How To Think Like Elon Musk

A few weeks ago I wrote about a warm-up exercise to prep your right brain for thinking creatively. Let's say you're warmed up and ready for the next step. Where do you go from there and start thinking creatively?

Here is a simple tool that anyone can use to start their creative process. In fact this is how Elon Musk thinks. It is called First Principles Thinking. I call it Deconstruction. It is about breaking what you know into its components until you understand its fundamental parts and pieces.

First Principles is as old as Aristotle and used as diversely by Nobel winning scientist Richard Feynman, the military strategist John Boyd, Nobel winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, and his partner Amos Tversky. Michael Lewis's New York Times bestseller The Undoing Project is also dedicated to this process as you can tell from the title. 

We are all full of assumptions and preconceptions. Breaking something apart breaks helps us to break them. It opens up the possibility of a powerful thought processes--to go deep and radically change the way we think about one or more of the parts. 

Musk broke down space rockets and challenged each assumption that emerged--rockets cost a lot of money, you cannot make them lighter, you cannot have boosters that come back, and more--and made parts that were cheaper, a body that was lighter, boosters that were reusable.

He combined the new parts to make something never imagined before, the remarkable Falcon Heavy launched on February 6 of this year.  

Here is how you can apply First Principles Thinking.

1. Deconstruct an idea to examine its parts.

A rocket is made up of metal. That is obviously simple, but Musk pushed SpaceX to develop a new way of welding called friction stir welding that is much stronger than traditional welds. It allowed SpaceX to dramatically decrease the weight of Falcon rockets by welding large thin sheets of metal together, something never done before. 

What is a toilet seat? The coming together of a toilet and a seat. And a seat is meant be comfortable and ergonomic. This Deconstruction helped TOTO, my client, and me to develop a new toilet seat that was unofficially coined as the most comfortable toilet seat in the world. The idea was simple--make a toilet seat that is like a chair, except with a hole in it. 

Look at the building blocks of something you're working on and question all the assumptions you have about the parts. Challenge assumptions that hold you back to see how they can be done differently. 

2. Deconstruct it to see what it can be combined with.

Boyd, who served in three wars, called deconstruction "destruction" (no pun intended). His example, below, shows how you can destroy something and recreate a new thing by combining it with something else.    

Boyd used 3 objects to show what they're made up of: 

  • A motorboat for water skiing: motor, body of the boat, pair of skis
  • A military tank: metal treads, steel armored body, a gun
  • A bicycle: handlebars, tires, gears, and a seat

The parts can be combined together in many different ways, most of them not useful, but one of the combinations will in fact add to a whole that we now take for granted: handlebars from the bike, body and motor of the boat, skis of the skier, and thread from the tank = snowmobile.

Break something into its parts and mash it up with other products from different contexts to generate new ideas. Or in other words, deconstruct and cross fertilize from other products and industries.

To summarize, break something down to its fundamentals, question age-old assumptions to solve the fundamentals differently, either by inventing from scratch or by cross fertilizing from another product or industry.

This article first appeared on on May 4, 2018

How To Improve Your Business In Tremendous Ways

Can you improve on something as simple as a thank you? It turns out you can. I learned three lessons on how to thank people from Chester Elton--who said "I love you in life is thank you at work," at the MG100 Coaches talk I recently attended--which have already made me better at expressing gratitude

Elton is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Carrot Principle, about inspiring people with a carrot, not a stick. In fact, carrots have become a symbol for Elton who always wears something orange and throws stuffed carrots to his audiences when he gives one of his high impact talks. 

Elton's lessons on how to improve something as simple as saying thank you are profound and, according to him, will help you "lower employee turnover, higher customer satisfaction, and higher worker engagement levels" based on 850,000 people he surveyed for his books.

Here are three lessons that will improve your giving thanks:

1. Specificity is key.

This one really helped me. I used to say thank you but didn't always say why I was thanking someone. Elton's first lesson is to be specific. It is important to say exactly what someone did that you are grateful for when you thank them. 

2. Don't delay it.

Elton says, "Gratitude doesn't age well." Next time you're grateful to someone, say it out loud. Email them a thank you note. Do it now. And don't forget to say why (lesson 1).

3. Say thank you often.

Elton has a formula. It is 5:1. Five compliments to one criticism. Compliment and say thank you much more than you criticize people.

Now that you know how to give thanks, who to thank? Here are four groups you can start with:

Thank people who are good to you.

Marshall Goldsmith, executive leadership coach and founder of MG100 Coaches, tells the story of how when faced with mortal danger (his airplane's landing gear didn't open up) the one thing he regretted was not thanking people enough for being good to him. He survived, and after thanking the pilot and the crew, the first thing he did that night was to write 50 thank you notes. 

Thank your heroes.

Your heroes are the people who inspire you, who have qualities you want to emulate. They represent your values. Think for a moment about your heroes--high school teacher who made you love writing, your aunt who was interested in everyone she met and showed you there's something valuable in each person, your mentor who offered help when you didn't know how to ask for it. Write them a note and say thank you, you're my hero. And, once again, don't forget to say why.

Thank people behind-the-scenes.

The waiter who made your client dinner a great experience. The intern who arrived at 7a.m. to set up the workshop space. The model-maker who made the prototype just so. There are hidden people behind-the-scenes who make you and your experiences successful. Thank them. 

Thank your family.

As I was writing this post, I thought, do I thank my family enough? Not enough. I tell them I love them all the time, but I don't thank them and say why often enough. Today I will start with my family. 

Thank you dear reader for reading my post.

This article first appeared on on May 1, 2018

What Transformed David Jones into David Bowie

David Bowie, the iconic pop star, was a true opposable mind.

Roger Martin, author of The Opposable Mind, defines what successful business people have as integrative thinking: "The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each."

"There's new music, there's old music and there's David Bowie." From David Bowie Is exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum

Bowie put his individual mark on everything he worked on and yet he was a supreme collaborator. He was one of the biggest performers of our time and yet he was shy. He was a musician who was incredibly visual. He was a singer who was trained as a mime. His creativity was boundless and yet he too could get stuck. Even his eyes appeared to be opposing colors. 

Here are five leadership lessons we can learn from Bowie. 

1. Be individualistic and collaborative.

David Bowie put his creative mark not just on his music but on everything that he did. He imagined the whole: sketching his own album covers, writing his lyrics, creating his own make-up. "I must have the total image of a stage show," he said in his 1974 interview in Rolling Stone Magazine. "It has to be total with me. I'm just not content writing songs, I want to make it three-dimensional." 

Within this total vision, he was a collaborator extraordinaire. He collaborated with fashion designers (Yamamoto), photographers (Brian Duffy), writers and producers (Tony Visconti), make-up artists (Pierre Laroche) and musicians (Brian Eno, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, to name a few).

The takeaway: First have a complete vision about every part of your work and then be seriously collaborative about bringing them to life.

2. Be an introvert and an extravert.

Often we think that we need to choose between being an introvert or an extravert, but the sweet spot is being both. Bowie was painfully shy, but he created stage personas that helped him become someone else, a star, on stage. His make-up, hair, costumes, shoes were all tools that transformed him on stage into Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, Aladdin Sane.

"I was painfully shy, withdrawn. I didn't really have the nerve to sing my songs ... I decided to do them in disguise. ... Rather than be me -- which must be incredibly boring to anyone -- I'd take Ziggy in, or Aladdin Sane or The Thin White Duke. It was a very strange thing to do." 13 Quotes to Remember David Bowie the Right Way

The takeaway: Nurture a persona that you can call on when you want to be your best performing self.

3. Exercise two talents at once.

His genius was music, but he was also a visual thinker. Bowie was an art student, a singer who drew his album covers and a painter later in life. As Melena Ryzik of the New York Times put it, "Transmuting visual cool into magnetic listening pleasure: that was Bowie's hallmark for the length of his protean, nearly 55-year career." 

The takeaway: Identify 2 talents or strengths that can be combined to become your unique super power.

4. Practice your strength and its opposite.

Bowie trained as a mime with Lindsey Kemp and learned to move and express himself with no words. Miming is the polar opposite of singing. His work with Kemp helped him "reimagine the way rock music is performed live," according to Tim Lewis of The Guardian. 

The takeaway: Think of what the polar opposite of your key strength is and then explore how it can add a new dimension to your  work.

5. Be prolific even when stuck.

It is hard to imagine Bowie stuck, he made it all seem easy. But Bowie had a well-worn out deck of Oblique Strategies cards, created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in the seventies and gifted to him by Eno. According to the website Improvised Life, "the cards are meant to be picked at random when a musician or artist found themselves 'stuck' and in need of a shift of view. Bowie clearly got a lot of use out of them." Here are some examples from the cards:

  • Don't be frightened to display your talents
  • Think of the radio
  • Use an unacceptable color
  • Work at a different speed
  • Ask your body
  • Do nothing for as long as possible.

The takeaway: Make it look easy by having tools that help you get unstuck.

This article first appeared on on April 19, 2018

How To Super-Charge Your Creativity

Any creative, whether a designer, entrepreneur, thought leader or other, can tell you creativity works best when the mind is at rest. You let your mind relax and wander and it starts connecting the dots in new and valuable ways.

This is now backed by new research, where "Neuroscience is finding that when we are idle, in leisure, our brains are most active."

I wrote about 32 simple, daily exercises you can use to practice your creativity. Today I am adding some new ones, specifically to try on vacation. Some are easy prompts to be creative, others focus on how to be creative with your time now that you're off your daily routine.

  1. Do nothing--sit anywhere, on the beach, by the pool, on a rock, and let your mind wander. Being bored with nothing to do is a boon for creativity. 
  2. Take photos--faces, flowers, architectural details, store signs--to see things differently as you create a visual repository of what you saw. This is a great time to try different photo apps like Snapseed (great landscape photos in beautiful colors) and Slow Shutter Cam (night shots and waterfalls).
  3. Draw what you see--when you're at a cafe or a restaurant waiting for your order to arrive, draw what you see. Imagine you're a child and don't worry about the quality of your drawing. Like with the photo exercise, it will help you remember the moment and notice details you wouldn't otherwise see.
  4. Play this game with your fellow travelers--fold a paper a couple times until its business card size. Draw something on it. Open it once and give it to the next person. They need to continue your drawing and then give it to the next person.
  5. Take the road less traveled--imagine you live here. Pick an address on Google Maps that interest you and go there. Once you arrive discover cafes, bookstores, local shops.
  6. Change your hours--if you're usually a late bird, wake up really early to watch the sunrise or to be the first person in the sea. If you're an early bird, stay up late and discover night life. In either case, take a siesta to pack on sleep.
  7. Listen to local music--try Radio Garden, an app where you "rotate the globe" to listen to live radio.
  8. Go to a different kind of museum--find a small one in a big city or a big one in a small town. You'll be surprised the little jewel of a place you might discover. Here is a list from the NYTimes to inspire you, including the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul.
  9. Learn something new--snorkeling, scuba diving, rock climbing, windsurfing, pottery, cooking, live drawing. Learning new skills helps you practice having a beginner's mind, a key state for creativity.
  10. Read a site-inspired book--discover a local author, read a book about the history, or the biography of a local artist, entrepreneur, inventor. Nothing like reading Iliada when you're on the Aegean coast, or the diary of Frida Kahlo in Mexico.
  11. Doodle in a book--take one of these books with you: Keri Smith's The Line: An Adventure into Your Creative Depths, or Wreck This Journal, or Souris Hong's beautiful coloring book, Outside the Lines, Too: An Inspired and Inventive Coloring Book by Creative Masterminds.
  12. Make a collage--collect bottle caps, sea shells, local food packaging, your boarding passes to make a collage in your sketchbook at breakfast or over drinks. Bring or buy a glue stick. 
  13. Make unusual sand castles on the beach--try abstract forms like a cube, a cone or a pyramid. 

Written on vacation, I myself am putting these exercises to practice.

This article first appeared on on April 13, 2018

How WD-40 Does $380 Million In Sales A Year

If you want your company to be free of squeaks, create a tribe that lives by its values, encourages learning, and sees mistakes as educational moments. 

WD-40 Company, maker of the iconic spray that stops squeaks and makes parts run smoothly, knows something about creating a tribe that is happy to come to work. WD-40 pulled in $380 million in revenue last year and boasts an employee satisfaction rate of 92 percent, compared with a widely cited 2015 Gallup poll that puts employee engagement in the U.S. at 31.5 percent. Like its iconic product, the company has figured out how to minimize friction so that its people can go about doing their work with ease. 

Garry Ridge, WD-40's CEO, recently spoke at the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coachesretreat in Phoenix. Here are his tricks for creating a company that I call his "smooth operation":

1. Be a learner and a teacher.

Ridge says that the No. 1 responsibility of a leader is being a learner and a teacher. This is a CEO who signs his emails "ancora imparo," which means "I am still learning" in Italian. "The three most powerful words I ever learned are: I don't know," Ridge says.

To commit yourself to learning, Ridge has put together a WD-40 Maniac Pledge, below, which he describes as an oath to become a "learning maniac":

I am responsible for taking action, asking questions, getting answers, and making decisions. I won't wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I'm responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I didn't "get this sooner." If I'm doing something others should know about, I'm responsible for telling them.

Ask yourself this question that Ridge asks himself: When's the last time you did something for the first time?

2. Embrace mistakes as learning moments.

Just like its name--the 40 in the name WD-40 comes from the 40 attempts it took the product's creator to get it right--this is a company that sees mistakes as educational moments.

For this to work, Ridge sets the example himself. He is humble. His humility comes from knowing that "leaders need to exercise good judgment, but that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment."

Too often, people are afraid to learn because they're afraid of making mistakes. Let the tribe know part of learning is making mistakes. Set an example as the leader that it's OK to make mistakes, and show that even you are not perfect, and can and are open to still learn. 

3. Live your values instead of visiting them.

If you go to the WD-40 website and click on any job opening, you will come across this note:

"Please, only consider employment with WD-40 Company if you feel as strongly about our values as we do:  We live, breathe, and play by our values every day." In other words, if these are not your values, don't apply.

Ridge sees values as the description of the only acceptable behavior in a tribe. And a tribe is people gathered around one purpose. 

Here are WD-40's company values:

  • We value doing the right thing.
  • We value creating positive, lasting memories in all our relationships.
  • We value making it better than it is today.
  • We value succeeding as a tribe while excelling as individuals.
  • We value owning it and passionately acting on it.
  • We value sustaining the WD-40 Company economy.

Ninety-eight percent of WD-40 employees feel that their opinions and values are a good fit with the company culture. Ask your tribe the same question, and you will know if you're living or just visiting your values.

This article first appeared on on March 30, 2018

How Flying Taxis Will Change Everyday Life

Larry Page, CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet, is financing Kitty Hawk, a company that is developing and testing Cora, a new kind of electric, autonomous flying taxi. Leading the company for him is Sebastian Thrun, who was the director of Google X and helped start Google's autonomous car division. Page, Thrun, and Google are now moving from autonomous cars to autonomous flying vehicles. So, if you thought the self-driving car was a game changer, self-driving flying objects, air taxis in this case, are going to be a game changer of a different, larger scale. 

Business travel will be just-in time.

From a user perspective, this will bring an Uber-like flexibility and choice to users (Uber is also working on a version of a flying vehicle with Boeing). Instead of reserving a place on an airplane, you will reserve an air taxi to take you where you want, when you want (airplanes as we know them will literally become flying buses). Imagine what this will do to how you manage time, travel and availability when it comes to your business travel. No layovers, a lot more flexibility, for travel to locations that are nearby, and easier/immediate access. We will take an air taxi to areas that are too distant for a car, but too close or too small for commercial airlines. To give an example, I will take an Uber from my midtown office to a meeting on Wall Street, take an air taxi from Wall Street to a factory in New Jersey.

You will go where roads won't take you.

Now think of Africa where there are 204 km of roads compared with the world average of 944 km/1000 square km. Air taxis will also mean you can go where no roads will take you. Africa has been leapfrogging traditional infrastructures with new technology--the energy grid with solar energy; finance with banking over the phone. The next leap for the continent is going to be in autonomous flight. Drone experiments are already under way for transporting goods to remote areas--medicine and health supplies being a key one. Imagine what transporting doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers will do to remote areas in Africa will do for the economic and social development of Africa.

You will witness the design of new flying vehicle archetypes.

What should an air taxi look like? The Larry Page prototype is a cross between a drone and a plane. Is this the new archetype of what autonomous flying objects will look like or is this a fast, early prototype? First cars looked like the horse-drawn cart because that is what we knew. It took a few decades for the car to take its archetypical form. Air taxis might take decades to find their true design expression--in terms of both its form and experience.

Laurent Bouzige, designer with Toyota Europe, whose day job is to explore the future of transportation design, thinks that we will see new designs as the technology of autonomous flying is being developed and regulated. "Future air taxis might have a more integrated, less technological form that intentionally communicates an inherent feeling of trust to the users--perhaps a flying bubble where you can't see the mechanics," Bouzige says. "This new three-dimensional space offers us new poetic perspectives never explored; a new layer of mobility to think of new uses and respond to certain societal problems."

Safety still comes first.

How do you move fast, like Larry Page and his team are, in order to be the first to market, and yet still do due diligence to FAA regulations and bring a safe flying vehicle to market? How can you demonstrate that catastrophic failures will not happen in a million flights, a standard manufacturers are held to by regulations?

Norm Ovens is a senior technical leader with GE Aviation who views these vehicles as a wonderful development. They are however, just another evolution of flight, simply in a different form. As Ovens puts it, "These new vehicles introduce complex systems into areas that they haven't been before, the challenge will be to find acceptable methods to determine safe operations and acceptable development practices. Denying the hard work is not an option. The ones to ultimately succeed will meet all the requirements, not just the technological ones".

This article first appeared on on March 16, 2018

How IKEA Made Customer Research Fun?

If you want to innovate and bring new solutions to old problems, ask yourself if your customer research is innovative. 

A recent study by IKEA into co-living spaces is a good case in point. The study asks what co-living will look like in 2030 when there will be 1.2 billion more people on the planet with 70 percent of these people living in urban areas where space and resources will be limited. IKEA's goal is to understand what is happening today, so that it can design and develop products for the future.

To do this, IKEA's future living research lab Space10 launched One Shared House 2030, a survey that was developed by interaction designer Irene Pereyra of Anton & Irene. I highly recommend you try it out, both because it's fun and because it gives you real-time data as you're doing it. An amazing 60,000+ people have already taken the survey.

Here is what makes IKEA customer research innovative:

It's an experiment.

Everything about the survey from its design to it's game-like interaction communicates, "We're experimenting here!" The IKEA team is out to explore the new--in new ways--and they're not afraid to try things. This intentional pioneering spirit is key if you want to explore new frontiers. 

Next time you're designing your research, ask yourself if you're being experimental enough. In other words, are you experimenting with your experiment?

It's empathic for its subjects.

The research and its style was inspired by a documentary Pereyra did about her own co-living experience from when she was a child, growing up in shared housing for mothers and kids called Kollontai in Amsterdam. Her story gives authenticity to the survey and creates a deep sense of empathy. It is that sense of empathy that draws us in and helps feel the complexities of co-living? Do people want to share toilets? Do they want someone else to use their bedroom if they're not there? How much sharing is too much sharing?

If you want your innovation to be empathic, start by making your research empathic. 

Even research can be beautiful.

Good design is pervasive, and here even the research is visually beautiful. The survey is striking with bold geometric shapes and intense colors ranging from pink, green, orange, and purple assigned to its different categories: demographics, pets, tolerance, personality, and privacy are just some of the headings. It's inviting and makes you want to participate. 

Design your research tool to be beautiful--it, too, is a design after all.

It's playful.

From the start of the survey, you're told that One Shared House 2030 is a playful research project. It's designed more like an app than a survey with music and pop-up windows.

It sets the stage as if in the future. You want to do it, and it captures your imagination.

This reminds me of something Jocelyn Wyatt, CEO of, advocates: "When stakes are high, levity and playfulness are critical to the process."

If you want lots of people to participate, make your research playful and game-ify it.

It is not about the future, it's in the future.

The survey doesn't ask you to imagine the future--it sets the whole survey in the future. From the first interaction, it tells you that it's 2030. The world is more crowded, 70 percent of us are living in cities, we're all a little closer, there's self-driving cars and smart technology. In this new world we're sharing services, spaces, and goods so much more. Simple as it sounds, it is effective as setting the scene in a science fiction film. It is 2030, so what will you do?

You want people to imagine the future? Take them there.

At the end of the IKEA survey, take a look at the results. One take away is that, on the average, "people think being neat and tidy, honesty and being considerate are the most important qualities in a house-member". I agree.

This article first appeared on on March 8, 2018

How Can Your Team Warm Up Their Right Brain

When you exercise your body, you start by warming up your muscles. When it comes to exercising your creativity, you also need to start by warming up your creative muscles. Whether you are brainstorming, ideating, or co-creating, preparing your brain for creative thinking is the first step. It is a signal to yourself that you're entering a different mental space--different from emailing, writing, or talking on the phone.

My favorite creative warmup takes a mere three minutes. It is the first thing we do with any creative session. It helps break the ice, gets people to laugh, and, most importantly, puts the team in a playful mindset.

Just like you wouldn't dream of running or swimming or playing tennis without warming up your body, don't dream of doing anything creative without warming up your right brain.

Here is warmup exercise:

All you need is a stack of copy paper and pens. Let people know you're going to start the session by warming up their creative brains. Then simply ask them to turn to the person next to them, to their left or to their right, and draw each other. Instructions for the warm up:

  • You only have three minutes, so no masterpieces!
  • Your face is like a rectangle, and the eyes go in the middle of it. Everything else can go wherever you like. 
  • Have fun and remember to sign and gift your portrait to your neighbor once you're done.

Here is why doing the warm-up is important:

Break the ice.

People often feel awkward in the first minutes of an ideation session. Will they be creative? Will they rise to the occasion? When they start by drawing each other they engage with their neighbor, they start laughing at how they butcher each other's portraits, and the energy in the room rises. Before they know it, the awkwardness is gone and they're in this experience together.

Be playful.

Cardinal rule of creativity and design is to be playful. When we play, we're like kids--we're not afraid of making mistakes. We try things, experiment with ideas, and learn by doing. There's nothing like getting people to draw each other to signal we're in a playful state.

Transition into the creative space.

A creative meeting is different from other meetings. It is about generating ideas, breaking your preconceptions, and stretching your mind to imagine new possibilities. This warmup, or others you might try, disrupt people's daily work routine and help them enter a new, creative thinking space. 

Make something difficult, easy.

For so many of us, drawing someone else is tough. By doing a difficult thing together, from the get-go, and doing it in a state of collaboration and fun, you're actually priming people for the whole session. The underlying message is--you got this, you can be creative, and have fun.


Collaboration is social. It is about working with other people. This warmup is also about looking each other in the eye and starting a dialogue. That dialogue will continue for the rest of the session, and potentially, longer.

We all have favorite warm up routines when we exercise. This is mine. Give it a try and be ready for its effectiveness.

This article first appeared on on March 1, 2018

What 5 Lessons We Can Learn From 5 Very Creative And Successful People

I started a podcast last year to talk to people who have designed inspiring lives, who are successful doing work they love. What I wanted to understand is how do they do it. What are their tools, tactics, and tricks that can help inspire me and my listeners? How do these successful people deal with fear and failure, find excitement in their work and have so much confidence? At the end of season one, I went back and re-listened to the interviews.

Here are the top five lessons I've learned.

1. When stakes are high, levity and playfulness are critical to the process.

Jocelyn Wyatt is the CEO of, a nonprofit organization focused on how design can change the social sector by putting an end to global poverty. She says that she sees levity fly out the window when you're designing to solve a social problem and the stakes are high. People tend to approach serious problems seriously which is the exact opposite of what actually is needed. You need joy and optimism to believe the situation can be different. She says because the stakes are high, levity and playfulness are critical to the process. "We can be our best selves and we can unlock the best in the partners that we're working with, and in the communities where we're working, when we do bring that playfulness and joy, rather than bringing sadness," Wyatt says.

2. To fight fear, put yourself in a place where you can't back off. 

Paolo Antonelli, the fearless senior curator of MoMA's department of Architecture and Design and the director of R&D, is not immune to feeling fearful. She says, "My life is ruled by fear." Her way of confronting her fears is by putting herself in situations where she can't back off or change her mind. Like the time as a young journalist and terrified, she interviewed architect Frank Gehry. Once she buzzed the door bell, it was too late to back out. She had to walk through door and conduct the interview. "If you have to jump off a cliff, you're already halfway through, so you better jump well," Antonelli says. 

3. If you are not making enough mistakes you are not trying hard enough. 

When I asked Amit Gupta, entrepreneur, designer and founder of the wildly successful Photojojo, what advice he'd have for my teenage daughters he said, "make lots of mistakes." Gupta believes that much of the good in his life comes from doing the wrong thing, failing and trying again. "The perfectionist is the worst possible thing," he says. "If you are not making enough mistakes you are not trying hard enough."

4. If you don't want boredom, keep trying new things.

Every time Stefan Sagmeister, one of the world's leading graphic designers, repeats himself, there is less excitement. He admits that it makes him lazier and the work worse. And that he gets bored. That is why he's developed this idea of the seven-year sabbatical. Taking a year off every seven years to reinvigorate himself, try new things, and to take on new activities, like filmmaking with The Happy Film. With each sabbatical creating the start of a new chapter in his life and work. 

"Try out as much stuff as possible. See what you like and see what you don't like," Sagmeister says. "Stick with the stuff that resonates and leave the other stuff alone. And here and there go over your comfort zone."

5. Confidence is overrated. It's courage that is needed.

Debbie Millman--author, educator, curator, and the host of her own podcast, Design Matters--makes a very useful distinction between confidence and courage. She advocates that you don't need the confidence to try to do something; you just need the courage to take the first step. "Courage is the birthplace of confidence," Millman says. "[It's when] you feel that you can take that first step no matter what the outcome."

I look forward to sharing more of my learnings from my podcast with you. Now, go out and talk to someone you admire and see what you learn.

This article first appeared on on February 26, 2018

What We Can Learn From Elon Musk

Elon Musk and the SpaceX team launched Falcon Heavy into space on Feb. 6. The launch reminded me of when I watched the Apollo missions as a kid growing up in Izmir, Turkey. It symbolized the dawn of a new space age and making the impossible a reality. We might even watch a landing on Mars in our lifetime.

If the launch awakened the childlike sense of awe and wonder in me, watching Musk's press conference afterwards spoke to the designer in me. Musk is a designer at heart, and SpaceX rockets and spacecrafts are a feat of innovation and design. As he talked about what it took to bring Falcon Heavy to life, Musk gave us an important lesson in innovation that we can all use in our own industries.

1. Have the courage to try difficult things.

"It always seems impossible until it's done"--this quote from Nelson Mandela sums up Musk's approach to innovation. Many things, even on a smaller scale, seem impossible. And you will never know what will come of them if you don't try. Prototyping, demonstrating, failing, and retrying are part and parcel for the development of new ideas and innovation. To imagine the future based on what you know today takes courage.

"Crazy things can come true. When I see a rocket lift off, I see a thousand things that could not work, and it's amazing when they do."--Musk

Do you have the guts to do difficult things?

2. Be serious about play.

Sending his Tesla Roadster with Starman in the driver's seat and a display that says, "Don't Panic!" on the dashboard was a marketing feat. It spoke to the child in us and made it fun. But, most importantly, instead of putting a chunk of concrete as payload, the Roadster and its driver humanized the mission. Intuitively, we all identified with the Starman and imagined it as us going into space. 

And it wouldn't have happened if Musk and team had not nurtured play as part of their everyday serious work. Playfulness lets in the human element. It is especially critical when the stakes are high.

"Silly fun things are important."--Musk 

Are you being playful?

3. New takes time and it's hard.

As our tools become faster, there's an expectation for design to also become faster, more effortless, and easier. But it's not. What Musk said about how much time going from Falcon to Falcon Heavy took is revealing. New, ambitious things take time, and they're hard.

"We tried to cancel the Falcon Heavy program three times at SpaceX. Because it was like, 'Man, this is way harder than we thought.' The initial idea was just, you stick on two first stages as side boosters -- how hard can it be? Way hard."--Musk

Do you have the patience?

4. Design is creating something that looks good and performs well. 

This is the crux of design excellence. You can make something that looks good but performs badly. You can make something that performs well but looks poor. Good design is about making these two co-exist--a thing of beauty that also works well. Musk's description of the Starman's suit is a lesson to any leader involved in the craft of design:

"It took us 3 years to design that spacesuit. It's easy to make a spacesuit that looks good but doesn't work. Or that works but doesn't look good. It's really difficult to make a spacesuit that looks good and works."--Musk

What are you doing to mash-up beauty and performance?

5. Constraints are the opportunities.

The common wisdom for decades was that you couldn't reuse your boosters. SpaceX took that constraint, turned it on its head, and made reusable rocket boosters. This cuts costs, allows for faster launch cycles, and is one of the requirements for future Mars-landing-technology. Seeing the two boosters land back on the launchpad was a thing of beauty. It was also a lesson in how constraints can become your competitive advantage if you choose to question and challenge them. 

"The booster, I think--I don't want to get complacent, but I think we understand reusable boosters," Musk said. "Reusable spaceships, that's the hard part. We'll go to low-Earth orbit first, but we can go to the moon shortly after that."--Musk

What is a piece of common wisdom you can challenge in your industry?

This article first appeared on on February 15, 2018

How To Be Successful according to David Sedaris

One of the most important lessons I learned about success comes from the best selling author and humorist David Sedaris: if you want to be successful you need to give up something. 

In a personal essay that Sedaris wrote for The New Yorker" Laugh, Kookaburra,"  he describes a road trip he took with his boyfriend Hugh in Australia. While there they meet up with a friend, Pat, who had retired after a successful career. She explains to them that life is like a stovetop with four burners. The burners represent work, family, friends and health. If you want to be successful you need to turn one of the burners off. If you want to be really, really successful you need to turn off two. She has chosen to turn off family and health. Sedaris says he's turned off friends and health. His boyfriend has turned off work.

"I asked which two burners she had cut off, and she said that the first to go had been family. After that, she switched off her health. 'How about you?'"

Understanding that you, or Sedaris, or any successful person, cannot have everything is one of the most important lessons we can learn in life and work. Especially when, in this age of oversharing, other people seem to have it all. The simple reality is no one has the time, energy, or resources to have everything they want. Making peace with your finite resources can reduce stress, as well as help you to develop strategies for tricking the system when you can.

Trick the system.

If you can make what you want and what you need co-exist, you can trick the system. You can walk to your meetings, transform your desk to a treadmill desk, work with your children, meet your friends at the gym, or go on hiking trips together.

My favorite? If you can work with your friends and become friends with the people you work with, you're having your cake and eating it too. 

It is true that between work and family, often friends are the first thing to go. But friendships at work can turn projects, travel, and collaborations into opportunities to get to know people and the best excuses to hang out with people you enjoy. And friendships at work will positively impact your business. 

Some of the best collaborators in business are also great friendships. Look at Obama and Biden; Oprah and Gayle King; Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton professor Adam Grant.

Manage time with intention.

Just like you can turn on and off burners on a stove, you can choose to deliberately give something more importance at the cost of something else. 

As a mother of young kids, I used to be torn between being a great parent and being a great designer. It was impossible to be both at the same time. My solution? I stopped working on weekends and became a fully present mom. And during the week I gave my work my all. 

Stefan Sagmeister, graphic designer and director of The Happy Film, turns the work burner completely off every 7 years to take a sabbatical to travel, see friends and family and to replenish his creative soul.

Once you become aware of your burners, you can develop strategies to turn them on and off with intention. 

Which burner will you turn off to be successful?

This article first appeared on on February 2, 2018

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