Recovering evil genius.


I gave a talk the other day


The stitches have been pulled out - the little nylon bits just tugged from my skin in about a minute, and that was it. The scar is healing at a miraculous pace, which is no surprise, because we so often forget that the healing powers of the body is wondrous in itself. 

I didn’t set out to make a short film about this experience,but then again, I instinctively capture moments of my life because I am so aware of how fleeting time is. The other day I realized I had enough to craft a story, and so I did. I need to remember this. To play it before I head to bed every once and awhile when I’m out on the west coast and my family is snuggled in bed in Chicago and New York. When I feel a little sad or rejected in some way. When I need a reminder of how much love surrounds me in this life. I am so thankful for this reminder. 

This journey has been nothing like so many people that I know, or that have come forward to share their C-word story since this began. These two people for instance, are an example that the C-word can strike anyone at anytime in any place - and if I have learned anything from observation, it is that there is no rhyme or reason to any of it. (Please pray for them by the way). My prognosis was excellent, and on the C-word scale, it’s the best you can get. That’s why this whole experience turned out not to be about the C-word, but more about the journey and ultimately, so many lessons for life.

This is not a story that should scare people. It’s just an experience in which I was taken from my energetic and high speed job, only to be placed exactly where I was when I grew up. Home. The power of home, and the power of family. The power of friends and the power of love. The things that even me, sometimes forgot as I sped through deadlines and meetings.

I was lucky enough to get the grace of this reminder. We all know that we are all going to have chapters that come up, and some will be hard and some will be joyful, and we know that is life. My hope is that we don’t need a diagnosis to remember these things, and I know now that they are emblazoned deep in my heart and my mind.

Thank you for everyone who was there both in mind, prayer, and presence during this whole experience. I felt every ounce of it. It was there with me every second of the way. This world is full of so much grace, love, courage, strength and I have learned that humans in general are beyond the most passionate, caring, and magnificent creatures on this earth - no matter what the television says. 

Thank you for sharing in this with me, and may you realize every day the love that surrounds you in this life. It won’t let you fail, it won’t let you down, and ultimately, it will be there - no matter what your journey holds.

Priceonomics Blog: The Tyranny of the Taxi Medallions 



The life of a taxi driver is hard. When cabbies start a shift, they owe about $100 to their company as payment just for the opportunity drive a taxi. They might not break even until halfway through their shift, or maybe not at all that day. In most American cities, they have to work very…

Changemakrs Team Blog: A Beard Makes You a Better Entrepreneur 


From Beard to Better

Unusual techniques for inspiring success are common in Silicon Valley, and I know you know what I’m talking about. From standing desks to abolishing email, startup mansions to paid Burning Man trips, the Valley has seen it all. But I’ve recently discovered another source of…

Changemakrs Team Blog: Never Underestimate a User's Feature Request 



Rethinking how we approach pagination started with a good friend bugging us to make the paging of quotes via ajax. Now, it’s not that this feature wasn’t already on our todo list. We didn’t prioritize it very high because we’d thought this would be more of an aesthetic…

The Assumption Pile

People like to approach product design from looking at successful products already out there. Let’s take everybody’s favorite example…the iPhone.

The iPhone is the cream of the pie… not just in the mobile industry but basically across all industries. It is redefining how consumer products should be - beautiful, simple, elegant and inspiring!

So everybody… especially a lot of people in the startup world, started to approach product design with the aim to create the iPhone of their industry. Something that is beautiful, simple, blah, blah, blah from day one. And to do so, they start piling up assumptions. 

First assumption is usually the core idea, let’s say socks for fish.

So you want to create and market socks for fish, great idea! But hey, how about those socks having different themes…”seasons” yeah, seasons are great…people love that. And oh… how about auto sharing on Facebook so every time you put them on, your friends will know about it too… awesome! And talking about socks for fish, we should also think about hand gloves… it just makes sense. This is going to be huge! We can ship it all together because hey, “more is better”, right!?

So 12 months and lots of ideas added to the core product later u ship…yeah!!!

But hmmm… what happened? It turns out reaching out to fish is really hard. I mean they live in the ocean and they are not on the freakin internet. You wonder what is wrong with these guys? It’s like they have been living on the moon or something!?! But hey, we got brains right so this can be fixed. It turns out some humans have fishes as pets. Oh man that’s huge… the pets market, it’s taking over the (pet) world time. But, somehow this still is not taking off as it should. Socks for fishes by itself are probably not viral enough… that’s it. But what if we would add an invite your friends feature to our socks - kind of like a double sock - everything is better with friends, right!?!

You will probably have already smiled by now…but u know, I have had this talk so many times by now that in the future I will just point people to this blog post.

Let’s continue: what just happened!?!

You started with a core assumption that fish would like to wear socks and instead of at first just testing out that assumption you started adding features. You could have tested the basic assumption within hours but instead you spend months on the iPhone of socks for fish. You wanted it to be perfect! Well that is the issue… Great products are created iterative… proofing on assertion after another. Some teams do that in public, some  behind closed doors. Apple for example started the iPad development in 2001… they built hundreds of tablet prototypes before releasing it to the public in 2010. Thats 9 years of iterating - hundreds of people involved. And they where not just working on tablet computers, but at a lot of other products too that never will see the light of day. That’s just how it is. You have to throw a lot at the wall for something to stick.

Do one step after another. Never try to jump one because you think it’s obvious people will want this and that. Don’t try to solve problems you don’t have yet… because that’s just an assumption!

You know when you found a strong idea when the most simple implementation already makes people want it badly. A good example here is Facebook…Mark build the first prototype and it instantly took off….without cutting edge design or other marketing bells and whistles. Find that “strong” idea…go out there, throw a lot at the wall…it worked for me every time!

And don’t get me wrong…I’m not against brainstorming sessions as long as you say “no” a lot more often then “yes”. 

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A letter to my little Sister

Another one from my old blog:

How is life on the 6th of June 2011 in Passau, Germany?

From San Francisco i can report the following: Its 12:21am and dark outside. We’re having a slight breeze coming from west (like always) with top winds coming from east (like always), which makes the clouds melt into each other (like…you guess it…most of the time…and its beautiful). Sun will go up in about 5h….sooo awesome!

This place is, right now in history, in this universe, one of the few places to be if you are different and feel like to change the world, have an impact and be a part of something! The infidel may disagree, like i did when i was young and a fool.

While you may not be driven by change, I insist you need to come here to see, understand and spread the word that its happening here, right now. damn it! There is no place in this city where people are not creating the stuff that their dreams are made of…its inspiring. They are coming from all over, its a huge diverse melting-pod…latins, asians, africans, americans, europeans, gays, straights, musicians, quantum physicists and rocket scientists. One may be foolish enough to call them goofy because they left every thing they had behind to follow their dreams and do what is widely considered stupid: Trust their guts and hope it will work out somehow!

Being here i can tell you: They are not! They are the people, who not driven by money, but by imagination create what is known as “future”.

This City is the home of those who suffer from being called crazy where they come from. You should see the eyes of those who just arrived, they can’t believe this place really exists…full of liked minded creators who don’t discriminate you because you have no idea how to make that crazy stuff happen you talk about! And you need to see the faces of those who have to leave because their visas run out…yes, it can be sad too!

San Francisco waits for you

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

From my old blog:

Ever heart of that!? Its Parkinson’s Law. A friend pointed me to it. I found it very inspiring and worth sharing with you.

Parkinsons scientific observations, such as the increase in the number of employees at the Colonial Office while Great Britain‘s overseas empire declined (indeed, he shows that the Colonial Office had its greatest number of staff at the point when it was folded into the Foreign Office because of a lack of colonies to administer).

He explains this growth by two forces: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.” He notes in particular that the total of those employed inside a bureaucracy rose by 5-7% per year “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.”

Their are some great Corollaries:

  • Data expands to fill the space available for storage.
  • Storage requirements will increase to meet storage capacity.
  • Nature abhors a vacuum.

In terms of computer executable code filling CPU resource (see software bloat), a similar law is Wirth’s law.

A second aphorism, attributed to Parkinson and sometimes called “Parkinson’s second law”, is “expenditures rise to meet income“.

The Stock-Sanford Corollary to Parkinson’s Law reads, “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.” If a task can expand to fill the time allotted, then conversely, the effort given can be limited by limiting the allotted time, down to a minimum amount of time actually required to complete the task. This phrase is often associated with procrastination.

Parkinson even goes that far to say that: Even if quiting the core tasks of a organisation the administration would still grow!

What does that mean to us!? I would say that it shows how important it is to put up timeframes or deathlines for all of our todo’s! because if not it will take infinite to complete them :)

I would sum it up to this: Limits are the friend of efficiency!

Ideas are fragile

I think it is natural to have the desire to share ideas that one comes up with. You just want to get it out there….talk about it with friends or your team.

I had this too…. but a while ago, I realized that it destroys those ideas for various reasons.

“Ideas are so fragile. It is so easy to miss an idea because they can be so quiet. Or to snuff an idea out.” – Jonathan Ive

The more you talk about an idea the less exciting it will become to yourself, because people will tell you how great it is and that will give you appreciation for something you haven’t even done yet… and why do it if you already got all the kudos!?!

If you start talking about your idea to others they will start giving you feedback… and no matter how great the others are, the result is that your idea will average out… you loose the pureness and rawness. Your arrow suddenly becomes a circle!

So what I started to do is to keep ideas to myself. I started spending a lot of time outside the office in cafes with my sketchbook, putting everything I came up with onto paper…drawing UI mockups, flow charts, database schemas. Coming up with an idea can take a moment, days or even weeks. Yes, it’s really hard to keep your new shiny awesome idea to yourself, but it also forces you to build it ASAP.

It is important to build a prototype… something that works and can be used. Something people can touch and play around with. I usually strip down ideas to the core…so I can build the prototype by myself in the shortest time possible (from 20 minutes to max 12h.) I built http://stevetold.us/ in 20 minutes… Guess what: 1 million users in 48h! To do so it is essential to have your tools and skills ready… you cannot rely on others to help you out with coding, design or anything else! 

A prototype is a great way to share an idea… give it to people and let them play with it. If it’s a website or an app, release it and see if users like it. These kudos will be for real, because you are not just talking about an idea anymore, you are talking about the real thing. It’s there. People can touch it and play around with it. Talk stops being based on assumptions.

Pro-Tip: Sometimes you get stuck on an idea…and even thinking about it for weeks doesn’t help. Thats when I look out for somebody else to talk to about it. You must pick this person with care to ensure you do not get off track. Tell him your idea… just in that raw form that it is in your head. Do a brain dump. Listen to what your peer has to say and get some fresh insights.

Happy creating :)


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