentation. Enemies toy with you, they don’t try to kill you outright all the time. The tension is the interesting thing — push and pull, call and response. What happens when you do this? You should never be punished with instant death. Instead you should find yourself in “oh shit” situations that require clever thinking to get out of, but don’t end game play. Forcing the player to adapt is more fun than just killing them.

What Makes Video Game Experiences Great?

Some thoughts on what aspects of video games make the most of the medium to create great experiences, and which aspects take away from the experience. Good: immersion, atmosphere, exploration, meaningful player choice, simple systems that interact, clear execution of simple ideas, economy that ties systems and activities together, clear communication and feedback to the player, stat tracking and insights, creative objectives, meaningful reasons to replay levels, a moderate amount of collectables, badges, achievements, momentum, progression, discovery, thoughtful pacing. Bad: long load times, control issues, bad storytelling, cheesy writing, flat characters, difficulty spikes, bugs, confusing menus, over-designed user interface, sluggish interface response times, forcing player to leave the game for bonuses or info (e.g. to apps), forced cutscenes, taking control away from the player, anything that breaks “flow”.

Loading Screens are Taps On The Shoulder

Much research has been done about distractions at work and how a simple “tap on the shoulder” or other minor distraction that interrupts your workflow can set you back as much as 30 or 45 minutes. In video games, loading screens are those taps on the shoulder. When a loading screen occurs, immersion is broken and the player’s attention is snapped back into the real world for a few moments. It’s the perfect chance to grab their phone or otherwise disengage. Therefore developers should put a premium on making their game experiences seamless minimize loading whenever possible — even if it means less detail in the graphics — because an uninterrupted experience is a better experience.

My Frustrating User Journey with Destiny

A User Journey style diagram and story about my (love/hate) experience playing the game Destiny. Full of specific examples of frustration and disappointment with game design decisions, and how I felt like I was playing more as a result of a “random reward” dopamine addiction rather than true entertainment value. Thinking about the manipulation going on behind the scenes in the game ultimately led me to put it down and walk away.

Let the World Tell the Story

Video games are unique in that the player can generally explore the game world at their own pace. In a book, TV show or movie, the viewer only “sees” what the authors explicitly show, but in a game the player has agency to look around and experience the world in their own way. Many of the games I love most (e.g. Skyrim, Metroid series, Dark Souls series) have drawn me into their worlds with environmental storytelling, rich atmosphere, and believable backdrops far more effectively than with their plot or characters. I enjoy the experience of exploring game worlds and the feeling of “being there” much more so than being spoon-fed a cheesy plot, and I wish more games would take this atmospheric, experiential approach.

Part 8. Information Architecture & Farts

A Taxonomy of Farts

A formal taxonomy of farts, classified by sound, smell, and other key qualities. Includes fan favorites such as the BumbleRumble, the Ringburner, and the Sousaphone Blast.

Thanks for Reading!

That’s it for Volume One of The Pile of Old Ideas.

I hope I never have to do another one.