How The Most Creative People Find The Best Opportunities

Constraints are opportunities. Don't believe me? Consider the words of iconic American designer Charles Eames:

"Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem -- the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible -- his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time and so forth."

We all have constraints. What can set you apart from others is this willingness and enthusiasm described by Eames. If you can have the optimism to see constraints as opportunities, you will create new value. This is creativity.


Get into the habit of shifting a constraint into an opportunity. 

The more you practice this with everyday limitations, the better you will be at seeing things from multiple directions. 

That small apartment you've been complaining about is easy to clean. Your long commute is precious alone time to read, to listen to music, or to play games. The travels that take you away from family are also your opportunity to meet new people, to try new food, and to sleep without your children waking you up. 

Think like Pollyanna, the children's book character who sees difficulties in life cheerfully, to hone your skill in flipping constraints to opportunities.

Use existing constraints as the building block for your next solution.

Francis Mallmann, three-star Argentinian chef, is famous for cooking in the Patagonian wilderness. His constraint? No kitchen. His opportunity? To invent new cooking and barbecuing techniques. His experiment is well-documented in the Netflix series, Chef's Table.

Charles and Ray Eames used the limits of plywood to invent new furniture. Their constraint was single-shell plywood chairs, where the back and seat were made of one continuous piece, cracked. Their solution, through trial and error, was to design plywood chairs made of two pieces, a separate back and seat. They joined the two pieces with an additional plywood spine or, on another design, with a metal frame. The Eames' lounge chair, recliner, etc., are all variations on this theme.

Julia Child created Mastering the Art of French Cooking in response to constraints. At the time, Americans didn't have French ingredients and they valued practicality and speed over taste. Child rewrote French recipes with American ingredients and modernized them to be simple and accessible to Americans. Another constraint she had was that the French learned how to cook from their parents. She became the surrogate mother and taught the process on TV.

Elon Musk didn't have the money other established car companies had when he started his company Tesla. That was his constraint. He turned it into an opportunity by creating a pre-order system where he painted a picture of the future for his buyers and convinced them to pay for their cars in advance. The preorders funded and continue to fund an important part of Tesla's development costs.

Work with your constraints, not against them.

Make someone else's constraint your opportunity.

The constraint of the traditional taxi service model was that the customer had to go to the service, rain or shine, rush hour or not. Uber took that constraint, which everyone knew existed hadn't didn't solved, and created a model where the service goes to the customer, when they need it, where they need it. Uber's willingness to tackle a constraint that others took for granted is what made that business unique.

Is there a glaring constraint that none of your competitors are willing to solve? That is your opportunity.

Make constraints your ally. The trick is seeing negative issues as positive opportunities.

This article first appeared on on January 24, 2018

How To Think More Creatively

There is an important creative tool that anyone can use. It is called list making. 

Lists help get thoughts out of our head and onto paper or a screen where we can see them. They help us organize information so we can see patterns and relationships between things. They make abstract concepts tangible by pushing us to name things. They can be visual, like the beautiful maps David Byrne has created in his book, Arboretum. 

Lists are also useful because they're open ended. Start a list and you can add to it as new things come to mind. You never know where it might lead you. Paola Antonelli's list of "Garments that Changed the World" lead to a current fashion exhibit at the MoMA.

So, next time you need to think creatively or solve a challenge, make a list. 

Here is a list of six types of lists that will help you think differently:

1. 4 Quadrants

This is a simple tool to help you think holistically. It uses the visual structure of the four quadrants of a Cartesian coordinate system.

How: Draw a cross dividing your page in to 4 areas. Label each quadrant using these 4 concepts:

  • Emotion: how you feel about something (heart). 
  • Intellect: how you think about something (mind). 
  • Physical: what do you know about something that is tangible (body). 
  • Spirit: what do you know about something that is intangible (soul)

Note that you can change the quadrants, like Bryne's in the link above--just scroll down his Gustatory Rainbow which is organized as Dark, Light, Cool, Warm.

Creative use: Gives you the big picture. It's a quick but highly effective way to look at your subject matter holistically. And it reminds you to think about the emotion and the spirit of things, which we often forget to consider.

2. Mind maps

This is a visual tool that helps you break big things into smaller pieces.

How: Put whatever you want to break apart in the middle of your page. List its basic building blocks around it. Break the building blocks into their components until you run out of parts.

Creative use: Helps you understand what something is made up of and that even the most complex things are made up of smaller and more manageable pieces. Once you see the smaller parts you can decide what to keep, what to remove, what is missing.

"It is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the center of a blank page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those." Mind map definition from Wikipedia

3. Linear

This is the typical, long-running list of things to do or things to remember. It's a repository of thoughts, ideas, things.

How: Make a heading and list everything that comes to your mind. When you're stuck, stop and go back to it as you think of new things.

Creative use: Helps you get started on an idea and collect data, inspiration over time. Model Antonelli's running list of garments mentioned above, which led to a museum show.

4. Venn Diagram  

This tool helps visualize the relationship of two or three concepts to each other and what happens when they overlap.

How: Draw two circles. Write one concept in each circle and then write what happens at their intersection. You can do the same with three concepts. When it is more than three I prefer a quadrant representation.

Creative use: Helps you think the relationship between two or three concepts. Two is useful for noting dichotomies and their resolutions. Three is useful for convergence of key ideas. For some fun look Mental Floss' Venn diagrams. 

5. Visual List

This tool list classifies things in terms of symbols and shapes. 

How: You create a visual list when you make a list using drawing and text. You can create a taxonomy of things by drawing them but you can also do it electronically, on Pinterest.

Creative use: A drawing is worth a thousand words. Visual lists provide you with what words can't--form, size, color information of objects and spaces. Take a look at Umberto Eco's beautiful book, The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay, which captures visual lists in the world of painting.

6. Time-Based List

This tool shows you the before and after of a concept so that you can identify insights about what has changed over time.

How: Make two columns, one column for before, one for after. Or you can make multiple columns for a concept that has changed overtime, like the kinds of food people ate in the 1950 vs. 1990 vs. 2020. 

Creative use: this is an easy way to capture change overtime to understand past patterns and reflect on future potential outcomes. 

This article first appeared on on January 12, 2017

How To Execute Your Ideas

Best selling author and executive coach, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith just announced his pay-it-forward project, 100 Coaches, where one hundred leaders agreed to teach others what they know. For free

Goldsmith came up with the idea in my Design the Life You Love program, where I ask attendants to name their heroes and their qualities. Goldsmith's epiphany was that all of his heroes--from Frances Hesselbein of The Girl Scouts to Peter Drucker, the founder of modern management--were all "great, generous teachers" who taught him what they knew for free. Goldsmith decided then to give away everything he knows to others for free. 

It took Goldsmith a year and half to go from idea to launching his program. Today 100 Coaches counts corporate CEO's and executives, university deans, executive coaches, Thinkers50 winners, best-selling authors and entrepreneurs among its cohorts. 

Here are my observations about how he got from idea to execution--using a 7-step template I developed to help executives implement their ideas--

1. Define your telos.

Telos, from Greek, is an ultimate aim or core function. A knife's telos is cutting, a writer's telos is writing or telling stories. Marshall's telos is giving. 

What is yours? Knowing your telos helps you be precise about your purpose.

2. Prototype your idea.

Goldsmith didn't go from 0 to 100 in a day. He prototyped 100 Coaches over 1.5 years, starting small and growing.

Goldsmith developed his content and prototyped it seven to eight times, testing ideas out with cohorts and collaborators, getting feedback and using each prototype to refine, demonstrate and socialize, on social media and professional networks, the idea. 

Prototype your idea to demonstrate, refine and socialize it until it is fully formed.

3. List your to-dos.

Atul Gawande, in his book The Checklist Manifesto, says that good checklists are precise, to the point, and practical.

Goldsmith's would probably look like this--

1. Find out who is interested.

2. Teach them everything you know at no charge.

3. Inspire them do the same for others when it's their turn.

4. Lead by example.

What are your to-dos, your checklist? You might not know all the details, but write down three things you need to do or plan to accomplish, for clarity and focus.

4. Make it public.

If you announce something publicly, you eventually have to do it.

Goldsmith put up an invitation and a video on LinkedIn. It became the most successful invitation of its kind. Sixteen thousand people people responded. Do you think he could've gone back on his plan after that. No. 

If you want to undertake something seriously, announce it. On TV, in a newspaper, on LinkedIn and Twitter.

5. Find your collaborators.

Who are your partners-in-crime?

Many of Goldsmith's friends, colleagues, and clients knew about 100 Coaches as it was taking shape since he enlisted them as his collaborators from early on. Mullaly, Dr. Kim, and Singularity University CEO Rob Nail volunteered to teach, while others worked to refine, develop and promote the curriculum. 

Once you have a good idea, share it with your network. Enlist them in what you're doing. Ask them for their help, which brings us to the next point.

6. Ask for help.

We can all ask for help and we can all give help. 

Goldsmith calls this feed-forward (vs. feedback) and has an exercise you can try with a group of people. Think of one thing you need help with. Partner with another person. Each of you will take turns to say what you need, listen to the advice and to say "thank you" (avoid saying I heard or tried this before) before switching partners. Person who gets the most advice in 10 minutes wins. It is short, enlightening, and you can take the feed-forward or leave it.

What is one thing you need help with? Play the feed-forward game, and list the different ideas. Which are worth trying? Give them a shot.

7. Embody your qualities.

I learned this from a designer who came to one of my workshops and realized that 3 qualities that define her were, "I stand tall, I am strong, and I am gentle," and every morning she wrote about how she intended to embody these 3 qualities.

Goldsmith's three qualities are Generosity (teaching others for free), Gratitude (he is committed to always saying thank you, time is too precious...) and Letting Go (not being too hard on self). He embodies them everyday and leads by example.

What are your 3 qualities and how will you embody them today?

Design the life and work you love, and use these steps to make it happen.

This article first appeared on on January 8, 2018

What Do You Want In 2018

The year end is a great time to look back at the past year and make plans for the next. Most of us make new year's resolutions but I find them hard. They often repeat what we haven't been able to do in the past and re-serve it for next year, as if the resolve we lacked last year will magically materialize in the new year. To me what we often lack is not the resolve, but the creative thinking necessary to imagine a future we would want to bring to life.

So this year, instead of a new year's resolution, do a creative exercise to craft a manifesto for your work in 2018. The exercise is called a 6-Sided Box and was taught to me by Jim Long, the former director of research at Herman Miller. We use it as part of my studio's Design the Work You Loveprogram.

6-Sided Box:

Ground rules: Give yourself about 25 minutes. Speed is part of the game in that it helps you go with your gut feeling and leaves less room for unnecessary self-judgment. 


Deconstruct your work life in 2017 across the following 6 columns (see diagram).

1. Emotion: What was your emotion this morning? How about when you think back to 2017. The good and the bad. List them in one column. Remember, when it comes to work, emotions often run in opposite pairs, love/hate, having a sense of purpose/feeling lost.  

2. Information: What can you quantify about your work in 2017? Your salary, number of people you worked with, number of projects you worked on. List tangible information in this column.

3. Constraints: What were your constraints at work, the negatives that held you back? Some of these may have been your own constraints, like procrastinating and leaving things to the last minute, and others may have been things that are out of your own control, such as decreased project budgets. 

4. Opportunities: What were your opportunities, the positives? Things that were in your favor, that excited you and can helped you to grow, give, share more. Often constraints can actually be opportunities (having a small team can be limiting, but is also easier to manage)--take a look at your constraints and see if any can be transformed and added to the opportunity list.

5. Out-of-the-box opportunities: What are the big goals that you only admit to yourself? These could be big shifts, dreams and changes. If opportunities are "evolutions" these are the "revolutions". List them without restraint since this list is for your eyes only.

6. Choice: What would you choose? We cannot always choose what we want, but it is important to know that we always have choices. You can choose to walk away. You can choose to do something you love for less money or the reverse. List your choices for 2018, the things that really matter to you. 

Dot Vote:

Take a moment to reflect--do you see some patterns, are there hidden opportunities, what would it take to bring your out-of-the box opportunity to life and what choices really matter to you. 

Now do your own dot-voting. What is the one thing that rises to the top in each column? Go with your gut. Mark your choices with a big star or circle it. These are your 6 ingredients with which you will write a manifesto for 2018. 


Take your 6 ingredients and add them together to write 1 paragraph. Your paragraph will contain your top emotion + information + constraint + opportunity + out-of-the-box opportunity + choice. You can make it into a manifesto by choosing action words like, I will. Or you can turn it into prose (see diagram). 

Now that you have your manifesto or story of intentions for 2018, who are your partners? The people that will help you to bring this to life? They can be your family, a mentor or an accountability partner. Imagine how you can collaborate together to prototype your vision for 2018.

We have used this tool with our clients, from LuluLemon to Philips to Colgate Palmolive, to help them think differently about their work with great success. It is efficient, methodical and leads you to a new, constructive POV to help you imagine tomorrow based on what you know today.

Wishing you a happy and creative 2018.

This article first appeared on on December 29, 2017

What To Do When You Are Visiting New York City During Holidays

With more than 61 million visitors expected to visit New York this year, this holiday season might be the most crowded you've ever seen in the city.  If you are one of the millions visiting the city on vacation, rather than as a business traveler, here are 10 hacks that will give you an "in" to the greatest city in the world:

1. Plan a curated trip: 

Journy is an online travel service for planning tailor-made travel. You start by answering a short survey of AI-backed questions, followed by a one-on-one conversation and, voila, Journy will curate and book the perfect itinerary for your travel style.

2. Walk the city free of luggage:

Here is a nifty new service to enjoying New York -- minus your luggage or shopping bags. Knock Knock City has 40+ local shops where you can securely and instantly store your bags and luggage for only a $1/hour. Perfect if you're staying at an Airbnb where there is no concierge to hold your bags before check-in and after check-out or if you just want to be bag free at the end of a shopping spree.

3. Work in style:

If your travel includes some business hours, you can use Breather to instantly book a meeting room (without a monthly membership), or get day passes from Croissant to make any co-working space your workspace for the day. 

4. Book last minute:

For last minute planners, Hotel Tonight has your back. They offer same-day deals at hotels that are rated based on customer experience-- Hip, Solid, Luxe, Basic, Charming or Highroller.

5. Shop for books:

To find favorite local bookstores of New Yorkers, go to Indie Bookstore Locator. Mine is Kinokinuya, the Japanese bookstore across from Bryant Park on 6th Avenue. With branches in New York and Tokyo, it has the best mix of fiction, non-fiction and art books in English, with a whole floor of Japanese mangas, and another floor of Japanese gift items. Without forgetting Strand Book Store, New York's landmark with its "18 miles of books."

6. Explore side streets:

Manhattan Sideways lets you explore the hidden gems of the side streets--like Bola's International Boutique for African clothing and fabrics in Harlem; Love Thy Beast for all things dog-related on 5th Street; Turks and Frogs said to be Manhattan's first wine bar on West 11th Street.

7. Eat with locals:

Eatwith connects foodies with local chefs who will invite you over for a meal they cook. Discover the underground food scene and connect with like-minded New Yorkers and in-the-know travelers.

For all other meals, make sure you make reservations on Resy. Alternatively you can wait in line at Danny Meyer's fast food joints, Shake Shack, for a great burger and milkshake, no reservations required. Read Meyer's Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business for the back story on Shake Shack, as well as other fascinating stories about the New York restaurateur.

8. View public art:

As you walk the streets of New York, use CultureNow, an app for public art found throughout the city beyond the museum walls--for your Instagram-able moments.

9. Shop sample sales:

Part of the advantage of being in New York is getting fabulous fashion at sample sale prices. ShopDrop has a comprehensive list of designer sample sales in New York City with exact dates and addresses. 

10. Ace the NYC meeting place:

The Ace Hotel's lobby is my go-to meeting place, with a great vibe and conveniently located in midtown. You can people watch while you wait for your friends or charge your phone. The lobby is a hub to multiple restaurants and stores, either in the hotel or next door--Stumptown Coffee Roasters is dangerously good, try The Breslin for breakfast and John Dory Oyster Bar for drinks and its sea food menu, Project No. 8 is for gifts to take home, Yeohlee next door is one of the chicest boutiques in town, Le Labo has the best perfumes. Note that you're right next to the New York Flower District, where the flowers for all the beautiful arrangements all over New York's hotels and restaurants, even films and photo shoots, originate. 

11. (Bonus for New Yorkers) Make money while out of town:

If you're a New Yorker leaving the city for the holidays, check out Metrobutler. They can list it on Airbnb for you and take care of all the logistics and cleaning, so you can make money while you're away. 

This article first appeared on on December 22, 2017

What Does Leaders And Designers Have In Common

I come from a family of lawyers. From a young age It was expected that my brother and I would also go into law. We broke with tradition, not without resistance from our elders.  He became a journalist and I became a designer. I didn't realize then that I was also making a choice that would morally position me on the spectrum of optimism versus pessimism. Lawyers are trained to imagine the worst. I chose, by profession, to be an optimist.

Optimism is one of the core strengths of designers. We inherently believe that no matter how hard the problem, we will come up with a better solution and this optimism drives our energy and our passion. How else can you imagine, advocate and be a change agent for a better future?

Some of world's most daring leaders who strive to change the world practice this one trait daily. They're optimists.

For World Bank president Dr. Jim Kim, optimism is "a moral choice".

For John Bielenberg, Founder, Future Partners, a wrong thinking company, "Optimism is the thing that drives you forward."

For Silicon Valley's Singularity University president Rob Nail, the need to create a positive version of the future is a matter of survival because if the only thing we can imagine is dystopia, we will get dystopia.

"The future scares us because we don't know where it is taking us and the only visions for the future that we have from media or Hollywood are dystopian, terminator, zombie apocalypse scenarios...I believe in an abundant future -- one where everyone has equal access to extraordinary education, healthcare, food, clean water, and shelter and can pursue their own path to happiness from there -- whether it is to become a billionaire or a musician or a priest or an astronaut." Rob Nail

For Bill and Melinda Gates optimism is something they have modeled after Warren Buffett's infectious positivity. In contrast to most people who believe that Buffett's success drives his optimism, they believe that in fact his optimism drives his success. 

"Because optimism isn't a belief that things will automatically get better; it's a conviction that we can make things better." Bill and Melinda Gates

If you're not a natural born optimist here are some things that come from design to practice your optimism:

Turn constraints into opportunities.

If it wasn't for the constraint of making a shoe without any waste, Nike designers would've never imagined theFlyKnit shoe, a shoe that is knitted. 

Just do it. 

For a great and very moving example of following your convictions without falling into the pessimism trap, watch Bending the Arc (available in its entirety on YouTube), the story of Dr. Kim, Ophelia Dahl and Paul Farmer, and Partners in Health, fighting TB, Aids and Ebola in the world's poorest communities. As Dr. Kim says, they didn't know if they would succeed but they kept on going.

Practice wrong thinking.

Know that great ideas often come from the worst places. Mickey McManus, author of Trillions and Autodesk fellow, made his intern the boss; Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards and the co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts, banned technology from her life once a week; artist William Kentridge made Rome's grime from pollution into art

Whether your goal is to eradicate poverty from the world, like Dr. Kim at the World Bank, or to imagine the future of humankind like Rob Nail at Singularity University, or if you want to model Buffet and Gates' financial success, I advocate that you practice thinking positively.

So instead of thinking of all the things that can go wrong, imagine the choices you can make for it to all go right. Because what you can imagine is what you can make happen.

This post was in part inspired by Dr. Kim and Rob Nail's stories that were full of optimism in the face of some of world's greatest problems, during Marshall Goldsmith's 100 Coaches event in Washington DC where I am a cohort. 

This article first appeared on on December 9, 2017

How To Inspire Creativity

One of the downsides to travel is that it interrupts my seemingly simple but effective daily creative habit--getting up early, making a cup of tea with a side of cookies and sitting down at my desk or kitchen table with my sketchbook and sketching while my unconscious and judgmental side is still asleep. Jet-lag, client meetings, dinners in new locales kick in and the creativity routines are upended. 

The good news is there are some new creative tools designed for travel. They're small enough to slip into an overnight bag and fun enough to engage with even when your brain is clouded by lack of sleep.

Here is a round-up of some of these fun, handy tools to inspire creativity on the go--

Design Kit Travel Pack, the nonprofit arm of IDEO, has just started a Kickstarter campaign for the Design Kit Travel Pack. The campaign raised $40,000 in 24 hours for "a brand new set of bite-sized design exercises to help anyone solve big challenges."

What is exciting about this cool mobile creativity kit is that you can use it individually as well as with users and clients all over the world, to build empathy, expand and stretch your thinking, and to accelerate collaboration among teams. You can contribute to the campaign for another 3 weeks.

Unstuck Tip Cards

Who doesn't get stuck? Time is short, you need to get a head start with great ideas and yet you are stuck, or worse, procrastinating. One of my favorite books, Unstuck by Stone Yamashita founder Keith Yamashita and Sandra Spataro is a great idea starter. Unstuck Tip Cards are a travel size companion to the book and my favorite deck is the Stop Your Procrastination Tip Cards. 

The deck contains 30 cards and here is #10: Outsmart your to-do list. The advice on this card is to list only the things you're trying to avoid, and to leave out the things you know you will get to that day. It's a great way to move the hard stuff out of your mind and on to paper, and to treat them as any other to do. 

Keri Smith's The Line

The Line looks like a little notepad (5X8") and it is by one of my favorite creative people, Keri Smith, author of the best selling, Wreck This Journal. 

The Line starts with a simple command, "find a pencil" and guides your pencil through the pages with clever and fun prompts.  It invites you to follow your instinct and to keep the line moving playfully and meditatively from one page to the next. It is a beautiful little "guide to clearing negative chatter in your head".


I am taking it on my upcoming New York- Istanbul flight.

Moleskine Notebooks

Moleskine are those notebooks you can find anywhere, from airports to bookstores. They come in all sizes, with lines, grids or blank. The distinguishing mark is their elastic band, which I always think as the band that keeps my ideas together nice and snug. 

Called tools for creative nomads, these notebooks are my constant travel companion. I don't leave home without them and when occasionally I do, I feel lost. Versatile, they can hold your notes, sketches, lists. They're precious in that they're well-made, but not so precious that you can't use them or make a mess in them. Different from the other tools listed above, it is a blank page ready to receive your new ideas. 

If you haven't seen them, Moleskine has a special accordion version called the Japanese Album which opens up to a long beautiful white expanse of paper and then is folded back into a small notebook size. Something to try in the new year.

This article first appeared on on December 1, 2017

What To Be Grateful For This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year. 

I am Turkish and I didn't grow up with Thanksgiving. The first time I heard of it was when I came to New York to do my masters in my early twenties. Friends of my dad invited me to their house in Connecticut for Thanksgiving dinner. They had three sons and there were a lot football jokes that went over my head, as did the meaning of the day and the symbolism of the food. It was the one time I met them, but to this day I am grateful for their inviting me into their home that day and making sure I wasn't alone. 

Many Thanksgivings later, I still don't know much about football and, thanks to my friends, I haven't learned to cook turkey. But I have grown to love this secular holiday that is about family, friends and being grateful, and thinking about who and what to be grateful for. So it is no surprise that a recent breakfast conversation about my new podcast with my friends Aaron Britt and Erik Nelson of Herman Miller (sponsor of the podcast) turned into a conversation about feeling grateful. 

The gist of it is that often I feel like I am in the pursuit of things I don't have instead of celebrating what I do have. In the process I forget being in the present time, enjoying the simple things in life as they happen. Our conversation inspired me to ask friends, family, and colleagues if this feels familiar, and if so, to help me start a list of simple things they're grateful for. 

My request to them was to fill in this sentence: I am grateful for this simple thing....

And to start it off, I shared my answer:

I am grateful for working with my friends and getting into the flow together; for family dinners, especially when they don't involve any arguing with teenage daughters; for those rare but lovely occasions where I hang out with my friends in far flung places and one of them breaks in to an old song. You know what, I am grateful for moments where I can just be myself. 

I am amazed, inspired and touched by the answers I received in a short time which I interpret as a tiny, welcome alternative to the current "grass is greener on the other side" social and cultural environment that we currently live in, where it is to easy to forget what we have and bemoan what we don't. This list will keep me going until next year and I hope you will find it useful too.

Simple Things to Be Grateful for

1. I'm grateful for vacuuming. The sonorous hum and balletic gestures produce a meditative ritual. That sensory process, coupled with the subtle satisfaction of bringing momentary order to my apartment--briefly holding off that undeniable progression of entropy--offer a simple, durable pleasure...the undervalued phenomenology of routine chores. 

2. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have an impactful job that I enjoy, a loving family that tolerates my eccentricities, and the fulfillment that comes from friends who bring passion to their pursuits.  

3. I am grateful for my robust good health, for my incredible friends, for knowing that what brings me the most joy is being of service to others, and for my drive and self-efficacy. 

4. In a world where mean things are happening to people and our planet, some beyond our control and some at our own hand, I am really grateful for all of the simple, random gestures of kindness and love by my family and friends.  

5. I am grateful for the ability to travel to different countries for work. I am also grateful for hand sanitizer when it comes to public transport. 

6. I am grateful for kind, generous, wise deities, ancestors, friends, colleagues, neighbors, coaches, mentors, institutions, governments, and family who support and hold space in this world for me to find purpose, opportunity and contentment. I am also grateful for homemade coffee ice cream, Havanese puppies, lingering hugs, spontaneous smiles, and every moment of real human connection.  

7. I am grateful for this email that triggers gratitude. 

8. I am grateful for each and every second of my life, for the moments I have experienced and for the moments I will experience. No matter if they are nice or tough, I either win or learn.  

9. I'm grateful that my son, mom, husband, sister and dog are healthy. 

10. I'm grateful for butter, pencils, Iceland and anyone with the heart and courage to share their story. 

11. I'm grateful for good health, strong relationships, and opportunities to bring out the best in others. 

12. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my learning with others and for the peace I get with being able to be ok with being vulnerable and comfortable with my three favorite words "I don't know". 

13. I am grateful for family, friends, a life of connection, laughter, color and dreams. 

14. I am grateful for this simple thing called LIFE! It has taken me a few heart attacks, three marriages and 4 children to revel in the simple fact of life! Everyday is a gift, don't squander it, love and hug and give everyone the best you can, everyday. 

15. I am grateful for everyone who has the courage to be coached and the courage to tell me I need to change something. Loving critics are those who make us better, faster. 

16. As chaotic as it is, I am thankful for those moments when my design (work) life and my family life overlap--having my daughter make her halloween costume in my studio, watching her trace and cut each feather, not perfect, but perfectly charming. Or having tiny assistants on a photo shoot, simultaneously messing things up and making things more interesting. 

17. I am grateful for this email (think about it).  And, every night when I go to bed I thank my God for my health. 

18. I'm grateful to my parents who truly made me who I am, and I'm grateful to feel their presence on Thanksgiving. 

19. I am grateful for wonderful friends and mentors who have helped me. I am grateful for having parents who set expectations early on in my life. I am very grateful that I will be a first time grandfather very soon. I am grateful for my health. 

20. I am grateful for hot water (showers) and cold, clean water to drink. 

21. Just last week as I was walking home I was overcome by a very strong feeling of love and gratitude for all of my friends.  So much so that I thought I should write to all of them (including you) and express that. I was suddenly very conscious of the fact that my friendships are the best thing in my life. Of course, all of the other things in life (that I'm also grateful for) took over and those notes have yet to be written. 

22. I am grateful for the love I have in my life. I am grateful for my good health and sense of humor, for the education that my parents gave me and for them to have insisted that I put some money aside while I had a good job. 

23. My dog, he's so funny. The view out the window. The view through my computer screen that brings the world to me. The people I see the most. My daughter and son who have graduated from college and got jobs they love. My husband, who's love is solid and who makes me grow. My clients who are changing the world by stepping into greater leadership. My ninja personal trainer who challenges my mind as well as body three times a week. My home office, made of glass so the room glows even on really cloudy days. The very tough experiences I've had lately that have galvanized personal growth. Today. 

24. I'm grateful for everybody who helped me fail and discover that failure is just the beginning of amazing new opportunities. I wouldn't be where I am if others hadn't made me fail. My greatest opportunities presented themselves to me after a failure. 

25. I'm grateful that I'm more optimistic than I am pessimistic. 

26. I am grateful for everyday when I have thoughts of how grateful I am for what I have in life. 

27. I'm grateful for the incredible love, knowledge and support shared from family, friends and strangers around the world, I'm extremely grateful that most people in the world are actually great. I'm also rather grateful for technology in general allowing me to feel closer to home, regardless of where I am in the world. 

28. I am grateful for my phone. For entertaining me. For talking to my friends. For connecting me to my friend who is leaving at the end of the year to Shanghai and to my BFF who might be leaving to go to boarding school. 

29. I'm grateful for my health, for my children's happiness and health, for having a partner who makes me laugh, for Saturday mornings when I catch up with the world, far-away friends and ideas while having good tea in my favorite china, and for long walks in New York City and the small gestures of New Yorkers every day. 

30. I am grateful for my family and friends who accept me and love me for who I am and for my almost 102 year old grandfather who has taught me resilience as well as to focus on what really matters and let the rest go.

31. I am grateful for the freedom to be myself and make my own decisions.

32. I am grateful for the abundance of unconditional love in my life.

Readers, what is a simple thing you are grateful for?

This article first appeared on on November 22, 2017

How To Connect With Your Audience

Connecting with your audience is vital to your business. 

It is the same for when you're on stage. 

Last week I wrote about every business is show business when it comes to public speaking. This week, I asked for tips and insights from a professional story coach, The Moth storyteller and podcaster and founder of The Listening Booth, Terence Mickey. 

Mickey thinks of the audience listening is a gift and, if you've done your work, what you have to say is a gift. It's a reciprocal relationship.

Here are tips of the trade from Mickey for connecting with your audience when you are on stage--

Connect with yourself first.

Do the hard work of figuring out your story because that is the process by which you connect with yourself. Which is what ultimately will help you connect with your audience.

Anxiety is a good sign. 

If you're anxious you're alive. If you're not nervous, you died between walking on stage and standing in front of the mic. Embrace anxiety as your friend--it's your energy. 


Once you are on stage, ground yourself by breathing for 10-30 seconds. Count 1,2,3 to breath in and 1,2,3 to breath out. As awkward as this sounds, Mickey says it works. It is the transition moment between anxiety and excitement.

"You have to breath, connect with your body and give yourself that beat to pause, find your place, stare the audience in the eyes and then speak directly to them."

For a wonderful example, watch Amanda Palmer's opening of her 2013 TED talk.

Start with a killer 1st sentence.

A killer 1st sentence--like Pamela Meyer's "Okay, now I don't want to alarm anybody in this room, but it's just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar."--starts you off with a bang and then you're off to the races. It builds your confidence and builds the audience's confidence in you. 

As importantly, you need a killer last sentence. Last line gives you force and a purpose because you know where you're going to land. 1st and last sentence are your guideposts and between them you weave your story.

This is in fact how Mickey has you you work on your story or presentation--write the first and last sentence. Then write the middle.

If you forget your line, acknowledge.

You are mid-presentation and suddenly you forget your line. Best thing to do is circle back to the last thing you said. Repeat it and it will reset you and you will remember.

You can also acknowledge it and tell the audience, 'I've lost my way for a second." They can all relate and will empathize and appreciate your honesty.

Connect with your audience. 

Make eye contact. Walk as close to your audience as possible and look them in the eye. Talk to them. And don't ever turn your back, even to read a slide. Remember that connecting to the audience is secondary to your presentation.

My tip: I now ask the stage people to adjust the lights during prep so that I can see the audience. If there are people I know, I ask them to sit where I can see them. If I don't know anyone, I look for friendly faces during intermission or before my presentation to introduce myself as the next speaker. I tell them I am looking forward to seeing them in the audience. It creates a connection even before the show and even perfect strangers are very happy to be of help.

Be yourself.

Mickey cautions that the fear of being in front of an audience often disconnects you from yourself. The trick to overcome it? Trust yourself to be yourself. Be charming. Be welcoming. Be human. Laugh and don't take yourself too seriously. 

"And the whole enterprise of a presentation won't work unless you have an audience. So it's important not to be scared of them but to be generous with them. And even though the content is important, the relational aspect trumps everything because you could have the secret to save the world and if you have not established a connection with the audience we're all doomed because no one will be inclined to listen."

So if you're in the mood for being generous, which is what sharing your story on stage with lots of people is all about after all, say yes to the next speaking engagement. Give the gift of speaking and you will be rewarded with applause, and so much more.

Thank you Mickey! 

This article first appeared on on November 17, 2017

How To Speak Like A Pro

Every business is show business. 

Especially when you're on stage, speaking, in front of large audiences

I have given more than 100 talks in the States and overseas in the last two years to promote my book, Design the Life You Love. In the process I have learned how to be a better speaker. 

Here are my insights and secrets to public speaking:

1. It is not about you.

The best advice I've been given on how to overcome stage fright came from my friend Scott Osman, Brand Strategist and Digital Innovator at Good Omen--your talk is not about you, it is about your audience.

Osman says--

"We all know that many people get anxious when they need to speak in front of a large audience. That's because they are thinking about themselves standing in front of an audience, worried about mistakes they might make, or whether or not they will be well received. In reality, it's really not about the speaker, it's about the audience who are attending hoping to hear something meaningful to them. They want the speaker to succeed. By shifting focus from yourself to your audience, you can gain the energy of their optimism, openness and release your fears."

2. There is no business like show business. 

A trick I learned from one of the best public speakers I know, Marshall Goldsmith, is to sing "There is no business like show business," from The Producers before you get ready to "perform". I am not kidding. Adopt this or any other ritual to get into your stage persona--the one that smiles, opens her arms,  and projects her voice.

Here is Tom Cruise singing in Risky Business in 1983, for some fun inspiration (start at 0:40 seconds) on warming up at home.

3. Practice, practice, practice.

For many years I was so scared of public speaking that I winged my talks. I have since learned that writing my lines and practicing, out-loud, in the plane, at home, in my hotel room, is the best and only strategy.

4. Go off-Broadway before you are on Broadway.

In addition to practicing, perform live in front of audiences, big and small. Go talk at schools. Give the same talk in another country. When I do this, I tell people that I have a big talk coming up and ask them to give me feedback. For more on this watch Dying Laughing, the great documentary on stand-up comics and how they get their routines right. 

5. Work with a story coach.

If you're not a natural-born story teller, work with a story coach. I find it incredibly hard to tell a good story. For years I had no idea how to get help or who to get it from, but there are great coaches out there.

6. Make it honest and personal.

People tell you to tell the hero's story. They actually mean the anti-hero story. Tell your failures, personal weaknesses, the havoc that happened. Be honest. This by the way is incredibly difficult because none of us wants to admit to our failures. But people want to know you're human, not that you're super human. 

Here is how I tell how I failed at TEDxCANNES

7. Google what you don't know.

I didn't know how to walk on stage so I googled "how to walk on stage with confidence" and found there are films and tutorials on this. An hour before one my biggest talks I learned that when you walk on stage you don't look on the floor because you're afraid of tripping but that you look directly towards the audience and smile, as if you're walking towards your friends. 

8. Don't stand behind the lectern.

Eliminate any barriers between you and the audience. The worst you can do is to stand behind the lectern. That is like putting a fence between you and the people you want to connect with. You don't want anything to stand between you and your audience. Leave your laptop on the lectern, ask for a clicker and move center stage. Open your arms and welcome your audience. 

9. An image is worth a thousand words.

Add images (still or moving) to your presentation. Images, especially a few well selected images, can help communicate what you're saying at a visceral level. If you're not a visual person, a graphic designer can help you translate your story into a visual narrative. Keep it clean and simple. 

Word of caution: don't show advertising films. This always rubbed me the wrong way. You're not there to do publicity, you're there to tell a story.

10. Don't go over your time.

Cardinal rule of good public speaking manners: don't go overtime. It is disrespectful. No matter how important your message is you're messing up the organizers time table and eating into someone else's time. Time yourself, ask for a count-down timer on stage and/or someone who will sit at the front row and will signal you your last 5, 1 and 0 minutes on large signs.

Next week, I will share tips and insights from a professional story coach, The Moth storyteller and podcaster and founder of The Listening Booth, Terence Mickey. For total transparency, I work with Mickey.

And many thanks to Selin Sonmez, designer and entrepreneur on our Birsel + Seck team for inspiring me to write about this topic.

This article first appeared on on November 10, 2017

How 3M's Chief Design Officer Eric Quint Explains Design

Alex Osterwalder, Swiss business theorist and author of Business Model Canvas, recently tweeted--a business idea needs three legs to stand*. The 3 legs are technology for feasibility, design for desirability and business for viability. I re-tweeted that this is one reason why companies need a Chief Design Officer (CDO) to which someone replied, you mean like Eric Quint of 3M, followed by 4 emoticons for trophy. 

The reason I am sharing this exchange is because today Quint has become a symbol for the chief design officer role, the value they bring and why companies need them to stay competitive. I recently interviewed Quint and asked him how he does it. He shared that his metaphor for design is jazz.  

Quint is a jazzman. He plays the acoustic guitar. His office in Minneapolis has great big framed pictures of jazz greats and his talks often are peppered with jazz images and examples. He says playing music has defined how he leads design. Here is how, in Quint's words--

Jazz It

My team knows me for saying, "Jazz It!" What I mean is we need to be strong in improvisation, going and exploring out of the box, experimenting. I give them a key and the rhythm, not a sheet of music. You might fail but learn from your failures and learn to manage them.

Design and music have a similar vocabulary

Music and design use the same expressions: harmony, contrast, tone sur tone, rhythm, composition, contrast. Just like in music, these expressions are crucial to drive design and design quality. 

Innovation is all about collaboration

You need real time, cross-functional collaboration in design. Innovation and brand experiences are only possible by being multi-functional. You need all the parties to run a great idea through the system and bring it to customers. 

"My drawers are filled with great ideas. Innovation is not just about the what; how you bring them to market is just as important."

The specialization and sophistication needed today require designers working together. I created a taxonomy of 40 kinds of designers for 3M's human resources. Old notions about designer as pop star doesn't hold anymore. We are team players. And just like musicians, who respect each other's ability and know you cannot swap a base player for a drummer, we cannot assume one designer to do it all.

Key is getting in the flow

Design is real time collaboration and creativity--that is where the flow happens. Flow is real time collaboration and creativity. And it often brings people out of their comfort zone and capability. You go beyond your limits by building on each other. When that happens you're happy and satisfied.

Designers need a responsive audience

Another dimension of design is about having a responsive audience. You need their excitement and engagement. You can get your audience, your customers and partners, to co-create with you through design thinking, whatI call Collaborative Creativity. 

Design for me is a strategy and not a commodity. It is a strategic partner to business. Together we make music. 

Thank you Eric Quint. 

*Quote credited to Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things.

This article first appeared on on October 27, 2017

Which Instagram Feeds Can Spark Ideas

Instagram is today's way of having your finger on the visual pulse of the design world, across art, architecture, fashion, graphic, and product. A few weeks ago I posted our favorite design websites. Now, our list of favorite Instagram feeds.

Like the websites we compiled, our Instagram list is made up of links we go to for inspiration. It is a treasure trove of eye candy for entrepreneurs and business leaders, as well as designers among you. And remember this list is incomplete and eclectic. Take a look.

1. @abstractsunday Even if you don't know Christoph Niemann's name, you probably have seen his intelligent, whimsical, inventive illustrations for The New York Times or his New Yorker covers. He calls himself a visual storyteller. A visual feast.

2. @_cindysherman_ If you want to see the world through Cindy Sherman's eyes, like our design strategy director, Seda Evis, follow this feed. It is a playground of Sherman's mind.

3. @thecindygram Another cool Cindy to follow is Cindy Allen, editor in chief of Interior Design magazine. Her humor and unique eye are the distinguishing features of her feed, which makes it one of my favorites.

4. @designseeds Our design and project manager, Leah Caplan, is obsessed with Jessica Colaluca's color palettes derived from the world around us. Great for digital mood boards.

5. @designtaxi_office Design Taxi was named as one of the "Top Five Sites for Keeping up With Creativity and Design" by Forbes in 2012, and it's still going on strong. Start with its Instagram feed and then dive into the website. (

One of the trademarks of DesignTAXI's content is its unapologetically casual and flippant tone. Don't let that fool you - every article begs to be read, and you may find yourself falling down a reading rabbit hole once you log on.
--Shutterstock Best Design Blogs 2017.

6. @ignant This beautiful curated feed features both established and upcoming talent in art, design, photography, fashion, and architecture.

7. @kimjunggius Kim Jung Gi is a Korean artist whose Instagram feed features films showing him drawing that are mesmerizing to watch. I saw him live at the New York Kinokinuya bookstore this month (his live performances are also posted on his feed) and learned that he has trained himself to have a unique visual memory that allows him to draw and create in the moment.  

I observe things all the time. I don't take references while I'm drawing, but I'm always collecting visual resources. I observe them carefully on daily basis, almost habitually. I study images of all sorts and genres.

8. @lovegoodcolor My own favorite go-to for color inspiration is Laura Guido Clark, with whom I get to collaborate on Herman Miller projects. 

9. @macenzo This Amsterdam-based Dirk Bakker posts about travel, art, design, and architecture with an eye on patterns, shapes, and colors. Inspirational.

10. @p.roduct With 310K followers, this feed is beautifully curated to showcase product and interior design.

11. @producture The intersection of product and furniture, hence the name. Its feed strives to showcase the best in these categories and has a wide, interesting range. Designers can directly submit their products to be featured. (

12. @sayhito_ Curated by Kristen de Lavalliere, hailing from Paris, @sayhito_ is about "inspiring + informing curiosity."

13. @sellyrabykane Selly Raby Kane is a Dakar-based dynamo of a fashion designer, creative director, and filmmaker. Beyonce wears her. A unique, beautiful window into African fashion and its creative forces.

14. @shoparchitects Shop Architects won Fast Company's "Most Innovative Architecture Firm in the World" in 2014, and the Smithsonian/Cooper Hewitt's "National Design Award for Architecture" in 2009. Definitely worth a follow.

15. @stefansagmeister Visionary graphic designer and filmmaker Stefan Sagmeister has transformed his Instagram feed into a visual platform for vibrant commentary and conversation on new work. Anyone can submit work for Sagmeister to review and possibly share on his feed. 240K followers.

16. @victoriagranof If you want to see beautiful food design, go no further than Victoria Granof, food stylist and creative director, who has worked with the legendary photographer Irving Penn for over a decade.

17-21. @cooperhewitt@wallpapermag@dwellmagazine,@designmilkeveryday, and @dezeen Last but not least, take a look at these classics of design on Instagram.

What are your favorites on Instagram? Help us discover.

My special thanks to our wonderful team at Birsel + Seck: Bibi Seck, Seda Evis, Leah Caplan, Selin Sonmez, and our intern, Meltem Parlak, for helping compile this list.

This article first appeared on on October 20, 2017

Why Is White The New Black For Instagrammers

The Wall Street Journal reports that white is the new black--or at least it's the new favored color of young Instagrammers. It's so "in" that many are even painting their walls white in search of likes.

What is it about the color white? Is this a trend or an intentional choice? From a designperspective, it might make sense--even if it's bland.

White is the safe choice

"To make their home interiors look better on Instagram and amass more followers, millennials and social-media mavens are painting their walls white," the WSJ wrote.

In Turkish we say, colors and tastes can't be argued. There's a Latin version, de gustibus non est disputandum. I learned this the hard way. When I had new products I designed for TOTO, the world's largest manufacturer of bathroom products, I painted a beautiful mermaid green and all people wanted to talk about was how wrong the color was. It threw a good bit of my research off track and I learned a lesson in design. White is the safest bet.

White creates a unified look

Trying to create a unified look on Instagram is quite the design problem. All those image squares taken at different times often come together to create a chaotic look. The current three image Instagram trend is one solution. The white wall is another. It is a simple trick that helps create a clean background that unifies a design-minded Instagram feed.

"The true beauty of white is that in its essence it is an open is humble and highlights that which surrounds it. White is highly nuanced, most whites have an undertone which makes selecting the right white very important. We use white as backdrops in our own @lovegoodcolor Instagram feed to give our images breathing space, allowing you to draw connections and focus on the emotive power of color." -Laura Guido Clark, designer of color, material and texture of consumer products for companies like Herman Miller, Google, Samsung and Toyota.

White is the go-to-color of product photography

Take a look at Apple or Nike product photography. They're almost always photographed on a white background. White backgrounds don't call attention to themselves and mostly disappear, making the product the hero. Colors, forms, details in the foreground pop against the clean, white backdrop.

"...uptick in popularity of graphic prints and bright colored accessories that pair well against white backgrounds." WSJ

White is luminous

Try photographing something in a colored or patterned background. Then do the same thing in a white room. White rooms will look brighter, cleaner. White reflects light and creates a luminous glow that simply doesn't happen with a black or saturated color background which absorbs light. So if you're an amateur, like me, working with a phone camera, white becomes a practical choice.

There are also other practical considerations when you think of these young millennial instagrammers. White paint is plentiful, easy to find, inexpensive, and easy to repair or paint over.

So here is an Instagram formula for success I posit and you can test--paint the walls white, throw in the bold colored accessory, like a cherry red pillow or an orange carpet, and whether you're in the photo or not, don on your the little black dress--and click away.

This article first appeared on on October 9, 2017

Why Go On a Working Vacation With Your Team

Building trustbreaking silos and recruiting talent.

This is the trifecta of pain-points for so many of our clients, especially in the innovation space. One of these is hard to resolve, let alone all three, but there is a solution that is as unexpected as it is counterintuitive--take a "workation" with your team.

I first heard about the idea of a workation from Amit Gupta, who defines himself as an optimist/entrepreneur/designer on his Twitter profile. He is the founder of Photojojo, an online photo store. He survived leukemia, sold Photojojo and now is exploring what comes next, alongside his fiancee.

Gupta is not your usual entrepreneur. When he had to lay off 20 of his friends from his first venture, he decided that at Photojojo he would save up a year's worth of a person's salary before hiring someone new to make sure he could offer some financial security even if the business didn't pan out. He is also one of the first practitioners of the workation, a mash-up of work and vacation.

When Photojojo was just a one person start-up, Gupta had a flexible work schedule. But as the company grew that flexibility fell away and, with it, the flexibility to travel for fun. Travel became more business-like, in the form of buying trips and convention attendance. Nevertheless, Gupta and his team still got to see what other people were doing, learn about new products and meet new people. Travel was energizing and inspiring, yet not everyone got to partake.

That was when Gupta thought, "But what if everyone at Photojojo traveled?" So, he decided to relocate the whole company to India for 3 weeks, all 16 people staying in one house. This first workation was in 2011. After that, the entire team went to Mexico, Costa Rica and Thailand. And the tradition has continued after Gupta sold the company.

These Workations were a major expense for a start-up, $1,500 to $3,000 per person including tickets, accommodation and meals. The return, Gupta says, was priceless.

They even started launching new projects while they were traveling. Gupta says, "We got a lot more done than I could've imagined." Up to 90% of progress on the new launch would be done in 2 to 3 weeks of a workation. In contrast, it would take them a month to complete the remaining 10% once they got back to the office, what with all the meetings and emails.

In addition to new ideas and projects, better relationships, higher morale and getting more people onboard with the plan--there were three key, unexpected benefits:

1. Building trust over impromptu conversations and downtime encounters.

What amazed Gupta and convinced him of the value of workation wasn't just the efficiency of working away from the office. It was the way it brought everyone together. Living together meant impromptu conversations and downtime encounters. It got people on the same page. It created a sense of trust born out of knowing what was going on, on a personal level. Relationships were meaningfully different, and continued to be different long after the workation.

"Trust paid big dividends for us."

2. Breaking silos by blurring boundaries between vacation and work.

When boundaries between vacation and work blurred, so did the boundaries between teams. Silos that hinder so much of innovation disappeared. There was a natural cross-pollination between teams and between disciplines. People contributed freely and without fear. This enabled a much richer exchange and faster ideation. The team carried this fluidity back to the office, giving each other credit, remaining open to one another and continuing the exchange.

3. Recruiting great talent because they too want to go on a Workation.

A side benefit Gupta also didn't expect but relished, was that the workation turned out to be great for recruiting. His team was posting their workation like crazy on social media, on Instagram and Facebook, which got their friends and network excited about this out-of-the box way of working. It helped them attract new hires and retain talent.

When I asked Gupta how much of workation was work and how much was vacation, he laughed and said, it was 100% work and 100% vacation. Now that is the kind of R.O.I. we can all use.

For more, you can listen to my conversation with Amit Gupta which was the seed for this article.

This article first appeared on on October 6, 2017

Why Items: Is Fashion Modern? Exhibition in MoMA Is A Must See

MoMA's new design exhibit, Items: Is Fashion Modern? is a must see. It is fashiondeconstructed so that we can see its parts and pieces.

Curated by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of MoMA's Architecture and Design, the idea for the exhibit started with a list, one she started for her own personal interest, entitled, "garments that changed the world." This list eventually became the 111 things that together can constitute our whole understanding of fashion of the last 100 years. They are things we wear, from safety pins, to jeans, to perfume, to accessories, and even tattoos.

"And what a list it is, from kaffiyehs to kilts, flip-flops to guayaberas, pencil skirts to moon boots, Speedos to Spanx." -Guy Trebay, The New York Times

As with the best exhibits, this one will change the way we think about its subject. Here's why:

Fashion's complexity made simple

Antonelli has made the vast complexity of fashion seemingly simple, without sacrificing the breath of it. A simple number to remember, 111 items; mapped out in one big, clear drawing on the outer wall of the exhibit; laid out in simple, clean, well-lit visual displays once you step inside. Everything feels intentionally pared down to make fashion easy to understand and digest. It is fashion organized into a system, like an alphabet.

As such, the exhibit is a beautiful example of one of design's core functions--to make the complex simple, easy to understand, use, and accessible to many. That is why most people love Apple products, even child can understand and use them in no time. In the same way, a child will get this exhibit and so will we.

You own at least some of these items

This is the rare museum exhibit where you can walk through and say, "Ah, I own this." Or if you go to the exhibit wearing your white t-shirt; your old Levis 501's; a whiff of your Chanel No. 5, your Dr. Maartens boots, or luxuriously, a single strand of Mikimoto pearls, you will actually be wearing a museum piece.

New Yorkers and Fashion go together like bread and butter

The great fun here is that it is hard to separate this exhibit from its visitors . The aisles crowded with New Yorkers (and out-of-towners who have the New Yorker dress code down) are as interesting as the exhibit itself. On opening night you couldn't help but smile at the beautiful tattoos of the people looking at the tattoo display, or the deftly tied ties of the men in suits eyeing the neckties, or women in shoes as fashion bending as the shoes on display.

Poetry: archetype, stereotype, prototype

In reading Antonelli's 2016 notes on the exhibit announcement, I learned that she conceived the exhibit experience as "stereotype, archetype, prototype". Stereotype is the version of the item as we've come to recognize it, the archetype is the contextual story of the item and the prototype is an exploration of where the idea can be further taken. Antonelli gives the example of the DVF wrap-dress which illustrates the concept well.

"For example, if Diane von Furstenberg's 1974 wrap dress represents the stereotype of this design form in the 20th century, then Items will extrapolate backwards in time through examples such as Charles James's 1932 Taxi Dress, all the way to the archetype of the kimono. If, in the course of exhibition research, a type emerged as ripe for a redesign or was identified as a potential vessel for technological, formal, economic, or social transformation, we have decided to commission a new prototype."

It is the poetry of the concept behind the execution that makes this exhibit stand out as a timeless expression of fashion. But like any good design, you don't need to know the conceptual backbone to appreciate the end result as the user. But once you know it, it gives you more reason to celebrate the hard work that went into creating a thing of beauty.

I came out of Items: Is Fashion Modern?, thinking "I now get it. I understand fashion." If you asked me, I can draw it for you. I can explain it to you over the phone. I can even explain fashion, and what it is made up of, to a kid. That is good design.

Items: Is Fashion Modern? opens October 1, at MoMA, New York.

This article first appeared on on September 29, 2017

What to Ask Yourself Before Launching Your Next Big Project

To launch is propelling something--a rocket, a computer program or even your career--with a forward trust. It is implicit that once you launch something there's no going back. Because of that, we're often fearful of launching. And this is where The Launch Book, by CEO coach Sanyin Siang, comes in handy.

Siang, who is also the Executive Director of Duke University's Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics, explains that one of the biggest reasons we procrastinate or don't launch is fear of failure. That's why instead of focusing on skillsets or talent, she focuses on the mindset for launch.

To know if you have the right mindset, here are 6 key questions Siang wants to make sure you ask yourself before launching your next big project:

1. Start with Asking - Is this You?

Every launch has its ups and downs. To get one through the downs, there has to be a strong sense of belief that's the result of the launch being in alignment with who you are. For example, if you are pursuing a career change, is the new career consistent with your passion and what energizes you? Is your definition for what success looks like in that career in alignment with your values?

2. Who Is My Tribe?

Engaging others in your idea or career launch not only provides emotional support, but it can create additional personal accountability along the way, and be key to eliminating any blind-spots you may have.

"You may be a solo launcher but, if you are to have a chance at success, you can't approach it as a solo endeavor."

Engaging your tribe will help you imagine a larger set of possibilities than what you originally started with. Especially if you intentionally include naysayers in your launch tribe.

3. What Is Failure?

Failure is an outcome other than the one you hoped for. Redefine failure as not doing your best on the things that you can control and letting go of the things that you cannot. And on both aspects, be able to process and learn from when things don't go as planned. What if we take a longer view and see each failure and mistake along the way as a learning that can enable us towards greater success.

4. Am I Falling Into The Comparison Trap?

Siang tells the story of Carlo Dolci, a painter of the Medici's, the greatest family in Florence of his time. He fell into a deep depression when he realized that a fellow painter could complete a painting in mere hours while it took Dolci months, and this led to his decline. Beware. Even the most talented can fall into the comparison trap (Dolci was one of the greatest painters of the 17th century and a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.)

5. What Am I Pursuing?

If you are launching in pursuit of becoming your best self then you've tipped the scales for success your way. Looking at the launch as a discovery process will ensure your succeed even if your launch "fails" in the marketplace. When you are pursuing the best you, there is no risk, because each step along the way becomes a learning process for achieving that.

6. Am I Generous?

The most successful people, from CEO's to students Siang works with, share a common behavior. They invest their time, energy, talent, and networks in helping others succeed. "Don't wait until you think you've achieved success to become generous and helpful to others. You become successful by helping others every step of the way."

My favorite aspect about The Launch Book is how Siang includes the story of the launch of The Launch Book at the end of the book. "The irony of launching this book is that I experienced everything I was writing about...I became the reader." It reminded me of how in launching Design the Life You Love, I became my first student.

This article first appeared on on September 22, 2017

Why Is Some Procrastination Good For You

If we didn't procrastinate life would be so much simpler.

More than 60% of people I have interviewed, did workshops with and taught Design The Life You Love to over the last 7 years have told me that procrastination is the #1 thing they would like to change about themselves. "If only!" they say. We feel guilty, beat ourselves up and feel like losers because we procrastinate.

I say stop beating yourselves about procrastination. Like most things in life, we need balance. Some procrastination is actually good for you.

1. Procrastination lets you put life first

My favorite procrastinator is also one of my favorite writers, Richard Ford, author of The Sportswriter and Independence Day. Ford would watch sports on TV, have phone conversations, travel long distances to buy a used car--anything it seems--before going back to writing. He calls this putting life before working, or in his words, "you get to put lived life first".

"At the end of a very lengthy period during which I did basically nothing whatsoever of any good to man nor beast, I got back to work. That is, I started writing again," Ford told the New York Times.

2. While you're procrastinating, your subconscious is working

According to Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals, Kafka was a notorious procrastinator. He wrote after 10:30 or 11 at night, and even then it was mostly diary entries and letters. He'd also take 4 hour naps. He was hardly alone. Frank Loyd Wright famously drew the plans for his famous Falling Water between breakfast and lunch, in other words the time between when his clients the Kaufmanns announced they were coming over to review the plans and their time of arrival. He had procrastinated for an entire year.

A certain amount of procrastination is necessary for creative problem solving and imagination to happen in your subconscious. This is when your brain connects the dots between unrelated ideas to make-up new ideas.

3. Some nervous energy is good for work

If you've ever spoken on stage, you know that a little anxiety is good for you. I haven't met anyone who likes it, but it is the way your body prepares you for your performance.

Pushing yourself in a corner is almost a prerequisite for giving birth to new ideas. There is no place to go, but forward. It heightens your senses, makes you feel an acute need to get on with it. Writer Margaret Atwood is no stranger to it. She spends, "the morning procrastinating and worrying, and then plunges into the manuscript in a frenzy of anxiety around 3:00 p.m.", as noted by Piers Steel in his book The Procrastination Equation.

4. You can plan time for procrastination as well as productivity

Parkinson's Law, written by Cyril Northcote Parkinson states "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Time is flexible. Take advantage of it. Being a mom taught me to do things that used to take one hour in 10 to15 minutes. I still meet my deadlines, and I am sure you do, too. Instead of beating yourself up about how much you procrastinate, go with it.

Rather than giving yourself generous amounts of time to do something and then eating into it with other unplanned activities, give yourself a shorter time and figure out what you want to do with the extra time.

5. Always being on deadline dulls your mind

I have this rule: no work on Saturdays. In other words Saturday is my planned procrastination, 100%. I am free to do whatever I, or my family, want, without feeling guilty. I know if I worked some on Saturday, I would get ahead and it would mean less work for the upcoming week (I do work 1 to 2 hours on Sundays). But working all the time dulls my mind. It makes me lose my appetite for the pleasure of going back to work and giving 100% come Monday.

6. Many things really do take care of themselves

Sometimes things take care of themselves in the time you've procrastinated. New data comes in, someone else comes up with the answer, you read something unrelated that actually turns out to be related, you have a lunch conversation that inspires you in an unexpected way.

In other words, life happens. Life wouldn't be life and we wouldn't be human if we didn't procrastinate. So embrace it and reap it's benefits. And take comfort in being a part of an elite group of people that includes Leonardo da Vinci (famous for not completing his works), Bill Clinton (in contrast to Hillary Clinton) and J.K. Rowlings (who tweets regularly about how she procrastinates), among many, many others.

I should note, though, that the inspiration for this article came from my inability to write it from Sunday to Wednesday.

This article first appeared on on September 15, 2017

Which Websites Can Spark Ideas For Non-Designers

If you want to keep up-to-date on business as an entrepreneur, you go to

What if you want to keep up-to-date on design, where do you go? Especially if you're not a designer?

Here is a list of our favorite websites compiled by our studio, Birsel + Seck. These are the links we go to for inspiration, information and to remind ourselves of the power of design. They're not limited to design websites and are in fact intentionally eclectic to give us a holistic, big picture view.

If you want to innovate you need to be innovative in terms of your research. This is what I learned from Jim Long, who was the director of research at Herman Miller. In that spirit, I hope these links will provide you with a new perspective for your next research endeavor--

1. Core77: Premier design website. I have a soft spot for Core77 because the founders, Eric Ludlum and Stuart Constantine, launched it in a windowless studio next to mine in Pratt Engineering basement in 1995.

2. Kickstarter: Gives us an idea of what people like enough to support with their money and other ideas being put out into the world.

3. Futurism: Future of everything which means a lot of Elon Musk, robots and AI.

4. Fast.Co Design: Design meets business.

5. Scientific American: Science made relevant (most of the time).

6. Pinterest: Pictionary for anything and everything, but as importantly today's version of mood boards (much better than cutting and pasting pictures on Foamcore).

7. Behance: For reviewing design talent. Just click to open a portfolio.

8. Awwwards: Best visually clean websites.

9. Death To Stock: A great site for beautiful photographs sent monthly right to your desk.

10. Design Clever: A very simple, highly visual site for inspiration on everything design, from graphics and packaging to product to interiors.

11-15. DezeenDesignMilkDesignboomThe Dieline and Mocoloco are the must-view, classic, beautiful design websites.

16. Brainpickings: Maria Popova's incredible brain. She calls it "the inventory of the meaningful life." Every Sunday.

17. Pew Research Center: To keep up to date with statistics in a very diverse set of subjects--politics, social media, social trends, technology.

18. Medium: A lot of different contributors on a lot of different subjects, including but not limited to design and design thinking, with 3-4 minute reads.

19-20. Quartz and Quartz Africa: Curated to give us a wide perspective on daily news in a short amount of time. I especially like the section, "While You Were Sleeping."

21. Radio Garden: Design muse comes to music. Here is a world map with radios from all over the world. Turn the world and click on a radio on the other side of the world. Currently listening to FIP in France.

And when your eyes are glazing over from too much websurfing, visit Rafaël Rozendaal, a visual artist whose websites attract 50 million visits a year. Matisse's paper cut-outs meets Escher. Hypnotizing, simple and surreal.

This list is subjective and incomplete. Still, if you're not a designer, you now have a long, rich list to dive into to keep up to speed about design and the other things that inspire us. And if you are a designer, hope there are some new finds here for you too.

What are your favorites? Help us discover.

My special thanks to Yuka Hiyoshi, our favorite visual researcher who now works at Steelcase, and our wonderful team at Birsel + Seck: Bibi Seck, Seda Evis, Leah Caplan, Selin Sonmez and our intern Meltem Parlak, for helping compile this list.

This article first appeared on on September 12, 2017

How To Make Two Opposites Co-Exist

I love resolving dichotomies.

If I were stranded on an island and if there were only one food I could have, it would be feta cheese. And if I were stranded somehow and could only have one creative tool, I would want it to be dichotomy resolution.

Dichotomies are dualities that oppose each other. Dichotomy resolution is finding a unique solution that brings those seemingly opposing ideas together in harmony.

You get it, it's the idea of "having your cake and eating it too." In French they say, not surprisingly, "Butter and the money for the butter." Turks describe it as the best possible seat on the bus, behind the driver, next to the window and it costs 5 cents.

Toyota Design has a special name for it too, the J-factor. Simon Humphries, President of ED2, Toyota's European Design Headquarters, explains it as, "Often successful Japanese design is based on the synergy of seemingly competing aims, think small yet functional, simple yet intriguing."

So how can you resolve dichotomies? Here is a step-by-step guide:

1. Listen for dualities.

Next time you're in a meeting or having a conversation, listen for opposing ideas. You want to catch a need and a want separated by a 'but'. Classic but Modern is a favorite--this is when you want to keep your heritage but you want it to be contemporary.

2. Define each duality.

What are the qualities or characteristics of each duality? If you understand these, you will have an easier time mashing them up. I use dictionary definitions where applicable.

Classic: a. outstanding example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality, b. a guidepost, modeled upon or imitating the style, c. something noteworthy of its kind and worth remembering, d. of an era

Modern: a. contemporary, relevant to its current time, b. of, relating to, or characteristic of contemporary styles of art, literature, music, etc., c. reject traditionally accepted or sanctioned forms, d. emphasize individual experimentation and sensibility

3. Look for inspiration.

For inspiration, find examples of companies that successfully make modern and classic co-exist. How did they do it? What could you learn from them?

Herman Miller's Eames Rocking Chair is a great example. Herman Miller kept the classic, single-shell form but instead of the original fiberglass material which is not environmental sustainable, they switched to polypropylene, a safer plastic material.

For companies, like Herman Miller, which have a long heritage and history, the "classic + modern" dichotomy is a constant constraint and an opportunity. Volkswagen's Beetle and BMW's Mini Cooper are great examples of classics modernized. So are customizable Converse One-Star high-tops. When you buy them, you're buying a dichotomy resolution--an iconic design classic first introduced in the market in 1917, updated in a way that is only possible with today's technology. French fashion house Chanel is a beautiful case study in making classic and modern co-exist.

4. Bring dualities into harmony.

Next, imagine how you can make these two opposites co-exist in harmony. Intentionally mash classic and modern. To do this pick something that makes your product, brand, experience a classic and mash it with something contemporary and relevant to our time.

Classic can be a classic form, detail, color as it can be set of timeless values.

Modern can be technology or material, as it can be today's cultural values and trends.

This is what the branding consultancy Work-Order did when they tweaked the New York Times "T" to include a little triangle "play" button. It's subtle, it's a wink and it marries their Times heritage with modern, digital technology. It is updating the familiar, so that we still recognize it, while helping us do something new, which is connecting us to their video content.

5. Brain-storm to generate multiple ideas.

Remember when you resolve dichotomies you make opposing qualities co-exist. It is not either, or. It is both. If you are having your cake and eating it too, you're on to a great idea that can generate long-term value.

6. Prototype.

Once you have a few ideas that rise to the top, do some sketches, renderings, quick prototypes, just enough to demonstrate the idea. Do they bring opposing ideas into harmony, for example, do they feel classic and modern at the same time? Test and refine until you have made opposites co-exist and generated new value.

I often think coming from Turkey, a land of great dichotomies, East and West, Old and New, Secular and Religious, is my secret training. That is why almost every project we do as a studio, we seek, pick and solve for dichotomies. One favorite being the potato peeler from the Giada Collection for Target. At $7.99, with a sleek, sculpted, ergonomic handle, it was great design at affordable prices. Too bad it is no longer in production. But the Resolve Office System is, which only has 20 parts with which you can create an almost infinite number of work environments. That is less is more.

What are dichotomies you've solved or in the process of solving. I would love to hear from you.

This article first appeared on on August 30, 2017

Why I Love Vacation

On my last day of vacation I wanted to reflect on what I love about vacations. It is going to be short piece because I am going to jump into the Aegean sea one more time before I head home. It is also a personal reflection about what is it about vacation that makes us happy.

Vacation is time with family.

The luxury of vacation is hanging out with your family, close friends or loved ones. I love that we wake up, eat, swim, play together. Richard Branson said, "How can you find time to get to know your children with the very little holiday time they are given in the United States?" I agree. So we need to make the most of this time spent with people you love most.

Vacation is being in the present.

This is when I smell the wind. Listen to the waves. Watch the sunset. Look at the redness and the shape of tomatoes I am washing. When I am on vacation I am not rushing, I am in the moment. Dina Kaplan, founder of The Path, a meditation community, notes that "Being mindful on vacation can help us fully appreciate each moment, from exhilarating new adventures to relaxing quiet afternoons" and recommends going on vacation without a checklist so that you can just experience it as it occurs.

Vacation is more life than work.

Yesterday I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, for hours. I did this without worrying about what else I should be doing. Without feeling guilty about not working. Vacation is where life-work balance is heavily weighted to life vs. work. Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, who takes 6 weeks off and encourages his employees to take time off as well, thinks that this time away from work is necessary to see things anew--"You often do your best thinking when you're off hiking in some mountain or something. You get a different perspective on things."

Vacation is also vacation from New York.

My annual summer vacation is the opposite of New York, where I live. It is quiet (except for the cicadas). It is all about nature. It is slow and uncrowded. It is extended family, with my uncles, aunts and cousins. Vacation is a total break from my daily routine and environment. And because of that, for me it also makes me eventually want to go back.

But perhaps the reason I love summer vacations so much is because it is like being a child again. Carefree, curious and playful. Just the kind of qualities I want to immerse my work with.

What is it that you love about vacation? I would love to hear from you.

This article first appeared on on August 22, 2017