The art of noticing 

comments 2
Tips and Tricks

There is a rich curriculum of life advice compilations out there. From the classics like Life’s Litte Instruction Book, Kevin Kelly’s 103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known which turned into a book, to 100 Tips for a better life. They are often fascinating reads. But they are also often more entertaining than driving actual change.

Yet, they do become educational once you have the experience that brings the wisdom home. “The large print giveth and the small print taketh away” is only relevant once you sign a contract or buy a product to then get disappointed by the fine print. Having those experience matters with those lists, because then they help us notice things, patterns and behaviors and rethink them.  

A while back Tony Fadell gave a TED talk about the secret of design being noticing. His thesis is that great design notices even small annoyances that add up over time. One of his examples was the little sticker on supermarket apples. It’s there to promote the brand. But for most people that sticker is a minor annoyance in a series of many throughout their day.   

The lists of life advice do help us notice things. They spell out what we know, but don’t have the words for yet. They make the implicit explicit and help us put words to feelings. As such it makes sense to read and re-read those lists every now and then. I’ve made thousands of new mistakes since I first read Life’s Litte Instruction Book back at university. Many of those lessons make sense in a way they did not back then.

In that spirit: find a good list or book and put a reminder into your phone to re-read them every few of years. It’s a good cheat code to get better at noticing.   

Amazon warehouse tour

Leave a comment

Amazon warehouses have always been fascinating to me. The sheer scale and thought that goes into the logistics is just mind bending. I remember looking in 2012 at the market for pneumatic tube systems and we discovered a company called Kiva Systems which produced little robots that automate warehouse logistics tasks. Instead of using them as a hardware provider, Amazon bought the whole company for the sole purpose of powering their own warehouses. I guess, when you are big enough it does make sense to buy the whole cow to drink some milk.

I’ve always been fascinated by photos giving an inside peek into Amazon warehouses. Today I discovered that Amazon gives virtual tours and video walkthroughs of their warehouses. Infinitely fascinating. Every video is a little documentary.

Getting things done

Leave a comment

More than twenty years ago a book came out by David Allen called Getting Things Done. For a while it garnered quite a cult following and it resonated with me as well. The framework was accessible as it had lots of helpful. tactical advice that was easy to implement, but it also had a lot of depth. Similar to the old PacMan arcade game: “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master”.

Recently it re-entered my consciousness as the Get Things Done concept popped up twice in short succession, both times taking it literally and turning it into meaningful career advice. First, Andrew Bozworth wrote about it on his blog:

Too often I see someone who is responsible for accomplishing an important goal doing the best they can in the face of immense odds. It may sound counterintuitive, but the mandate of such a job is not to “do the best you can.” It is to get it done. And if the way to get it done is to ask for help, then that’s what you should do. – Get It Done

Then President Obama put it in similar terms:

I’ve seen at every level people who are very good at describing problems, people who are very sophisticated in explaining why something went wrong or why something can’t get fixed, but what I’m always looking for is, no matter how small the problem or how big it is, somebody who says, ‘Let me take care of that.’ If you project an attitude of, whatever it is that’s needed, I can handle it and I can do it, then whoever is running that organization will notice. I promise.

Barack Obama’s career advice

Both times, the concept is so simple, that I feel a bit awkward turning those three words into paragraphs. Similar to PacMan this is easy to learn, but will be meaningful on every level throughout your career: Move something that is not “done” yet and get it into a state that is considered as done. No matter how small or big this is.

Over the course of your career, the “Things” part will likely increase in scope as you gain more expertise and competence. And the tactics you have to employ to get them to “Done” will be likely change from individual contribution to some form of influencing. But the basic will always be the same:

  • Define what “done” looks like
  • Identify a path from “here” to “done”
  • Take ownership to make sure that we get to “done”

There you have it. Decades worth of career advice applicable to all levels and stages in your career, captured in three words: Get Things Done.

Excellence is a habit, but so is failure – Andreas Kling – I like computers!

Leave a comment

I’m a big fan of routines and habits. While they are not a guarantee for outcomes, they do increase the odds and move you closer to where you want to be. This is an interesting reflection by Alexander Kling on habits being a two-way street:

We often hear that making small incremental improvements every day can lead to great things. This popular piece of advice rings true, and it’s a powerful reminder to keep pushing ourselves forward.

But there’s another side to this story that we don’t discuss as often: how incremental neglect and small missteps can accumulate and lead to negative outcomes. Recognizing and addressing these patterns of neglect early can make a significant difference in preventing larger problems down the road.

— Read on



In a world, where generative AI is eating itself and clogging the pipes that once made the world wide web a magical place, Chris Glass’ recent update of his blogroll is a fresh glass of water, served with a swirly straw and a tiny umbrella. It is a reminder that while we all might visit the same 3-5 destinations on the web every day, there are so many tiny websites out there, maintained by people who still believe in the classic values of the open web.

In his own words:

Bored with this timeline? I made a blogroll because everything that happens comes to Cincinnati 10 years later than anywhere else.* *Mark Twain never said this.

Chris Glass

What a wonderful resource: Blogroll (

The three kinds of leverage that anchor effective strategies

Asides / Strategy

Jason Cohen writing on A Smart Bear about one of the fundamental concepts of strategy, durable, differentiated strengths.

“Leverage” means generating a large effect from a relatively small effort, created by riding tailwinds of natural abilities or hard-won assets, rather than fighting a battle for which you are ill-equipped. […] Leveraging strengths is the only way to do great work. (Not “fixing weaknesses.”) Better yet, leveraging differentiated strengths means you beat the competition. Best is when that differentiation is durable over time.

Without leveraging strengths (rather than spending far more energy shoring up a weakness that still won’t be great), the company will not succeed in creating something great. Without leveraging differentiated strengths, the company will not surpass competitors, will have a hard time winning and keeping customers, and will have an even harder time justifying profit-generating prices. Without leveraging durable, differentiated strengths, the company’s success will be short-lived, differentiation will be temporary, and once again it will be reduced to out-spending on marketing or lowering prices until it is unprofitable.

A winning strategy explains which strengths the company will leverage, how it will side-step rather than “attack” its weaknesses, which strengths can be leveraged for differentiated sales today, and which long-term moats the company is constructing.

The three kinds of leverage that anchor effective strategies

Once you understand that a great idea is not a competitive advantage. It’s a bet that the idea is valuable and you’ll be able to execute better than anyone else. But once an idea is proven competitors will try to copy it. Then it becomes a question of whether the idea is actually tied to a strategic advantage that cannot be copied or compensated for. Then, and only then, you have a durable, differentiated strength.

My favorite quote from the article

How do you beat Bobby Fischer? Play him at anything but chess

Warren Buffet

Everything Must Be Paid for Twice


One financial lesson they should teach in school is that most of the things we buy have to be paid for twice. There’s the first price, usually paid in dollars, just to gain possession of the desired thing, whatever it is: a book, a budgeting app, a unicycle, a bundle of kale. But then, in order to make use of the thing, you must also pay a second price. This is the effort and initiative required to gain its benefits, and it can be much higher than the first price.

[…] But no matter how many cool things you acquire, you don’t gain any more time or energy with which to pay their second prices—to use the gym membership, to read the unabridged classics, to make the ukulele sound good—and so their rewards remain unredeemed.

[…] This scarcity feeling creates one of the major side-effects of our insurmountable second-price debt: we reflexively overindulge in entertainment and other low-second-price pleasures –- phone apps, streaming services, and processed food — even though their rewards are often only marginally better than doing nothing.

Everything Must Be Paid for Twice by David Cain

… and then?


Interesting contemplation about how recent advancements in AI will make us all more productive:

You rush through the writing, the researching, the watching, the listening, you’re done with it, you get it behind you — and what is in front of you? … But in the more immediate future: you’re zipping through all these experiences in order to do what, exactly? Listen to another song at double-speed? Produce a bullet-point outline of another post that AI can finish for you? 

The whole attitude seems to be: Let me get through this thing I don’t especially enjoy so I can do another thing just like it, which I won’t enjoy either

and then? – The Homebound Symphony (

The plateau of meh


Most successful careers contain actually quite a few plateaus once observed up close. Wikipedia entries of famous people fascinate me, because they show that their paths are not as clean as one might remember.

There is a variant of the hero’s journey that is often overlooked, because it is far less dramatic and more mundane. One where the hero does not fight the fierce monster or rises up to the insurmountable challenge. Rather, one where the hero just has to endure a slog, has to dig deep to find motivation, has to live with the fact that between epic challenges and glorious victories there are a lot of days where things just go neither right nor wrong.

Pick a random famous person that you admire and look at their Wikipedia entry. You will find stellar achievements at the top, but once you scroll down, you get to the career plateaus where artists fight petty legal battles with prior management, where uninspired albums and movies are released, and where whole seasons are just meaningless struggle. Wikipedia entry often do not gloss over those periods or artificially dramatizes them like a lot of biographies.

Another example is the stock market: Over a period of 20 years, the ten best days make up for more than half of the stock market. That literally means that despite healthy total returns on 99.9% of the days nothing of substance happens or even worse, massive setbacks happen. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict those ten days. The only viable strategy is to play the long game and stay invested in the market, endure the losses with the knowledge that you will make up for it in the long run.

The meta-achievement of any career is making it through those plateaus of utter mundaneness, keep honing your skills, putting yourself out there, increasing the luck-surface-area, being ready for the next meaningful step without knowing when and what it will be. Because one thing is true: If you keep trying and learning, the plateau of meh is temporary.

I was reminded by all of this by Jeffrey Zeldman telling the story of his career in the advertising industry and the messiness behind every success:

The ability to keep coming up with more ads was why this Moses-looking dude had a roomful of shiny trophies, and I did not. If I wanted a career like his, I would have to seek deeply in my soul for the strength and willingness not to give up. Career aside, if I wanted to create meaningful work, I would need to develop the patience and willingness to watch people kill my darlings, and come back with newer, fresher, better darlings. […] But keeping a positive attitude when an idea I’ve fallen in love with gets rejected remains the second most important thing I can do on a daily basis as I practice my current craft. […] The well is never dry. We only run out of ideas when we choose to stop doing the work.

Sticking To It – Automattic Design

Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

The Internet Isn’t Meant To Be So Small


Nice essay by Kelsey McKinney to remind us that the internet has – despite growth and broad adoption – become too small and limiting in recent years. It’s a call to action for us to break out of our echo chambers and embrace the vastness and potential for growth that the internet can offer.

It is worth remembering that the internet wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to be six boring men with too much money creating spaces that no one likes but everyone is forced to use because those men have driven every other form of online existence into the ground. The internet was supposed to have pockets, to have enchanting forests you could stumble into and dark ravines you knew better than to enter. The internet was supposed to be a place of opportunity, not just for profit but for surprise and connection and delight. Instead, like most everything American enterprise has promised held some new dream, it has turned out to be the same old thing—a dream for a few, and something much more confining for everyone else.

Source: The Internet Isn’t Meant To Be So Small | Defector