Monthly Archives: January 2009

Survival Guide

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, offers ten rules for ‘surviving an unpredictable world with dignity.’ Thanks to Times Online via BoingBoing for the link.

Taleb’s top life tips

1 Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.

2 Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.

3 It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.

4 Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.

5 Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.

6 Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error — by mastering the error part.

7 Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’).

8 Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants… or (again) parties.

9 Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.

10 Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.




Terraforming: Bring a Sporting Dog

Reader ASR knows where I live. Verne’s ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ (1865) is still a great read:

After a prolonged discussion, it was agreed that the travelers should restrict themselves to a sporting-dog belonging to Nicholl, and to a large Newfoundland. Several packets of seeds were also included among the necessaries. Michel Ardan, indeed, was anxious to add some sacks full of earth to sow them in; as it was, he took a dozen shrubs carefully wrapped up in straw to plant in the moon.

Creativity and Hard Times

Paul Bennett of IDEO is quoted on C&BinetForum.

Important message for all of us looking at the mess that is the market:

I have this crazy theory that when we die, heaven looks like YouTube.

By which I mean that heaven is made up of lots and lots of our collective dreams and hopes and memories, deeply personal ones, a multitude of tiny stories floating on a bright white background. Made by the people that are starring in them, with one collective goal. To be seen. And to be heard and to listen to each other. To share.

Creativity, in its purest form, is also about sharing. It is vast, expansive. It is generative and regenerative, personal, emotive, and above all, optimistic. The majority of people putting themselves out there on YouTube and the like are not looking for the one thing that many business people think (or perhaps hope) they are looking for, which is money. They are looking for something much more powerful – to contribute.

I’m also going to say this: I am so bored with cynicism. Designers (and I mean that in the loosest possible sense, not just people like me who went to college to learn design) are fundamentally optimistic creatures, always looking to turn something over, to examine it from another angle, to get excited by making something new, something real, something personal, something positive. Design today is not about the lone genius in the atelier either; it is highly collaborative, a team sport. In tough times, which no-one would argue we are in right now, designing our way out requires two fundamental things – the collective sense of optimism that we can, and the need to do it together.

Bringing the “C” and the “B” of c&binet together, the question we need to ask ourselves today is this: what can business learn from this kind of creativity? I have the sense that many companies are approaching this backwards, saying to themselves: “How do we make our slice of the pie bigger?“ or the usual: “How do we protect ourselves from people stealing our stuff?“ when actually much better questions to ask are: “How do we enable people to contribute?“ and “How do we make the pie bigger for everyone?“

One thing that the YouTubes and Facebooks of the world are showing us is that people want to collect together under whatever banner that they can, share ideas and dreams, and above all, help. What business needs to do is to give them the tools to create and the forums to share. Putting something out there and not knowing what you’re going to get back is the new way forward.

Take Google for example – they keep on giving stuff away from free (mapping, healthcare, services, mail, who knows what next) when they could definitely charge heaps for it, but their generosity pays back in spades when people adapt, share and ultimately pay for their product through other means. Not having an expectation of an exchange engenders one happening, or put more simply, doing good begets doing good. The emotional payback is huge, and their bank balance isn’t bad either.

So here’s my call to action, and the reason why I joined this whole discussion in the first place. I dare you all out there to do the thing that seems most difficult to do right now. Not to panic, tighten, restrain or, worse, look for the magic silver bullet that is going to make you loads of money and solve all your problems in one fell swoop. But to allow collective wisdom to prevail, give something away, and see what you get in return. Assume you do not have to be the sole person answering your problem. Ask everyone, see what you get back. They want to help, to create, to contribute. Make the pie bigger, and your slice will follow.

And above all, be optimistic. I am.


lancelotLancelot Encore
Lancelot Encore can’t replace Lancelot, a labrador owned by Edgar and Nina Otto of West Boca, Florida. But they were willing to give BioArts International (and researcher Dr. Hwang Woo-suk) $150K to produce the nation’s first single-birth dog clone. When Lancelot received a cancer diagnosis, genetic material was taken from him and implanted in a host egg (from a Korean breed similar to a Labrador). Implant the egg in a surrogate mother and, voila, miracles!

Edgar and Nina say he’s just like Lancelot, having already assumed his alpha-male place in the Otto menagerie of ten dogs, six sheep, and four parrots.
ottosOttos, Encore and the late lamented
Thanks to Gizmodo for the canine update.

The Winter of our Discontent

It has come to this. From the sexual revolution to Friar Tuck in one generation. Plus you get a reading light notable for its reliable and repeatable erections.

Snuggie. It’ll get you through the bad times.

Special thanks to ASR for the tip on emerging trends.

Hub Fans Bid Rabbit Adieu

ted-williamsTed Williams
In marking the death of John Updike, The Boston Globe republishes two terrific pieces. The first, a Bob Ryan column printed last September, is a reminiscence of a simpler time, September, 1960 to be exact, when a 28-year-old was among 10,000 odd persons who went to Fenway Park to watch Ted Williams play in his last game.
That 28-year-old was John Updike, and the upshot was “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” published in the October 22, 1960 issue of the New Yorker and the second piece provided by the Globe.

The essay is by a young writer in full, brave and measured, delicious and affecting. Especially if you have any feeling for what goes on inside what Updike calls a “compromise between Man’s Euclidian determinations and Nature’s beguiling irregularities.”

Thanks to reader JC for awakening my nostalgia.