Levels of Complexity

I saw this video (10 min) a few weeks ago, where a musician plays happy birthday through 16 levels of complexity.

I thought she did a remarkable job of explaining the structure of how to introduce a complex skill:

  • Named, explained, and demonstrated each new level
  • Applied the skill to a simple, well-known piece (“Happy Birthday”)
  • Reminded that synthesizing is personal, and an expression of her own artistic point of view
  • Connected the foundational components to the end goal
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Often, I see people at work asked to teach a complex skill which takes years to master in a few hours time: facilitating a discussion, understanding data, persuading an audience, or leading a change.  I thought this simple video gave good advice on how to introduce and deconstruct something complicated, while still giving space for the audience to enjoy the journey.

Here’s the link.




Remembering Mr. Rogers

I have really enjoyed reading about Fred Rogers this week.

A few recent articles have been inspired by an upcoming movie, A Beautiful Day, which will release in November 2019.   The movie centers on the relationship Mr. Rogers developed with a reporter who profiled him in Esquire.

I grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, but I haven’t thought about what that show meant for a long time.  It’s been fascinating to revisit and learn more about Fred Rogers.

I particularly enjoyed this profile in The Atlanticwhich showed how he would transform a statement into a message for his show.  An elegant example of how to simplify a message, frame it to be positive, remove anything prescriptive or exclusionary, and draw a bridge to why it matters.

Here is the process from the article, which I found fascinating:

  • “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street. ​​​​​​
  • “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.
  • “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, “Ask your parents where it is safe to play.”
  • “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.
  • “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.
  • “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.
  • “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.
  • “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.
  • “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

If you’re more interested in Mr. Rogers lessons for grownups, here is his 2002 commencement speech at Dartmouth, where he gave the gift of a minute of silent gratitude to the entire class.  I also enjoyed this twitter thread, describing how unusual his philosophy and theology really was.

I hope these ideas encourage you.  Have a good week!

Writing Again…

I had taken a pause from this blog for the past few months.

It’s been a crazy time!  We welcomed our third child in February.  Things were busy at home and hectic at work when I returned.  At first, I felt like I didn’t have time.  When I did have something to say, I thought it would be better later, when I could gather my thoughts and be more deliberate.  Then, after a few weeks, not writing became habit, and I felt doubt about returning to share here at all.

At the same time, busy seasons in life are the most important times to write, reflect, and remember.  That’s when growth happens, and we come back to these seasons most often to understand and process the changes.

All that to say I’m going to return to writing and sharing here.

In deciding, I appreciated this quote from The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard, which MacKenzie Bezos shared when she joined the giving pledge:

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book… The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better… Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

May we all share now our worthwhile words, rather than saving them for a uncertain future.  Stay encouraged, and have a great day!

The Calm of Well Prepared


This week, my family is waiting on the arrival of our third child.

He’s two days past the due date: we thought he would come a few days or weeks ago.

Naturally, we planned to be ready before the due date–then had last minute details we forgot to take care of.

Now, all our preparations are made.  The carseat, clothes, and crib are all ready.  Our projects at work are handed off; our hospital bag is packed.

Unfortunately, it’s not our habit to be remarkable well-prepared for an event, and left ready, calm, and waiting for the big moment to come.

But we’re enjoying the peace of well-prepared; we should try it more often 🙂


Super-Parenting Recipe: Play-dough & Pizza

It’s President’s Day!  Often on minor federal holidays, my wonderful wife works.  So – I trade the nanny a day off for a future evening of babysitting and spend the day with the kids.

Today we saw dinosaurs at the local nature & science museum, then came home for lunch.

One of the moments when I feel most like a super-parent is when I’m cooking while my kids play with play-dough in the kitchen.  It’s so cheap and engaging, and I feel like I’m helping our family run at the same time.

Since I mentioned that I’m working on being better with finances and family logistics, I thought I’d share the recipes.

  • Play Dough: 15 min to make, costs less than $1.
  • Pizza: 30-45 min to make, costs about $4.

Play Dough Recipe

Thank you DomesticSuperhero.com.

  • In a saucepan, mix 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of water, 2x teaspoons of cream of tarter, 1/3 cup of salt, and 1x tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • Heat over low heat while stirring
  • As it starts to thicken, add food coloring
  • Remove from heat when thick and no longer wet
  • Store in an airtight container (like a ziplock bag), and it should last for months

Pizza Recipe

Simple Pizza Sauce: thank you Allrecipes.com

  • Stir together 1.5 cups of water, 1x 6oz can of tomato paste, and 2 – 4 tablespoons of olive oil; mix with a whisk or fork
  • Add 2x cloves of minced garlic
  • Add 0.5 teaspoon each of rosemary, oregano, and basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Fun fact: “Italian seasoning” in the store usually consists of oregano, rosemary, and marjoram.  The garlic is optional, or can be substituted for garlic powder.  Sauce tastes better if you store it in the refrigerator for a few hours before cooking.  Total cost should be less than $1.

Simple Dough Recipe: Unfortunately, all internet sites I could find make this really complicated–so I’m just writing down what I normally do.

  • Mix 1.5 cups of flour, 1.5 cups of warm-but-not-uncomfortably-hot water, and 1.5 – 2 teaspoons of yeast
    • Can work well to do this a few hours before making the pizza.  If not, just pause for 5 minutes after this step
  • Stir in 1.5 – 2 teaspoons of salt and 1.5 cups of flour
  • Add extra flour as you knead or roll into a pizza shape on parchment paper

Note: the proportions should stay pretty constant, but this is flexible for any size pizza you want.  We buy our flour at Sam’s Club in the 25lb bags–so the total cost for the dough is less than fifty-cents.

  • Preheat oven and pizza stone to 450-degrees
    • If you don’t have a pizza stone, preheat a cookie sheet
  • Add sauce, cheese, and toppings
  • Cook for 10-12 minutes

So – with cheese and toppings, total cost will be less than $4 – 5.

Both of these are pretty basic–but also give us a lot of joy.  Would love to hear your tips for engaging, cheap super-parenting activities the kids!


















Strategies for Gratitude

I know I should be more grateful.  Science shows that thankfulness makes us healthier, happier, stronger, and improves our relationships.

So when I sit down to my journal in the morning, I try to answer the question: “What am I grateful for?”

And, despite all the abundance in my life, I struggle.  When I’m tired, or grouchy, or busy, I find it difficult to be grateful.

So – here are some questions I’m using as better ways to tap into the gratitude and abundance in my life.

  • What was worth savoring today?  What great moments do I want to hold on to?
  • What hidden thing worked magically well?  What tough-to-notice story or well-designed object was worth remembering?
  • What small-world moment did I notice today?  What was connected over space and time in a way that I did not expect?
  • What about today was I not promised?  What was an unexpected gift that I received but didn’t earn?
This is an out of the way place in the world that always fills me with gratitude

I found a few resources helpful on this topic lately:

I hope these questions can encourage you in your day!




Reflection Season: Themes–Energy, Accountability, Creating More

I wanted to write a third post on Reflection Season and resolutions.  Previously, I shared the idea of reflection season, and some frameworks and ideas I’m using.

As I was thinking about what I want to accomplish this year, I chose three themes: Energy, Accountability, and Creating More.  

I settled on themes because there are many areas of my life where I want to make changes.  My life feels pretty crazy right now: kids and dogs, a complicated work portfolio, interests outside of work…   lots going on. My themes apply across many of these areas.

Here’s how I’m thinking about them:

Energy – optimizing for what engages me.  I’ve noticed that what I accomplish is mostly independent of the time and effort I’ve invested.  When I’m engaged and interested, or I feel like I’m learning and making progress, I have much more to show for my effort.  There are a lot of things in work and life that drain my energy and make me less productive.  So I’m paying more attention this year to what activities and behaviors energize me, and I’m giving myself permission to focus on the things that are fun and make me happy.  Common advice is to focus on fewer things to make more progress.  This year, I’m going to worry less about a narrow focus, and more about whether I’m enjoying the things I’m working on.

Accountability – keeping track of how I’m doing.  This year, I’m going to be more intentional about tracking my behaviors and results.  Tactically, I’ve started a spreadsheet on google-docs to keep track of the behaviors I’m working on: how often I exercise, what I’m reading, the best and worst parts of each day.  For many, this will seem like an obvious step.  But – it’s not something I’ve done in the past, and it’s an opportunity.  I’ll share updates as the year goes on.

Creating More – making finished products, no matter how imperfect.  Since I have a lot of interests, and tend to have a lot going on, I often don’t finish what I start.  The “drafts” folder in my inbox is full of unsent emails, my workbench is covered in half-finished products, and I have two dozen books open on my Kindle.  This theme is my reminder that the extra effort to create a finished product is worth it.

Taken together – I’m giving myself permission to work on whatever energizes me this year–with the agreement that I’ll finish the projects I’m enjoying and keep track of the progress I make.

There are a few specific areas I’m going to focus on this year with these themes.

First is my health.  For me, that includes running and lifting, but also working on my mindset, wellbeing, and calm.

Second is work.  I continue to want more fulfillment, calm, and abundance at work: I’ll continue to share lessons and insights here.

Third is finances.  The last five years have been a bit crazy on the financial front, as we’ve had kids, gone to graduate school, moved, started new jobs, etc.  This feels like a year to gain a better grounding and perspective.

Fourth is the logistics of family life.  Things like cooking and activities with the kids can be a source of joy, but also incredibly stressful.  I’m going to try to find more peace and fun in this area of life in the year to come.

I hope you find these ideas encouraging as you work on your own life!



Simple Exercise for Handling Change

I attended a workshop last week with David Morelli on the “Neuroscience of Change.”  I wanted to share a simple exercise from that session on processing ambiguity.

“When we face uncertainty, we fill it in with our fears.”

These steps are designed to help us build helpful connections within our brains, so that we can handle challenges productively.

Here’s the exercise:

  • Think about time when you handled change really well.  Describe the situation.  Why did things go so well?
  • Share this moment in a conversation with a friend.
  • Now, consider how that situation is like what you’re currently going through.  What is common between the two moments?  How are they similar?
  • Share your reflection with a friend, and listen to their reflections.
  • Write down what you learned.

By doing this simple exercise, you’re building a connection between those two situations in your mind:  in a small way, you’re rewiring your brain to handle this situation better.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

This works because your brain is a machine where the software writes the hardware.  Over time, our intentions build the neural pathways to bring themselves into reality.

I thought it was a great exercise, and an important reminder as we face the challenges in our lives.

Stay encouraged!

Reflection Season: Frameworks and Ideas

Yesterday, I shared the concept of reflection season.  Today, I wanted to share a few ideas I’m using as I think about my goals and resolutions for the year ahead.

First – it’s my practice: I should do what works for me.  At the start of the new year, there’s no shortage of opinions on resolutions.  Whether you should set them or not, what you should do to be successful, and how many people fail.  I think it’s important to remember growth is an individual process: each person needs to do what works for them–and that will change with the season they’re in and what they’re working on.  The right resolution is whatever you can implement that will bring you back next year, excited for more–even if it seems absurdly small.

Vary your time horizons.  One of the most fulfilling exercises I’ve ever done was setting 3-year goals as a family, instead of one-year goals.  We were in the midst of graduate school with a toddler at home and another on the way.  Things like buying a house, potty training the kids, or taking a vacation seemed impossibly out of reach.  By taking  a longer time horizon, we opened our minds to what we were really excited about, and the possibilities we should consider.  Most of the goals we thought were impossible we achieved far sooner than we thought.

But sometimes short term goals are better.  For 2019, I plan to run a half marathon in August.  I can put that on the calendar now, with a defined date to register and schedule a 3-month training plan.  If you’re making resolutions, consider whether a longer or shorter time horizon would help you implement.

Pivoting your approach.  Sometimes, when planning, I forget to give myself permission to change my approach.  This helps me with goals that involve a regular practice.  Here’s a few questions to help.

  • Can I make this simpler or easier?  I’m planning to do this with fitness.  Instead of trying to complete a workout, I can commit to one rep with a very light weight, or to simply putting on my running clothes on a certain frequency.
  • Would re-framing to lower the benefit help?  If I’m working on project with an expected return, and it takes longer than I expect, I often get discouraged and quit.  Lowering expectations can help.  Instead of writing for readers, consider writing only to become a better writer.  Instead of exercising for looks, consider working out to be able to enjoy a walk with friends.  Instead of committing to an annual project, consider a 3-month experiment.  You’ll be more likely to follow through.
  • Can I make a more substantial investment?  I might do this with something I’m learning or recommitting to.  I could purchase a course, or a hire a coach.  Or I could sign up for a future event that feels like a stretch.  When we make an investment, it can increase our level of commitment.
  • Can I create a system to hold myself accountable?  I could calendar a sustainable rhythm to revisit my progress. Perhaps I can chart how I’m doing each week or month, or I can ask a close friend to share this journey with me.

Choose a framework you love.  I’ve really enjoyed reading about the reflection processes of mentors and friends over the past few months.  Here’s a few.

Write down your plan.  Finally, I am continually amazed by the value of writing down my thoughts and plans.  And, I was shocked to find that–even with all that I do to think about personal growth and change–I couldn’t find my 2018 goals in my files when I was reflecting recently.  So – whatever you commit to, write it down, post in a place you can see, or email it to yourself and a close friend.  You’ll be able to return to it in the future, check how you’re doing, and see how you’ve grown–you’re likely to be amazed at what changed and what stayed the same.

In the next few days I’ll share a few of the insights I had from my reflection season this year.  Stay encouraged, and enjoy your work!


Reflection Season

Recently a friend, through their writing, introduced me to the idea of Reflection Season.  From Thanksgiving through the New Year, they focus on  a period of reflection over the past year and preparation for the year to come.

I love this idea for a few reasons.

First – Most of us pause during the holidays.  It’s a time when work slows down, we travel, see friends and family, and have the opportunity to step away from our daily routine and have the conversations needed to reflect.

Second – Reflection should be paired with gratitude.  If we don’t have the right frame of mind, it’s easy to take the wrong lesson from a situation.  By having more time, and extending reflection through a season of generosity, gratitude, and deep relationships, we are more likely to take the right lessons from our reflection.

Finally – A season of reflection gives the chance to experiment.  If I’m considering a new routine or commitment, I can start during this season and make adjustments before the new year if it’s not working out.

Most of  us probably already set resolutions over the past few days.  If that hasn’t been a fulfilling process, consider what a season of reflection might look like next year, and prepare for it now.

I’ll share a few thoughts I came away from this reflection season with in the next few days.  Until then, stay encouraged and enjoy the start to the new year.