Age and the entrepreneur, part 1: Some data

A short time back, several smart bloggers engaged in an enthusiastic debate about age and entrepreneurs – some taking the position that kids have a leg up on older entrepreneurs at least for certain categories of startups, and others theorizing that age is largely irrelevant (or as Ali G would put it, “geezers is good entrepreneurs as well, man”).

I have opinions on this topic, but rather than just mouthing off like I would normally do, I decided to go get some data. This post presents that data – the next post will have the mouthing off.

I’m not aware of any systematic data on age and high-tech entrepreneurs. As far as I’m aware, all we have are anecdotes. However, a professor of psychology at University of California Davis named Dean Simonton has conducted extensive research on age and creativity across many other fields, including science, literature, music, chess, film, politics, and military combat.

Dr. Simonton’s research is unparalleled – he’s spent his career studying this and related topics and his papers make for absolutely fascinating reading.

For this post, I’ll be concentrating on his paper Age and Outstanding Achievement: What Do We Know After a Century of Research? from 1988. I haven’t been able to find a PDF of the paper online but you can read a largely intact cached HTML version courtesy of Google Scholar.

Let’s go to the paper:

For centuries, thinkers have speculated about the association between a person’s age and exceptional accomplishment: Is there an optimal age for a person to make a lasting contribution to human culture or society? When during the life span can we expect an individual to be most prolific or influential?

You can see why I think this is relevant.

Here we adopt the product-centered approach, that is, our focus is on real-life achievements rather than performance on abstract… measures. …

[A]chievement [takes] the form of noteworthy creativity… the goal is to assess how productivity changes over the life span… [I] focus on individual accomplishment in such endeavors as science, philosophy, literature, music, and the visual arts. …

[Studies like these focus] on three core topics: (a) the age curve that specifies how creative output varies over the course of a career, (b) the connection between productive precocity, longevity, and rate of output, and © the relation between quantity and quality of output (i.e., between “productivity” and “creativity”).

Dr. Simonton also discusses leadership as distinct from creative production, but I’m ignoring the leadership part for now since it’s quite different.

One empirical generalization appears to be fairly secure: If one plots creative output as a function of age, productivity tends to rise fairly rapidly to a definite peak and thereafter decline gradually until output is about half the rate at the peak.

This is the centerpiece of Dr. Simonton’s overall theory across many domains. And is probably not unexpected. But here’s where it gets really interesting:

[T]he location of the peak, as well as the magnitude of the postpeak decline, tends to vary depending on the domain of creative achievement.

At one extreme, some fields are characterized by relatively early peaks, usually around the early 30s or even late 20s in chronological units, with somewhat steep descents thereafter, so that the output rate becomes less than one-quarter the maximum. This age-wise pattern apparently holds for such endeavors as lyric poetry, pure mathematics, and theoretical physics…

The typical trends in other endeavors may display a leisurely rise to a comparatively late peak, in the late 40s or even 50s chronologically, with a minimal if not largely absent drop-off afterward. This more elongated curve holds for such domains as novel writing, history, philosophy, medicine, and general scholarship.

Well, that’s interesting.

It must be stressed that these interdisciplinary contrasts do not appear to be arbitrary but instead have been shown to be invariant across different cultures and distinct historical periods.

As a case in point, the gap between the expected peaks for poets and prose authors has been found in every major literary tradition throughout the world and for both living and dead languages.

Indeed, because an earlier productive optimum means that a writer can die younger without loss to his or her ultimate reputation, poets exhibit a life expectancy, across the globe and through history, about a half dozen years less than prose writers do.

You know what that means – if you’re going to argue that younger entrepreneurs have a leg up, then you also have to argue that they will have shorter lifespans. Fun with math!

You may not be surprised to find that in creative fields, the power law rule – also known as the 80/20 rule – definitely applies:

A small percentage of the workers in any given domain is responsible for the bulk of the work. Generally, the top 10% of the most prolific elite can be credited with around 50% of all contributions, whereas the bottom 50% of the least productive workers can claim only 15% of the total work, and the most productive contributor is usually about 100 times more prolific than the least.

Here’s where it gets really interesting again:

Precocity, longevity, and output rate are each strongly associated with final lifetime output – that is, those who generate the most contributions at the end of a career also tend to have begun their careers at earlier ages, ended their careers at later ages, and produced at extraordinary rates throughout their careers. …

These three components are conspicuously linked with each other: Those who are precocious also tend to display longevity, and both precocity and longevity are positively associated with high output rates per age unit.

OK, so on to the main question, which is, when’s the peak?

Those creators who make the most contributions tend to start early, end late, and produce at above-average rates, but are the anticipated career peaks unchanged, earlier, or later in comparison to what is seen for their less prolific colleagues? Addressing this question properly requires that we first investigate the relation between quantity and quality, both within and across careers. …

This is a very complex topic and Dr. Simonton goes into great detail about it throughout his work. I’m going to gloss over it a bit, but if you are interested in this topic, by all means dig into it more via Google Scholar.

First, if one calculates the age curves separately for major and minor works within careers, the resulting functions are basically identical…

Second… minor and major contributions… fluctuate together. Those periods in a creator’s life that see the most masterpieces also witness the greatest number of easily forgotten productions, on the average.

Another way of saying the same thing is to note that the “quality ratio,” or the proportion of major products to total output per age unit, tends to fluctuate randomly over the course of any career. The quality ratio neither increases nor decreases with age…

These outcomes are valid for both artistic and scientific modes of creative contribution. What these two results signify is that… age becomes irrelevant to determining the success of a particular contribution.

OK, that’s interesting. Quality of output does not vary by age… which means, of course, that attempting to improve your batting average of hits versus misses is a waste of time as you progress through a creative career. Instead you should just focus on more at-bats – more output. Think about that one.

If this sounds insane to you, Dr. Simonton points out that the periods of Beethoven’s career that had the most hits also had the most misses – works that you never hear. As I am always fond of asking in such circumstances, if Beethoven couldn’t increase his batting average over time, what makes you think you can?

[C]reativity is a probabilistic consequence of productivity, a relationship that holds both within and across careers.

Within single careers, the count of major works per age period will be a positive function of total works generated each period, yielding a quality ratio that exhibits no systematic developmental trends.

And across careers, those individual creators who are the most productive will also tend, on the average, to be the most creative: Individual variation in quantity is positively associated with variation in quality.

Wow.

OK, next step:

[This] constant-probability-of-success model has an important implication for helping us understand the relation between total lifetime output and the location of the peak age for creative achievement within a single career.

Because total lifetime output is positively related to total creative contributions and hence to ultimate eminence, and given that a creator’s most distinguished work will appear in those career periods when productivity is highest, the peak age for creative impact should not vary as a function of either the success of the particular contribution or the final fame of the creator. …

Thus, even though an impressive lifetime output of works, and subsequent distinction, is tied to precocity, longevity, and production rate, the expected age optimum for quantity and quality of contribution is dependent solely on the particular form of creative expression.

Wow, again.

Anyone who demonstrates… an age decrement in achievement is likely to provoke controversy. After all, aging is a phenomenon easy enough to become defensive about, and such defensiveness is especially probable among those of us who are already past the putative age peak for our particular field of endeavor…

I think Dr. Simonton is ready to start blogging.

His paper then goes on to discuss many possible extrinsic factors such as health that could impair later-life output, but in the end he concludes that the data is pretty conclusive that such extrinsinc factors serve as “random shocks” to any individual’s career that do not affect the overall trends.

He then goes on to discuss possible intrinsic factors that could explain a relationship between age and creative accomplishment:

G. M. Beard was not merely the earliest contributor [in 1874] to the empirical literature on age and achievement but its first theorist as well. According to him, creativity is a function of two underlying factors, enthusiasm and experience. Enthusiasm provides the motivational force behind persistent effort, yet enthusiasm in the absence of the second factor yields just original work. Experience gives the achiever the ability to separate wheat from chaff and to express original ideas in a more intelligible and persistent fashion. Yet experience in the absence of enthusiasm produces merely routine contributions. Genuine creativity requires the balanced cooperation of both enthusiasm and experience.

Beard postulates, however, that these two essential components display quite distinctive distributions across the life span. Whereas enthusiasm usually peaks early in life and steadily declines thereafter, experience gradually increases as a positive monotonic function of age. The correct equilibrium between the two factors is attained between the ages of 38 and 40, the most common age optima for creative endeavors. Prior to that expected peak, an individual’s output would be excessively original, and in the postpeak phase the output would be overly routine. The career floruit in the late 30s thus represents the uniquely balanced juxtaposition of the rhapsodies of youth and the wisdom of maturity.

Hmmmmmm…

Beard’s theory is not without attractive features… Beard’s account, for all its simplicity, can boast a respectable amount of explanatory power. Besides handling the broad form of the age curve, this theory leads to an interpretation of why different endeavors may peak at distinct ages.

The contrast between poetic and prose literature, for instance, can be interpreted as the immediate consequence of the assumption that the two domains demand a different mix of the two factors: poetry, more enthusiasm, and prose, more experience. Indeed, in fields in which expertise may be far more crucial than emotional vigor, most notably in scholarship, we would anticipate little if any decline with age, and such is the case.

Dr. Simonton, however, then goes on to explain that this theory does not really match the data – for example, the data shows that quality of output in practically all fields does not decline systematically with age, which is what you’d expect from Beard’s theory.

The paper then digs into possible correlations between intelligence as measured by such metrics as IQ, and creative output:

[E]ven if a minimal level of intelligence is requisite for achievement, beyond a threshold of around IQ 120 (the actual amount varying across fields), intellectual prowess becomes largely irrelevant in predicting individual differences in… creativity.

So what have we learned in a nutshell?

  • Generally, productivity – output – rises rapidly from the start of a career to a peak and then declines gradually until retirement.
  • This peak in productivity varies by field, from the late 20s to the early 50s, for reasons that are field-specific.
  • Precocity, longevity, and output rate are linked. “Those who are precocious also tend to display longevity, and both precocity and longevity are positively associated with high output rates per age unit.” High producers produce highly, systematically, over time.
  • The odds of a hit versus a miss do not increase over time. The periods of one’s career with the most hits will also have the most misses. So maximizing quantity – taking more swings at the bat – is much higher payoff than trying to improve one’s batting average.
  • Intelligence, at least as measured by metrics such as IQ, is largely irrelevant.

So here’s my first challenge: to anyone who has an opinion on the role of age and entrepreneurship – see if you can fit your opinion into this model!

And here’s my second challenge: is entrepreneurship more like poetry, pure mathematics, and theoretical physics – which exhibit a peak age in one’s late 20s or early 30s – or novel writing, history, philosophy, medicine, and general scholarship – which exhibit a peak age in one’s late 40s or early 50s? And how, and why?

[Update: Naval Ravikant has written a particularly interesting response to this post here.]


Age and the entrepreneur, part 1: Some data

The Information Machine

A 1957 animated short by Charles And Ray Eames: “Applies graphic sensitivity to medium in cartoon form, and traces the history of storing and analyzing information from the days of the cavemen to today’s age of electronic brains.”


The Information Machine

A Vegan/Aerobicizer Hits the Wall

From Art de Vany’s web site, ca. 2007:

I ran into a guy at the gym whom I had not seen for a couple of months, maybe more.

He was in the gym hours on end (when I used to see him) doing aerobics. He did so much treadmill work that he constantly limped and had a brace on his foot, sometimes on his knee. He had poor posture from walking slumped over looking at the track or the monitor. Nothing in his work outs addressed his posture and his aerobic work only reinforced it. He worked out every day as far as I could tell because he was always there when I came in.

He was a pure vegetarian. He ate a lot of beans and spinach and always told me how fresh he felt from his food. He had no muscle and was a “fat-skinny” jogger or treadmill addict. Sklnny arms, little legs and a bony back.

I was a bit shocked though to see how his appearance had degraded in the few months since I had last seen him. He had gotten quite thick around the waist, but not anywhere else. Still no muscle and a tired, haggard look and slumped posture. At least he was not limping and had no braces on. Rather than ask him if he had been ill, I just asked how he was doing. He really didn’t answer but he did say he had been gone 2 months working on a cabin.

I don’t want to speculate, but it does seem to me that his diet and training make his fitness vulnerable or brittle. He is poised on a razor’s edge in a sense that any small change in diet or exercise sends him down a steep slope. He quickly loses fitness and his body composition quickly fades if he changes either his diet or his exercise. I doubt that his diet changed. So, it is likely his energy expenditures and particularly his peak expenditures that changed. It was easy to see that his insulin sensitivity had declined because all the new weight was gathered in the abdominal area. Maybe he had an illness or went through a major stress. On the other hand, there is seldom a “cause” for human physiology is so complex it is not possible to trace a major change of this magnitude to a single factor.

What I am driving at is that his approach to diet and fitness left him vulnerable. He has to stay on that treadmill or he falls hard. Even on the treadmill, though he managed his weight, he was on the boundary of good health. Not enough nutrition or rest and doing the wrong sorts of exercise. He looked depleted then and even more so now.

I am sorry to see this happen, but I don’t think I can do anything about it. If there is any lesson here it is to adopt a fitness approach that does not leave you vulnerable to damage, poor nutrition, or unusual stress. If you are on the edge in terms of nutrition (either trying to “bulk up” or lose weight or eating a narrow range of foods) or exercise (over training and doing repetitive work outs), you become vulnerable. You are living on the edge. An easy approach mixing intensity, variety, and great food is more healthful and leaves you poised to adapt to stresses that are bound to occur.


A Vegan/Aerobicizer Hits the Wall

Book of the week: Soon I Will Be Invincible

If, like me, you are a fan of the implausibly best show on network television, Heroes, or if you just like fun writing, run don’t walk to Amazon to buy Soon I Will Be Invincible, a novel by Austin Grossman.

An unlikely cross between a spoof and a real novel, the book alternatives between the points of view of Doctor Impossible, supervillain extraordinaire, and Fatale, the newest hero on her first day with the Champions, the world’s most famous superteam. Fatale introduces herself:

Four years ago, I decided to start calling myself Fatale. It’s my superhero name. I chose it from a list they supplied me in the clinic, and at the time it seemed like the perfect symbol for my dangerous, sexy new self, a cybernetic woman of mystery. Admittedly, I was on a lot of painkillers.

Meanwhile, Doctor Impossible is languishing in prison:

I’m not a criminal. I didn’t steal a car. I didn’t sell heroin, or steal an old lady’s purse. I built a quantum fusion reactor in 1978, and an orbital plasma gun in 1979, and a giant laser-eyed robot in 1984. I tried to conquer the world and almost succeeded, twelve times and counting…

I’m the smartest man in the world. Once I wore a cape in public, and fought battles against men who could fly, who had metal skin, who could kill you with their eyes… Now I have to shuffle through a cafeteria line with men who tried to pass bad checks. Now I have to wonder if there will be chocolate milk in the dispenser. And whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life.

And they’re off to the races from there.


Book of the week: Soon I Will Be Invincible

Yet another blog-reading refactoring

I started RSS-reading with Bloglines and, though it still has some features I like, I moved to Google Reader last year and have been pretty satisfied with it.

What’s been harder has been managing my blog diet, the number of feeds I read, and the general problems of absorbing so much ephemera. Blog reading takes up an inordinate amount of my time, it seems, even just to glance through the list of postings. I put off writing, practicing, reading books, etc., so I can process a bottomless inbox of blog postings.

I’ve just gone through another fit of downsizing. I have about 50 blogs in Google Reader BUT many of these blogs don’t post daily; some are Ask Metafilter keyword feeds that only appear when a new post appears and others are weekly (like PostSecret) or occasional (and Catarina is on a well-deserved hiatus from the PC).

The two blogs that really distracted me were Marginal Revolution and Lifehacker, so I’ve taken them off the Reader list and will just visit them and browse when I want to. One of the Lifehacker editors mentioned some years back that this was his strategy: no RSS reader, visit bookmarked blogs occasionally or regularly, and he stayed in control of the process.

And for the record, how I process these beasties is like this (borrowed, I think, from Mike Shea, cited in one of the links above):

  1. In Reader, set Start page preferences for “All items.”
  2. Star the items I want to return to later, then select “Mark all as read.”
  3. Display all the starred items.
  4. Use the shortcut keys to move through them quickly, unstar them, Share them (I have my Tumblr log display the shared items), or, if the post is long and I don’t have time to read, email it to my Gmail account.

At the end, there should be no unread items and all posts should be processed, either read or emailed for later reading.

Processing these posts in my Gmail inbox is a different kettle of meat. I have labels set up for each day of the week, and send these new postings to tomorrow’s label. The next day’s job is to process these (read, or set a bookmark, or make a new project, or archive them for reference, or something).

But this week, I’ve been moving unread items from day to day, until now there’s about 55 blog posts that I somehow decided last week I’d have time to process this weekend. And no, I won’t have time to read them all carefully, or even scan them all.

So I’ll set a timer for 30 minutes or so, blow through as many as I can, and then with a heavy heart delete the rest. I have a bad case of “just-in-case” syndrome and, by and large, I never need many of the blog posts I read and rarely do I refer to them when I decide to archive them in Gmail. I’ve decided I want to start the week with a clean slate and not carry over a blog-reading debt from week to week.




JAMES MONTGOMERY FLAGG



James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) drew the same way that he lived: brash and arrogant.



Flagg’s confidence was understandable. He started his career at the moment when improvements in the printing process and the rise of popular magazines created a huge market for his drawing skills. Illustrators such as Flagg became national celebrities, and he basked in the attention. His famous poster, Uncle Sam Wants You, made him a household name. The press sought him out for his strong opinions. He consorted with hollywood stars, judged beauty contests, seduced young and impressionable models, frolicked at bohemian parties, and traveled back and forth to Europe with the beautiful people.



I like his work a lot. My biggest complaint is that Flagg rarely let a single well-considered line suffice where five additional lines might fit:



In this way, his style reflected his personality: never waste a minute reconsidering your initial line– just keep underscoring it again and again.



Flagg led a privileged life and had little understanding or sympathy for those who did not. He was a member of exclusive men’s clubs from whose barricades he merrily indulged his sexist and racist attitudes. His invitation to the annual minstrel show at the elite Lotos club in New York is a beautiful painting of an odious subject:



No fan of government welfare programs, here is Flagg’s sketch for the prestigious Dutch Treat Club of the government sodomizing the people.



Life was mighty fine for Flagg. But like many people who happened to be born at the right time, it never occurred to him that luck might have played a role in his success, or that the conditions that catapaulted him to fame might someday change. His pictures that once commanded the public’s attention were eclipsed by Hollywood pictures that moved and talked. Flagg found himself on the wrong side of history. He did not respond well to public neglect, and died a sour and bilious old man. But he left us some terrific drawings from his peak period.


JAMES MONTGOMERY FLAGG

Colin Roberts comments on Back from Holiday

Mark,

I read your leader on the above with interest. It reminded me of the following experience:

I once worked for a large Insurance company. My boss was a manager who came back off holiday to an inbox of several hundred e-mails.

He deleted them all and then sent a mail to everyone in the company along the lines of

“you won’t believe how stupid I’ve been. I’ve come back off holiday and accidentally deleted all the mail in my in-box. If you sent me anything important in the last two weeks, please resend it immediately”

Result: he got 7 (seven) resent e-mails.

I do admit that this is a tactic which can look suspicious if used too often and probably not a good idea if you get lots of important external e-mails. But it was impressive.

Cheers,

Colin


Colin Roberts comments on Back from Holiday

Cappadocia

Cappadocia in central Turkey is highly recommended.  Imagine the Moab if it had been inhabited for 4000 years by a succession of Hittites, Christians fleeing Romans and Persians, Greeks and Turks and you have some idea.

These faerie chimneys exist in the thousands and some are still inhabited.  One fellow showed me around his chimney house.  More in the extension.
Cap1a_2


Cappadocia

Progress Report

I’ve been using the technique I described in Procrastination Buster for most of this week now, and I’m finding it a very efficient way of processing stuff. Although it may appear to be very different from the techniques described in Do It Tomorrow, it is actually based on very much the same principles. It is essentially a method of converting an open list into a series of closed lists (in this case numbering two items each). The advantage compared with Do It Tomorrow is that it is more flexible and can be fitted a bit more easily into irregular time slots. The disadvantage is that some work items will take longer before they get dealt with than others. I’ve still got one difficult item which I put on the list at the beginning of the week and remains unactioned. That’s almost certainly a lot less items than would be left over with a conventional To Do list, but with Do It Tomorrow, I would have actioned all the items either the day they came up or the day after.

Here are a few pointers which have surfaced for me this week while using this method:

  • To Do lists always tend to suffer from list expansion - in other words they tend to grow faster than one can process the items. In order to avoid this happening it is important to keep the list well weeded by throwing out unnecessary items.
  • As a guide you should be able to complete at least one circuit of the list during the course of an average day (bearing in mind that you will be actioning about half the items on the list on each circuit). If you can’t do that, you should take some time to weed the list.
  • If you find yourself further from the end of the list at the end of the day than you were at the beginning, you are seriously trying to do too much! You need not only to weed the list, but look at your commitments too.
  • Just as with Do It Tomorrow, you don’t necessarily have to do the whole of every item. You can always do part of it and then cross it out and re-enter it at the end of the list. This achieves the little and often ideal which I recommend in my books for dealing with major projects.

I’d be interested to hear from you in the Comments or in the Discussion Forum if you try out this method - and how you get on with it.


Progress Report

Beethoven

From a book review of a recent biography of Beethoven by Doctor Mai: Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven.

“The cause of Beethoven’s death was liver failure due to alcohol abuse. The autopsy was performed by Dr. Johann Wagner, who was assisted by Dr. Karl von Rokitansky. Rokitansky was a resident in pathology, and Beethoven’s autopsy was the first one he performed. He subsequently performed 59,786 autopsies in his outstanding career as a pathologist and became famous for his observations on the gross features of pathologic abnormalities of organs.

At Beethoven’s autopsy, Wagner and Rokitansky found — besides cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol abuse — ascites, splenomegaly, pancreatitis, and thickened bones of the skull. The eighth cranial nerves were wrinkled and shriveled because they had been compressed by the thick skull bones, a finding consistent with Paget’s disease of bone, which can cause deafness. Other conditions that have been put forth as the cause of Beethoven’s deafness — including head trauma inflicted by his alcoholic father, syphilis, and otosclerosis — lack credibility. There is also some question of whether lead poisoning caused Beethoven’s illnesses. In 1996, a lock of his hair was found to contain high levels of lead. Lead poisoning was common in Europe during Beethoven’s time because wine contained lead that had leached from its containers.”


Beethoven

I'll Run It Off

Many of WW’s former co-workers, male and female, are runners. She often ate in the cafeteria with them and learned what they liked. It was CARBS CARBS and CARBS. One woman had pasta, bread rolls, and mashed potatoes on her tray for lunch. She was a doctor to top it off.

When the conversation got around to what WW ate and what they ate, many of these runners merely said: “I’ll run it off.” Of course they won’t and can’t. The 1200 calorie, high sugar muffin they have in the morning will take about 2 hours of cross-country running to run off. As for the doctor’s lunch, well there is no way for her to run it off and still do her work.

But, even if they could burn up the calories, this is a seriously misleading and incomplete picture of the problem. The high carb shock is still there and the deadened insulin sensitivity it produces is a lasting problem contributing to weight gain and poor blood sugar control thereafter. Burning off the calories is a good way to feed free radical damage to the mitochondria and other vital tissues, including your brain. You don’t burn this dangerous high sugar fuel without paying the price of oxidative damage. So, even if you do manage to burn off all those calories, you have done damage to your body in multiple ways.

This is a problem with the “calories in, calories out” theory of weight management. True as it is in a long-run thermodynamics sense, it misses the bigger picture of sustainable health. And many studies do show that the weight loss in low carb diets is greater than can be accounted for in the caloric reduction which they promote. This shows that the thermodynamic model is difficult to apply to the human body and that accurate measurement of energy expenditure is yet to be fully accomplished.

With all the promotion of “energy drinks” it is difficult for many to understand that the kind of fuel you are making your body burn when you eat these carb-laden meals or drink these so-called energy drinks is a sort of fuel that burns fast and hot and does real damage. And you do further damage just putting it in your tank because it wrecks your metabolic health.

You would not run nitrous oxide or alcohol in your car to double its power output without expecting to pay the price. Why do people fall for a theory just about that dumb when it comes to how they “fuel” their bodies?


I’ll Run It Off

Infinite canvas

“The infinite canvas is the idea that the size of a digital comics page is theoretically infinite, and that online comics are therefore not limited by conventional page sizes. An artist could conceivably display a complete comics story of indefinite length on a single ‘page’. Scott McCloud introduced the concept in his book Reinventing Comics.

Although McCloud asserted that this freedom was one of the most important qualities of the online comics medium, relatively few webcomics have taken advantage of it; most produce work in more traditional formats such as the serialized comic strip and the rectangular page, rarely exceeding two screens in height.”


Infinite canvas

Credit Card Survival Tool

creditcard_tool_sm.jpg

I have two friends who’ve been carrying these slim, multi-tools for a few years now and swear by them. I’ve only used the mini-screwdriver and bottle opener, but those functions alone seem worth it. It’s stainless steel and will add some weight to your load, but no more than the average metal beverage pop-top. Why junk up your keychain when you can slip another “card” into your wallet? Added bonus: can opener, straight edge, knife edge, et al.

– Steven Leckart

creditcard_diagram_sm.jpg

Credit Card Survival Tool
$5
Available from Fishboy

Also from Amazon

Manufactured by BCB Survival USA


Credit Card Survival Tool

Home Organization: Label your drawers next time you move

kitchen.png
Frequent movers know that it’s a pain to get used a the layout of a new kitchen when you move into a new home, especially if you live with other people who are putting away objects willy-nilly because no one really knows where anything is supposed to go. Reader Jan suggests a smart solution:

We created a pile of post-it notes, one for each category of kitchen object: silverware, bowls, Tupperware, etc. We affixed these to the kitchen cabinets and drawers to establish a hypothetical organization for everything.
We then walked around and imagined working through different activities with this organization: making a sandwich, setting the table for dinner, cleaning up after a meal and storing leftovers, etc. We also considered whether a particular cabinet or drawer seemed sufficient in size and ease of access for the labeled contents. Problems could easily be remedied by simply moving the post-its around until everything felt right.

Once everything seemed right, we unpacked. It was easy to see where everything needed to go. And the best part? We left the labels on the drawers for the first month so everyone in the family could find everything while we got used to the kitchen.

The same idea could be extended to all corners of a new place. I can think of a handful of post-move household arguments caused by a why’d-you-put-this-there/that’s-not-where-that-goes debate that would have easily been avoided with this method.


Home Organization: Label your drawers next time you move

What It Takes to Be a Successful Coach

I wrote this article several years ago about coaching. However most of what I said applies to other businesses too, and bears repeating.

During the time I have been a coach, I have been regularly astonished by two things. The first is how little some quite well-known coaches are earning after years of being a coach. The second is how quickly some other people start earning large sums of money at coaching.

I have noticed that it is frequently possible to identify the people who are going to “fly” the second they come onto the scene, well before they start being successful.

So here is a list of things I think these people have in common. Not all of them of course will have all these qualities in equal measure, and I am sure there are other factors which I have omitted.

* They see coaching as a business, and take a business attitude to it.

* They are quite clear about what they want to achieve, and work to long-term (3-5 years) rather than short-term goals.

* They know it takes time and effort to build a business, and they start putting that time and effort in straightaway.

* They adequately fund their business.

* They are confident in their own abilities, particularly their business abilities.

* They concentrate more on improving their business than on improving their coaching (though obviously the two go hand-in-hand; it is a matter of emphasis).

* They see marketing as their number one priority.

* They find ways very early on of distinguishing themselves from the common herd.

* And without any exception I can think of, they are excellent public speakers.

It all goes back to what I’ve written before: our profession is coaching; our business is selling coaching services.


What It Takes to Be a Successful Coach

The dashed line in use

“I’ve had trouble justifying my excitement about this intricate visual detail, so I thought it would be good to collect a bunch of examples from over fifty years of information design history, to show it as a powerful visual element in ubicomp situations.

Even though the dashed line has emerged from a designer’s shorthand and from the limitations of monotone printing techniques, it has a clear and simple visual magic, the ability to express something three- or four-dimensional in two dimensions.” (Thanks Stephen!)


The dashed line in use

How To: Predict the weather without checking the forecast

red-sky.png
How-to web site wikiHow offers a beginner’s crash course to predicting the weather with nothing but your wits and senses. For example:

Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and smell the air.

  • Plants release their waste in a low pressure atmosphere, generating a smell like compost and indicating an upcoming rain.
  • Swamps will release methane just before a storm because of the lower pressure, which leads to unpleasant smells.
  • A proverb says “Flowers smell best just before a rain.” Scents are stronger in moist air, associated with rainy weather.

In all, the post describes 10 different methods for predicting weather by observing smells, animals, the sky, and more using your sharp senses. If you’ve always wanted to pick up some grass, look up at the sky, inhale a full puff of air, and declare in your best down-home country twang: “Looks like there’s a storm a-brewin’, mother,” this guide should give you a good start.

How to Predict the Weather Without a Forecast [wikiHow]


How To: Predict the weather without checking the forecast

Piano prodigy on focus and flow

TED | Talks | Jennifer Lin: Magical improv from 14-year-old pianist (video)

This video from the 2004 TED Conference is extraordinary for a few reasons. First, the prepared performances by then-14-year-old composer and pianist Jennifer Lin are lovely and technically very accomplished. And — wow — the improvisation she creates on the spot (16:45) is really something.

But, I also wanted to draw your attention to her thoughts on creativity and flow — discussing how she tries to beat distraction and gain focus in both drawing and composition. Her discussion starts around 13:31, but do stick around after for her improv based upon randomly chosen notes.

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Piano prodigy on focus and flow

Self Improvement: How to change things in your life for the better

change.pngMaking changes, no matter how big or small, can be difficult. Psychology Today has put together the six principles of change that can help you accomplish what needs to be done.

Summed up, they look like this:

1) The belief that you can change is the key to change. 2) The type of treatment is less critical than the individual’s commitment to change. 3) Brief treatments can change longstanding habits. 4) Life skills can be the key to licking addiction. 5) Repeated efforts are critical to changing. 6) Improvement, without abstinence, counts.

Yes, a wee bit Dr.Phil-ish, but still intriguing. What is your principle of change? Please share in the comments.

Six Principles of Change [Psychology Today via SelfHelp Diva]


Self Improvement: How to change things in your life for the better

Taxonomy matters

It is my mission to correctly re-shelve books to the appropriate section of the bookstore. 

For example, “Darwin’s Black Box”, the famous psuedo-science book by the non-evolutionary non-scientist Michael Behe, should not be in the “Evolutionary Biology” section, but something more appropriate, such as “New Age”, “Religion”, “Christianity”, or even “Fiction”.  You get the idea.

Here is more, and the pointer is from the newlywed Jacqueline Passey.


Taxonomy matters