Sunday, December 1, 2019

"Our unexamined feelings swim like restless schools of fish..." by Jewel

"Our unexamined feelings swim like restless schools of fish inside us; they stir up and muddy the waters. Self-examination organizes our moodiness, and helps us identify the stimulus that caused those feelings, and calms the water." Jewel

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing, by Brianna Wiest

"Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing.

It is making a spreadsheet of your debt and enforcing a morning routine and cooking yourself healthy meals and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution.

It is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do, like sweat through another workout or tell a toxic friend you don't want to see them anymore or get a second job so you can have a savings account or figure out a way to accept yourself so that you're not constantly exhausted from trying to be everything, all the time and then needing to take deliberate, mandated breaks from living to do basic things like drop some oil into a bath and read Marie Claire and turn your phone off for the day.

A world in which self-care has to be such a trendy topic is a world that is sick. Self-care should not be something we resort to because we are so absolutely exhausted that we need some reprieve from our own relentless internal pressure.

True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don't need to regularly escape from.

And that often takes doing the thing you least want to do.

It often means looking your failures and disappointments square in the eye and re-strategizing. It is not satiating your immediate desires. It is letting go. It is choosing new. It is disappointing some people. It is making sacrifices for others. It is living a way that other people won't, so maybe you can live in a way that other people can't.

It is letting yourself be normal. Regular. Unexceptional. It is sometimes having a dirty kitchen and deciding your ultimate goal in life isn't going to be having abs and keeping up with your fake friends. It is deciding how much of your anxiety comes from not actualizing your latent potential, and how much comes from the way you were being trained to think before you even knew what was happening.

If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it's because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with "treating yourself" and a whole lot do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness.

It is no longer using your hectic and unreasonable life as justification for self-sabotage in the form of liquor and procrastination. It is learning how to stop trying to "fix yourself" and start trying to take care of yourself… and maybe finding that taking care lovingly attends to a lot of the problems you were trying to fix in the first place.

It means being the hero of your life, not the victim. It means rewiring what you have until your everyday life isn't something you need therapy to recover from. It is no longer choosing a life that looks good over a life that feels good. It is giving the hell up on some goals so you can care about others. It is being honest even if that means you aren't universally liked. It is meeting your own needs so you aren't anxious and dependent on other people.

It is becoming the person you know you want and are meant to be. Someone who knows that salt baths and chocolate cake are ways to enjoy life – not escape from it."
-Brianna Wiest

[Illustration: Yaoyao Ma]

Sunday, November 17, 2019

All I know about love, by Neil Gaiman

I saw this on his blog and it's so incredibly beautiful.

All I know about love, by Neil Gaiman

This is everything I have to tell you about love: nothing.
This is everything I've learned about marriage: nothing.

Only that the world out there is complicated,
and there are beasts in the night, and delight and pain,
and the only thing that makes it okay, sometimes,
is to reach out a hand in the darkness and find another hand to squeeze,
and not to be alone.

It's not the kisses, or never just the kisses: it's what they mean.
Somebody's got your back.
Somebody knows your worst self and somehow doesn't want to rescue you
or send for the army to rescue them.

It's not two broken halves becoming one.
It's the light from a distant lighthouse bringing you both safely home
because home is wherever you are both together.

So this is everything I have to tell you about love and marriage: nothing,
like a book without pages or a forest without trees.

Because there are things you cannot know before you experience them.
Because no study can prepare you for the joys or the trials.
Because nobody else's love, nobody else's marriage, is like yours,
and it's a road you can only learn by walking it,
a dance you cannot be taught,
a song that did not exist before you began, together, to sing.

And because in the darkness you will reach out a hand,
not knowing for certain if someone else is even there.
And your hands will meet, 
and then neither of you will ever need to be alone again.

And that's all I know about love.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

This very important post from Elizabeth Gilbert will have you sticking to your dreams

Dear Ones:

In the early 1990s, I was an unpublished aspiring writer, living in
New York City...which meant that I was a waitress.

I worked at a cheap Italian cafe in the Village. This was the only job
I've ever held that I can honestly say I hated.

I didn't hate my job because I felt that waiting tables was below me.
(On the contrary — I'd been doing that kind of work for years, and I
usually enjoyed it.) No, I hated my job because the managers of the
restaurant were angry, scary people. The whole environment at this
establishment was aggressive and foul. Everyone working at that
restaurant was unhappy and oppressed, and — although I tried — I
could not seem to make friends with anybody...neither the customers
nor the staff. But the money was good, and I had some control over my
hours, which meant that I could work on my writing.

I was living in a tiny apartment in the East Village with a window
that faced a brick wall. I had two roommates who liked to party. My
boyfriend had just left me. I didn't own a car (duh, obviously) and
the money I made from tips just barely covered my rent.

My dream that year was to attend the famed Bread Loaf Writing
Workshop, located in the mountains of Vermont, on the campus of
Middlebury College. This would be a chance for me to be taught by
published authors, and to mingle with agents and editors. And it would
be an opportunity for me to work on my short stories along with other
aspiring writers, and perhaps to find my tribe. Best of all, going to
Vermont for six weeks would get me out of the city during the hottest
and most miserable days of a New York City summer.

But here's the thing: I couldn't afford the tuition for Bread Loaf.

I could not BEGIN to afford that tuition. It was incredibly expensive.
My only option, then, was to apply for one of the two scholarships
that were offered that year. If I were accepted on a scholarship
basis, I would be able to attend Bread Loaf ... but here was the
catch: I would need to earn my keep at the retreat by working as a
waitress. (Irony alert!)

In other words: If I were accepted on scholarship, I would literally
be SERVING the other attendees who were wealthy enough to afford full


I worked for weeks on my application for that Bread Loaf waiter/writer
scholarship. I wanted it SO BAD. I remember ending my essay with this
line: "I may not be the best writer who has ever applied for this
position, but I can guarantee you that I am the best waitress." I
felt certain they would take me, just based on that line alone!

I wasn't accepted, though. you know what I did next?

I didn't go.

I did not go to Bread Loaf, for exactly the same reason that I had not
applied to graduate schools, and for exactly the same reason that I
wasn't traveling through Europe, or living in a better apartment —
because it was beyond my means.

Instead, I stayed in the East Village during that swelteringly hot
summer, looking out my window at that goddamn brick wall, listening to
my roommates getting drunk and having sex, working at my toxic
restaurant job with the mean bosses...and writing.

I never stopped writing.

And can you guess what miraculous thing happened to me by the end of that year?!

Nothing. Absolutely nothing miraculous happened.

By the end of that year, I was STILL an unpublished writer, working as
a waitress. And I still couldn't afford Bread Loaf. And they still
didn't want me on their campus. Not even as a waitress.

But here is what I want you to understand: I never stopped writing.

In my attic today, I have notebook after notebook filled with the
writing that I produced during those years. Many of those stories
would later appear in my first book, PILGRIMS.

I consider those years to be the most generative and important period
of my entire creative life. It was a time when I was fully and
stubbornly focused on mastering this craft — and I did most of it
alone in a small room, looking at a brick wall, with no promise of
reward. Nobody cared about the contents of those notebooks except me.
I do not recall ever expecting anyone to care. It would not have
occurred to me that anyone else was supposed to care.

I just kept writing — and eventually I found my way to becoming an
author, by other means.

To this day, I hold no hostility toward the good people at the Bread
Loaf Writing Workshop in Middlebury, Vermont. They had a business to
run — and giving me what I wanted (just because I wanted it) was not
their business. Nurturing my destiny as a writer was MY obligation,
not theirs.

I understood all this, even back then — even though I was just a kid.

If you are holding ANYBODY in this world responsible for your life who
is not you, quit it.

Let nothing stop you from your work.


Elizabeth Gilbert

Monday, October 21, 2019

Small kindnesses, by Danusha Laméris

Small Kindnesses
by Danusha Laméris

I've been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say "bless you"
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. "Don't die," we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don't want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, "Here,
have my seat," "Go ahead—you first," "I like your hat."

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Elizabeth Gilbert and Marie Forleo on Fear, Authenticity, and Big Magic

Video below, 48 minutes:


I don't like the ethic that says, if you try really hard and you put everything into it, you're going to get everything that you want.

Because we're all grownups here so can we just say that that may or may not happen.

You may or may not get everything you want.

You might put everything into something and it doesn't work.

And that's okay...

IF you didn't mortgage your house, risk your family, empty out your IRA, and just put yourself in a really precarious situation such that you can never do it again.... Such that you've been so battered by how you set up your life so that now you're so cornered and strapped and anxious and shamed that you say "well, if THAT'S what it feels like to give 100% to something, you can keep it... I'm going to take nothing but safe choices for the rest of my life" and that's it and you just shut down.

I never want to see someone in that kind of situation.

So the contract I made with writing, which I made when I was 15 years old... one of the promises I made to the work was, I will never ask you to support me financially. I will support both of us. I am a resourceful person, my parents raised me to be a worker, I will do whatever I have to do to pay the rent, and you and I will have a love affair on the side of this that is not contingent upon monetization. 

And I've watched so many creative people murder their creativity by insisting that they are not truly creative unless their creativity pays the bills. And if it doesn't pay the bills, which it might or it might not -- and it might for a while and then it might not -- you might go out of fashion, your thing might change, people might not want that anymore, and all of a sudden you're stuck. And I see those people go into depression, bitterness, rage, resentment.

You have to be childLIKE in the pursuit of your life but you cannot be childish. 

And this is a really big difference.

Childlike means walking into the world with wide-open wonder and being open and letting go of bitterness, ready to be taught, ready to be amazed. That's childlike.

Childish means I want it and I should have it and I don't like the way this turned out, it's not fair, and I'm going to have a temper tantrum now. Nothing ever goes my way, I didn't grow up in the right family, I don't have the right tools, I didn't get to go to the right school, nobody likes me, I quit. Just because I want it I should have it.

That's child-ISH.

You have to separate those things. I believe you can be childlike and mature at the same time.

And being mature means looking after yourself in the real world in a real way.

(See the full interview here:)

Monday, September 30, 2019

You are allowed to leave, by Erynn Brook (@ErynnBrook)

This wonderful thread from Erynn Brook on Twitter was so important that I have to reshare. (Thank you, Erynn!!)


From @ErynnBrook:

I want to tell you a story about how my mum taught me that I'm allowed to leave an uncomfortable situation.

I was maybe 7, I think it was my first sleepover at someone else's house. I don't remember the girl's name. But before I left Mum told me that if I was uncomfortable at any point, for any reason, even if it was in the middle of the night, I could call her.

She was very clear. She said even if her parents have gone to bed I want you to knock on their bedroom door and ask to use the phone. I could call her even if it was late. And if her parents didn't answer the door to just go find the phone and call her anyway.

She said it doesn't matter what time it is, you won't be in trouble and I'll come get you.

I think I was being teased about something. It definitely wasn't just I can't sleep, there was something social going on. But that's what I did.

The girl's mom tried to discourage me. She said it was late, I said my mum didn't care. She said I could sleep on the couch. I said I wanted to go home. She said I was upsetting her daughter, I said she was mean to me.

I remember holding the phone and my mum answered. I said, "hi Mum." She said "you want me to come get you?" I said "yes please." She said "ask her Mum to help you pack up your things and get your coat on. I'll be right there."

And my mum showed up on her doorstep in pajama pants and a coat. The girl's mum kept apologizing for me calling, my mum put up a hand and said "don't apologize for my daughter. I want her to know she's allowed to leave and I'll be there for her at any time."

I remember the little crowd of sleepover girls huddled in the far doorway that led to the bedrooms, watching all of this confused and silent. And I remember that mom apologizing. She didn't seem to know what to say after my mum asked her to stop.

I had more incidents like that as I grew up. My mum did a lot around boundaries with me. I remember her marching me down the street to another girl's house to ask for an apology in front of her parents.

I remember her telling 3 friends to sit in the front room with their bags packed while they waited for their parents to come get them, after I had told them all to "get out of my house" for teasing me and bullying me.

I remember her coaching me through a speech on how to resign and leave from a hostile work environment when I was in the middle of nowhere at a camp for the summer, and she offered money to get a cab to pick me and my friends up.

I can't say I've always followed my gut on boundaries and discomfort. I can't say I've never swallowed it in order to make others comfortable. But I can say what she taught me was important. It was and still is radical.

It's radical to have boundaries. And to exercise them. Three things I think were really really important in what she did:
1. She always explicitly said "you can leave if you want to."
2. She never questioned why, or whether I was overreacting.
3. She showed up.

But I think a lot about the girls mum apologizing and how... that's the norm, actually. What my mum taught me was radical, what that girl's mum was teaching was the norm. "Just deal with it, don't trouble anyone, go back to sleep, it'll be over soon, don't ruin it."

And I still get that message from a lot of places. But my mum taught me that I'm allowed to leave.

I see what a privilege that is as an adult. For some people, for some situations, there is no way out. But sometimes, also, we don't leave because we think we're not allowed.

So, just in case no one ever told you (or you need a reminder): YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LEAVE.

You can leave a date, a party, a job, a meeting, a commitment. You are allowed. If you're worried about keeping your word remember that your boundaries are also your word, your integrity.

I wanted to tell this story because the message to stay to make others comfortable is so pervasive, that without actively teaching me that I'm allowed to leave, that's what I would've absorbed.

Hell, I absorbed a lot of it anyway. As an adult, at that camp job, I remember her on the phone saying "what do you want to do?" And not knowing, until she said "do you want to leave?" And I said "can I?" She said "You can always leave. What do you need so you can leave?"
So, if you're a person like me, who was taught that you're allowed to leave, keep an eye out for those who weren't. They may need the reminder. They may need to hear that it's okay. They may need help. And keep telling yourself that you are allowed. You're allowed to leave.

. . .

See full Twitter thread with comments and followup here: 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Wild Woman, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

"Within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. Her name is Wild Woman, but she is an endangered species. Though the gifts of wildish nature come to us at birth, society's attempt to "civilize" us into rigid roles has plundered this treasure, and muffled the deep, life-giving messages of our own souls. Without Wild Woman, we become over-domesticated, fearful, uncreative, trapped." Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Friday, July 5, 2019

We need your voices, by Heidi N. Moore (@moorehn on Twitter)

"Ladies: I spend a good portion of the day on this website reading your amazing tweets and asking you "have you written about that?" There are so many thoughts and ideas and life experiences from women that never get told, we have no real way to recognize each other. Pls write it.

"As an editor I saw dudes submit daily and women submit their writing only when it's the very best they can do. But here you all are underestimating your voices and experiences and abilities by putting ideas in a tweet what could be, at min an essay. Hope more of you write it out.

"I do this too, I recognize. But this is about YOU right now lol. In my standard pep-talk speech to women's groups I always note that we all recognize what an ideal successful man looks like; none of us can picture an ideal successful woman. It's about representing our ideas.

"And the biographical details have value -- have you ever seen the relief on women's faces when they realize they're struggling with the same thing? -- but I am VERY INTO seeing more women as Public Intellectuals as well. Memoirs *as well as* challenging ideas and humor.

"This TED talk brought to you by some deeply awesome tweets from ladies today, that make me want to know SO MUCH MORE. And if I do, so do others. Women demur all the time that it's not interesting enough. Is it better if the men publish constantly? Why NOT you?

"This is also a way of healing, not just emotions but also ideas. The thing is, I'm here because I learn dialectically --thru conversation with ppl and ideas. You're probably the same. Where's our history to discuss? When we don't discuss our thoughts we rob our lives of context.

"I just...we live our lives as women without witnesses. We need to witness for ourselves and others. *We* are also the ancestors.

Heidi N. Moore
@moorehn on Twitter

Monday, June 10, 2019

On mercy (and perfectionism) by Elizabeth Gilbert

"I absolutely failed at being the perfect caregiver for Rayya when she was sick and dying. As soon as she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I decided that it was my job to take care of her, and I intended to do it with excellence, honor, patience, skill, spirituality, grace, and unconditional love. I decided that being the perfect caregiver to Rayya was my soul's mission and the entire purpose of my life. Well, friends: I failed at it. Again and again, I failed. I was overcome by exhaustion, by my own grief, by anger at her for being an uncooperative and ungrateful patient, by resentment of anyone who disagreed with me about her care, by anger at God for letting her die. I fell apart. I fell short. I was humbled by the realization that other people were better at taking care of her than I was. My ego was shattered and my heart was broken when sometimes she chose other people to be with in her vulnerability, because they were better at comforting her than I was. Because they didn't need anything from her, the way that I did. By the end, I got so fragile, I became somebody who other people had to take care of, because I was such a wreck. So I failed at being Florence Nightingale. I failed at being an angel. And right before she died, I apologized to Rayya that I had not been better at y "job" of taking care of her. That's when she told me that I had it all wrong. My job on this earth was never to become a perfect caregiver. or a perfect anything. My job on this earth (according to Rayya in her last days) has only ever been to learn how to find mercy for myself. Mercy for the difficult -- sometimes impossible -- dilemma of being human. So for anyone out there today who is "failing" at being the perfect caregiver, the perfect mother, the perfect wife, the perfect friend... please drop the knife you are holding at your own throat. It was never your job to be the perfect ANYTHING. Your only job is to find mercy - starting with you. Again and again and again. I love you all. .... Be gentle to you."

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Improbable Apiary by Maya Owen

after Kaveh Akbar

Four bees were found in a woman's eye,
surviving by drinking her tears. They say grief

is good protein. I could not make this up.
And why act surprised? The universe

has already written the poem you were going
to write. Then it winks like this

at your efforts to pollinate anything
with your melancholy, its sticky black legs.

My sister calls. She's heard it too,
it's as we suspected: a woman

is one kind of apiary. Today the world
seems full of them, small and improbable:

this poem, for one.
Well aren't there bees in it?

Soon, I'm convinced, my doctors will notice
the noise of their wings, the veins

clogged with honey—the whole hive
I've harboured, and who've

been making a meal
of my heart.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

We have our outlook on getting older 100% wrong. It's actually pretty awesome.

"Hey man, I just turned 50 and I hope you don't mind if I throw out a bit of a secret. It turns out that we have our outlook on getting older 100% wrong. It's actually pretty awesome. Not that being in your mid 20s is a bad thing, but I wouldn't go back to it if you paid me. You have no idea how much better things can get.

"I'm for sure not as pretty as I used to be, but I have seen so much more and done so much between then and now. I know who I am, and I know that we never stop changing and growing. And that is powerful.

"Remember when you were a kid, and you would skin your knee playing and would go around showing off the scab with a weird sort of pride? That's what getting older is really like. You wont be the fresh young hero forever, but becoming the grey-beard is pretty sweet.

"Look at the picture. Do they look sad? They know something."

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Mother Earth

And the Great Mother said:

Come my child and give me all that you are.
I am not afraid of your strength and darkness, of your fear and pain.
Give me your tears. They will be my rushing rivers and roaring oceans.
Give me your rage. It will erupt into my molten volcanoes and rolling thunder.
Give me your tired spirit. I will lay it to rest in my soft meadows.
Give me your hopes and dreams. I will plant a field of sunflowers and arch rainbows in the sky.
You are not too much for me. My arms and heart welcome your true fullness.
There is room in my world for all of you, all that you are.
I will cradle you in the boughs of my ancient redwoods and the valleys of my gentle rolling hills.
My soft winds will sing you lullabies and soothe your burdened heart.
Release your deep pain. You are not alone and you have never been alone.

Linda Reuther, from Homecoming

Creation by Sergio Velasquez

Friday, March 8, 2019

(Mostly) Free Training Online: list of links & resources






Multi-media / Photography / Visual Arts


Project Management


Professional Associations and Forums

User Groups for UX / Design Thinking:

Mailing Lists

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Getting caught up in complexity science (summary of a workshop offered by the OPM Lab)

Yesterday a colleague and I went into downtown DC to a workshop on Complexity Science offered by the OPM Lab. (They may offer it again so keep an eye on their calendar!

What is complexity science?

Complexity science is a relatively new approach to studying complex systems and problems that are unpredictable, ever-changing and consist of multiple interconnected parts. The relationships the parts have to each other end up being the complex component to study.

Older approaches have included the tantalizing idea that if we could only accumulate enough information about how individual pieces of a system work, then we can predict how it will go when put together. This reductionist, simplistic view might work for dissecting a car engine but doesn’t apply to social systems, societies, economies, and the myriad other complicated structures we live within today. 

Think about the institution of marriage, for example. Understanding individual human behavior is one entire realm and two together (or a family!) is an entirely different one. It’s the relationship the parts have that make up the complex entity.

Part 1: mental models and paradigms

Throughout history, people have constantly sought to understand the world around them by constructing models. It’s how we make sense of the world, how we organize and take in information, and how we take action. It’s also a filter on the data we take in. The models may not necessarily be right or wrong, but they’re almost always limited. 

For example, this metro map:

Are the tracks really that parallel? No. Is it to scale? Nope. But it’s useful. That’s the purpose of having models, for utility. But we have to remember that they’re often simplifications of the real system.
“Our lives are organized by models. Once we have a model of something, the answers/decisions we come to are shaped by that model, and all models are wrong  - otherwise they wouldn’t be models. So having multiple models to look at a problem is critical.” Roger L. Martin (@RogerLMartin)
The trouble with constructing a mental model of how things work is that when data contradicts what what we believe, it can be easy to dismiss. Humans can be so focused on one aspect they miss what might have been obvious if they hadn’t narrowed their view.

For example, if you follow the below test (1:21) to see how many times players in white shirts pass the ball:

You can miss that a gorilla (suited person, that is) marched right in and walked through the whole

Knowing how easy it can be to miss the obvious can help us offset this part of human nature.

What is a paradigm?

A paradigm is a shared or collective mental model. It can be quasi-metaphysical, almost like religion. The assumptions held are almost locked into place. 

People begin solving problems from within paradigms which can be faulty because the starting ground influences the questions we ask and good problem-solving starts with understanding and framing the problem, which can only be done when we begin to recognize held assumptions. 

For example, assuming outspoken folks represent a whole group when asking, “Does anyone have any questions?” Or assuming that no one had any questions because no one speaks up. That may be true but it may also be possible that some individuals didn’t feel comfortable speaking up. And solving the problem of how to encourage more to add input can be tricky because maybe there is a singular cause or maybe multiple factors relating to the work environment, personality, history, relationships with others in the room, or even the kind of day someone is having. 

If the paradigm or model isn’t 100% correct (but still useful) we can build data points that end up not fitting and requiring a whole new model. For example, in Copernicus’ time, the view then was that the earth was the center of the universe. When data began to contradict that (as technology grew and gave us better data), it became harder and harder to ignore that it was insufficient. It eventually gave way to the heliocentric model we have today that the earth revolves around the sun. (But don’t ask today’s flat earthers what they think!)

When paradigms shift, they can shift quickly. For example, the below photo looks either like a rabbit or a duck. Once you can see both, you can switch back & forth fairly easily. But it’s an effort to switch at first.

As our knowledge of physical systems increases, it was tempting to think we could increasingly predict and control human systems. To imagine that if we just had enough knowledge, we could predict order. This deterministic view doesn’t work in real life. But it’s compelling. People appreciate order and rationality.

Order brought great benefits during the industrial age but the belief that more order is better and that some sort of final new order could be constructed and locked into place doesn’t fit for complicated individuals living in a complicated society.

Part 2: What do we mean when we talk about complexity?

Complexity has:
  • Emergent behavior 
  • a property held by the collective which is NOT held by individual 
  • no central control
  • each individual follows a very simple rule set
Have you seen the clouds of starlings gracing our skies every fall like schools of fish, darting this way and that? They’re captivating. The phenomenon is called a “murmuration” and the behavior looks very complex. In reality, each starling is following simple rules involving their seven closest neighbors where they respond to rate of speed and distance (among other factors). The effect this has on the entire group is its own complex, observable phenomenon. That is complexity.

  • Interdependence of the parts 
    • Things that are connected and depend on each other, like plants relying on fungus, bacteria, and animals to live.
The relationship between the parts that give rise to the collective behaviors of a system and how this system interacts and forms relationships with its environment is the object of study.

In user experience, designers (not necessarily graphic designers, which is what we usually think about when we hear the label “designer” but can also include the field of problem solving by design) divine what’s complex in order to make a system or process less complicated for the end user. It takes a lot of work to simplify the complex and requires multiple models to effectively problem-solve.

Part 3: key aspects of complexity for designers

The more complex or variable something is, the less quickly or easily it can be achieved on a mass scale. This is also known as a “coherent behavior” in the field but basically describes the limitations that exist in problem-solving. For example, the Model T Ford was achieved on a mass scale but it wasn’t possible to have customized colors. There are always limitations. It’s like the old saying, “Quality, speed, price: pick any two.” Scale and speed are inversely proportionate.

Things that affect scalability are constrictions on resources, like not having enough staff, time, or money. For example, applying design thinking to a communities which needed better healthcare meant redesigning the process. If providers could triage groups and branch those with simpler issues like colds or flu to a nurse practitioner, it provided more time for docs to see those with more complicated problems. (Healthcare is a great example of a complex problem because while this simple solution is useful, it doesn’t address or fix everything.)

There is a law in complexity science which describes how a system needs to be able to respond to the complexity in each of its variables or it can be disrupted. This is known as Ashby’s law of requisite variety. The world is full of disruptive technology and processes and systems and we face many opportunities to deconstruct insufficient models in order to more effectively problem-solve. 

Part 4: where Human-Centered Design fits in

A good designer is also a field ethnographer. They go out into the world and observe what they see rather than starting blindly with assumptions. Their job is to collect data and construct meaning. The broader their understanding through multiple data points, the better the ability to problem-solve. When they see outliers in data points, they don’t dismiss them. They wonder if there’s something deeper that needs to be understood. They ask more questions.

You may have heard the terms “waterfall” and “agile” before? They’re approaches to problem solving.
  • Waterfall approach: This is the old-fashioned way. It takes the info at hand to design a solution and then delivers results. It is a modernist, reductionist approach and doesn’t encompass the reality that all the limitations cannot be known in advance.
  • Agile approach: This is a newer approach and involves smaller steps, continuously developing prototypes and refining along the way. This allows failure to occur at a smaller level and reduces the amount of resources invested. (It’s a useful methodology not just for systems but life: for example, learning we cannot accommodate three cheeseburgers at lunch! Adjust quantity before we cater our next family event. :)
It’s crucial to spend a lot of time defining and framing the problem. Breakthrough innovation is about seeing old problems in new ways and effective problem definition avoids wasting resources on solving the wrong problems and expands the range of possible solutions.

Want to learn more?

For more information: 


Workshop description from OPM:

Get Caught Up in Complexity (Science) at the Lab at OPM
By Garth Jensen, Director of Innovation at the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

What is Complexity Science?

Complexity Science is a field focused on studying how the network of relationships among the elements of a system influence the behavior of those elements, the system itself, and the surrounding ecosystem. These behaviors cannot be discerned by studying the elements separately, regardless of how detailed that study might be. Complexity Science provides tools that assist in thinking about, describing, modeling, and assessing these elements and relationships.

Why Study Complexity?

Federal Government agencies are complex adaptive systems, operating at different scales, and deal with complex problems every day at different scales. Yet, there is little awareness and understanding of complexity, and how that science might apply to our organizational designs, issues, plans, operations, policies, and practices.

As a result, we tend to get stuck in a linear, mechanistic, reductionist paradigm, producing results that address only surface symptoms, create unintended consequences, or make the original problem worse. This lack of understanding of complexity has a profound effect on our organizational agility and our ability to keep pace in a rapidly changing world.

This prototype workshop will:
  • Provide attendees an with overview of complexity;
  • Use tools for intuitively thinking about and learning to recognize complexity in real life, and;
  • Enable participants to synthesize workshop activities and themes together to consider how one might practice design differently based on these insights.

Garth Jensen is the Director for Innovation at the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Mr. Jensen is responsible for initiating, designing, prototyping, assessing, and scaling cultural interventions that create and sustain a culture of innovation. Mr. Jensen was instrumental in creating, piloting and implementing mmowgli(Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet), a crowdsourcing and gamification used regularly to harvest fresh insight from it’s more than 16,000 players worldwide.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Your real job: if you are free, free others. If you have power, empower others

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.'"

~Toni Morrison

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

From the book "Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World," by Cal Newport

“I think the reason why the minimalists rediscover some type of real meaning in old-fashioned book reading is because it puts you into this longform content-consumption mode. You’re actually diving deep into a world or an idea and spending sustained time there. If you’re reading nonfiction, you’re building up a new mental schema of new ideas. If you’re reading fiction, you’re simulating the world in your brain, you’re putting yourself into the mind of the character, you’re going to take on these different roles … these are all demanding and satisfying cognitive activities that feel very different than the experience of getting these quick hits of algorithmically generated information that you might have on the typical web surfing or social media session. You’re jumping from tweet to tweet to article. There’s such a contrast between spending two hours with a novel or a hard nonfiction book and spending two hours surfing.”

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World


Monday, January 28, 2019

"We stop and ask ourselves if we are saying what we truly want to say right now." (On the creative process, by Cary Tennis)

"I hope this is 'good writing.' But mainly I care that I do not feel like a liar. So that is one way of changing course. We stop and ask ourselves if we are saying what we truly want to say right now. We ask ourselves if we are boring. We ask ourselves if we feel alive. This is true in painting and performance and music. Am I playing with feeling? Does this color or stroke have any meaning for me? Am I likely to cry while playing this song? Am I paying attention? Am I inside the song? Do I care? What is my heart doing?"

~Cary Tennis

Sunday, January 27, 2019

How to nurture the creative process, by Mary Oliver (in an interview)

MS. OLIVER: "Discipline is very important... We have to have an appointment... because the creative part of us gets tired of waiting or just gets tired. It’s helped a lot of students, young poets doing that, to have that meeting with that part of oneself."

MS. TIPPETT: "When you write about that — the discipline that creates space for something quite mysterious to happen. You talk about that “wild, silky part of ourselves.” You talk about the “part of the psyche that works in concert with consciousness and supplies a necessary part of the poem — a heart of the star as opposed to the shape of the star, let us say — exists in a mysterious, unmapped zone: not unconscious, not subconscious, but cautious... you say — you promise — it learns quickly what sort of courtship it’s going to be. You’re saying that the writer has to be kind of in courtship with this essential, but elusive, cautious, as you say, cautious part. And that if you turn up every day, it will learn to trust you.... This is a very practical way about talking about... the creative process."

Interview referencing Mary Oliver's Poetry Handbook.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The life of everyone is meant to be one story but we end up writing another

"It has been said that the life of everyone is a diary in which they mean to write one story, but proceed to write another. Their humblest hour is when they compare the book as it is, with what they had hoped to make it."

~James Matthew Barrie

Friday, January 25, 2019

Suffering breeds suffering (try to understand this if you've been hurt)

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That's the message he is sending.”

~Thích Nhất Hạnh

Thursday, January 24, 2019

We are afraid to show our true selves. (From James Altucher)

"We all are afraid to show our true selves. Society doesn’t allow it.

"But the universe doesn’t want us to be afraid. The universe needs to know what it’s like to stalk, to cry, to be angry,  to be afraid, to be anxious, to cut ethical corners, to be mortal and to inflict that mortality on others. To be sick from all sorts of diseases. To be envious and jealous. To be ugly. Uglier than other people could’ve thought possible.

"The universe wants to learn how we recover  from our own particular ugliness. Who is the Beast and who is the Prince? Who recovers and who doesn’t? We find out for ourselves in our greatest tests.

"And then sometimes we have to take that test again and we think, “What the hell! I just took this test. Why am I going through it again?” And we have to learn why. We have to understand why we get into the failed relationships we do. The bankrupt businesses. The friendships that take us from the first circle of hell deeper into the fifth circle of hell.

"Revealing them is just being honest. Why hide them? Don’t hurt anyone. But there’s no need to wear the costume anymore. The ball is over. Cinderella has lost her shoe. Her carriage has turned back into a pumpkin. Her beautiful dress is filled with holes. Her  chauffeur is a mouse. It’s only fully revealed that she can find her prince. It’s only fully revealed that Cinderella is at her most beautiful moment.....

"Don’t use words like “reveal” and “recover”. You are not a thief, slinking around the righteous people all around you. You are blazing with the fire of truth. That fire will scare some people. But ultimately it will light up the sky and help you see all of the vast undiscovered planet that you have ignored for so many years when it was covered up by the darkness and the masks."
James Altucher

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

We are not owned by solitary experiences

"We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.

"I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography - to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience."

~Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"If you could tell students one bit of career advice, what would it be?"

"Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ― Howard Thurman

(This is so true because people end up being good at the things they are passionate about, or whatever makes them come alive, because they spend time on them. And with time comes skill, and mad skills are in demand.)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Nobody ever hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy when you're an artist. (By Amanda Palmer)

"When you're an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand."

~Amanda Palmer

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Reality is... (truth... which is belief... which is what is perceived... which is what we look for... which depends on what we think...)

"Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality."

~David Bohm

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Part of the problem with the word 'disabilities'..." by Mr. Rogers

"Part of the problem with the word 'disabilities' is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can't feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren't able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities."

~ Mr. Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Creativity is a path for the brave but not the fearless (by Elizabeth Gilbert)

Photo by B. Hiner
"Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it's important to recognize the distinction.

...If your goal in life is to become fearless, then I believe you're already on the wrong path, because the only truly fearless people I've ever met were straight-up sociopaths and a few exceptionally reckless three-year-olds – and those aren't good role models for anyone.

While the paths and outcomes of creative living will vary wildly from person to person, I can guarantee you this: A creative life is an amplified life. It's a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.

Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself."

~Elizabeth Gilbert

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The acquisition of knowledge doesn't mean you're growing.

"The acquisition of knowledge doesn't mean you're growing. Growing happens when what you know changes how you live."
~Marc Chernoff

Monday, January 7, 2019

How to cancel an iTunes subscription (how to access, etc.)

How to cancel a subscription such as HBO Now, etc. on iPhone or iPad
  1. Tap Settings. 
  2. Tap iTunes & App Store.
  3. Tap your Apple ID.
  4. Tap View Apple ID.
  5. Type your Apple ID password.
  6. Tap OK.
  7. Tap Manage under Subscriptions.
  8. Tap the subscription (e.g.: HBO Now subscription) and cancel.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The truth about feelings

"What I often encounter in my work, is that people try to have different feelings than they do. They say "I want to feel happy" or "I want to feel comfortable with my body" or "I don't want to be scared anymore". It's often hard to give up on the aim to have or don't have a certain feeling.

Feelings are never stable. Our feelings change every few seconds. We can't control what's going to happen next and which feelings will result from whatever happens. To have this goal of having a certain feeling is not a very achievable goal.

Instead I recommend this way of viewing feelings: the feeling is never the problem. The problem isn't that you're scared or uncomfortable or unhappy. That's not the problem. The problem is that your needs aren't met. It's good that you have those feelings, but you need to make sure to not stop at the feeling, but connect to what your need is that creates the feeling. Imagine a world where you can't feel the feeling hunger. You'd never know that or when the body needs food. You'd starve and not even know it.

It's good that you have those uncomfortable feelings. They tell you that your needs aren't met. The problem is that in our culture, you're not at all trained to connect your feelings with needs. Most of us don't know what we need. So what we're trying to do is to change our feelings. That can only work short term. Instead,  look for your need and find a way to meet your need. That's what will make a difference."

~Marshall Rosenberg, Founder, Center of Nonviolent Communication

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Funny Latin phrases

Furnulum pani nolo - I don't want a toaster

Nonne de novo eboraco venis? - You're from New York, aren't you?

Nonne macescis? - Have you lost weight?

Quod foetet? - What's that bad smell?

Quomodo cogis comas tuas sic videri? - How do you get your hair to do that?

Re vera, potas bene - Say, you sure are drinking a lot

Sic friatur crustum dulce - That's the way the cookie crumbles

Subucula tua apparet - Your slip is showing

On having the courage to be yourself (by Eleanor Roosevelt)

"It's your life -- but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being."

Eleanor Roosevelt

(One of the top regrets listed by the dying is not having the courage to be more yourself because it sometimes goes against what other people want or expect you to be. Live your life for you.💕)

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