Knitting and Preparation

I started a leave from work to care for a family member a couple of weeks ago. Although it is an absolute privilege, caregiving is emotionally difficult and there’s a surprising amount to manage, even with an amazing patient and co-caregivers. We moved into a care facility this week where a team of nurses and professionals have taken over the actual care giving and now we, the former caregivers, find ourselves with more quiet time. So I have started knitting again.

Knitting is peaceful. If you have an easy pattern, following it can be therapeutic. The repetitive motion of knits and pearls soothe the soul and it’s fun to see progress as you move along. It requires just enough brain power to be distracted, but not so much that you need a lot of concentration. Knitting can build community if you’re with others, and feels comfortable to do alone as well.

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In the TED talk by Alanna Shaikh, she talks about preparing for Alzheimer’s. She identified ways in which aging and dementia affect the body, and what soothes the patient. In preparing, she is working to increase her balance through yoga and tai-chi. She also talks about finding repetitive tasks that you enjoy that and can do with very little conscious effort. Knitting is this task for me. Although her talk targets Alzheimer’s and dementia, people with all sorts of ailments at any age experience imbalance and loss of concentration. This idea of intentional preparation seeps into all types of worst-case scenarios, including writing thoughtful and clear advance care directives and discussing them with your family, and making sure you are at peace with the people you love.

The loved one I am caring for now has done all of this preparation, and it is still difficult. But we have so much peace mixed with the sadness and we do not struggle to make care decisions because we know exactly what is desired. And we’ll knit together while we can.

Here my current pattern (free!): Ridge Washcloth

And some other information on the health benefits of knitting:

 

Update: We’re getting somewhere!

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Staying Relevant

Being on top of cultural trends has never been more important. We have nearly unlimited access to national and international events, thought leaders, and products. Conferences like TED and media sharing sites like Twitter provide more ideas than it is possible to absorb. And this matters in the workplace. Because your consumers, whoever they are, are part of these trends and have access to that same information. Businesses need to anticipate their needs and understand the ever-evolving ecosystem your business operates in to be successful. Beyond workplace usefulness, it’s fun to be able to connect others with ideas that are relevant or interesting to them, and to try new things as they evolve.

That said, it’s not easy to stay relevant. Some people are more adept than others at being in the know about new products, business models, style trends, and popular media. In any case, it takes time and awareness to clue in to new things.

Keep your eyes, ears, and brain open. By being observant in daily life, you can absorb a lot. I find it’s a lot more interesting and relevant to talk to someone about their experiences with The Internet of Things than to read about it.

  • What are people wearing today? (Have you ever noticed that people walking together are likely to wear the same type of shoe? It’s weird.)
  • See a new business? Why not stick your head in, say hello, and find out why they’re there?
  • Did you have a great experience at a restaurant or retail space? Why was it awesome?
  • Do you or others have relationships with brands? What is it like?
  • Are people talking about experiences that were good or bad? Anything particularly interesting?
  • Are there recurring pain points in your life or the lives of others that can be solved and is anyone working on it? New products, services, and habits also come with their own set of problems to be solved, which results in new products, services and pain points.
  • Try new things and develop your own point of view.
After I'd read about the rising popularity of "bulletproof" coffee, I had to try it myself.

After I’d read about the rising popularity of “bulletproof” coffee, I had to try it myself.

Follow social media. I don’t post much, but it’s fascinating to see what friends post, especially if they are very different from me. It’s also helpful to follow thought leaders and news sites to see what’s current. My weapons of choice are Twitter for broad world happenings and trends and Facebook for social and opinion trends. LinkedIn and Medium also have timely articles and social components.

Seek out industry and interest relevant sources. As awesome and intelligent as you probably are, it’s pretty impossible to be an expert on everything. Figure out what areas you want to focus on, and deep dive. That might mean listening to podcasts, following hashtags, subscribing to newsletters or checking relevant sites daily, a magazine subscription, attending conferences, signing up for newsletters from your favorite businesses/bands/artists, or reading relevant books as they come out. I’ve recently been into:

One of my favorite ways to stay current is to try new, trendy restaurants. Yum!

One of my favorite ways to do research is to frequent popular/interesting restaurants. Yum!

I’d love to know how you follow trends and culture!

On Reading: Second Year DMBA

As I wrap my head around the topics we covered throughout the DMBA, I’ve found it helpful to remember and assess the materials we used, including books. It should be noted that many of the courses heavily used articles and HBR case studies, which I’m not going to endeavor to list. Perhaps there will be a “best of” article list someday. Here’s the comprehensive book list from year two:

Brand Strategy:

Managerial Finance:

  • Financial Management, 13th Edition, Eugene F. Brigham, Michael C. Ehrhardt
  • Various HBR case studies

Operations:

Experience Studio:

Venture Studio:

Strategic Management:

Strategic Foresight: (Full reading list is too long to post, so I’m just posting the ones I selected or have read.)

Some of the books were wonderful, some forgettable, and there are a few books that I would never recommend. Books I have gone back to for reference include the Marty Neumeier selections, Blue Ocean Strategy (more the toolset than the book), Strategy Safari, and Kellogg on Branding.

A Natural History of the Senses and most of the strategic foresight books were enjoyable to read and provided a good sense of a field or concept, but haven’t been useful as references.

The concepts in The Lean Startup and Tribes have been useful and commonly referred to by practitioners I’ve spoken with, but both books could probably express their ideas in a few pages.

In my opinion, don’t bother with Operations Strategy or Experience Design 1.1. These books were not helpful, interesting, or useful. There are other, better ways to explore the content.

Second semester, I started to use Audible.com for some books, and would highly recommend listening to books at high speed. This method takes advantage of time running errands, baking, or cleaning. Good candidates for listening are books where the concept is more important than the prose, where storytelling isn’t key, and you won’t want to take copious notes. There’s a lot of stopping and starting involved in consuming books this way, and the high speed tends to lose nuance in the reader’s inflection. Although note taking isn’t super intuitive, I take notes on books in Audible through bookmarks and their speech recognition software. Because you can’t read the text, it’s harder to note specific sentences.

Survival: Post-Wedding, Post-Graduation

I’m used to racing along with multiple professional and personal projects in the works, juggling many super-fun balls in the air, while working hard to breathe once in a  while. The lull between graduation/wedding month and full time employment has been an interesting experiment.

Tool profiles:

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LinkedIn:

LinkedIn has been a great connecting tool this month, and I’ve had great success contacting alumni with interesting, relevant sounding work in the Twin Cities area. This has also led to becoming more involved in the Minneapolis creative community. Sending introductory emails linking to my profile has lent some credibility.

With a 100% response rate, I must be doing something right. My InMails always include:

  • An up-front ask. “I’d love to talk with you about your experiences in this company, as well as …”
  • How I found them. “I also graduated from this college and found your profile through the alumni page.”
  • My relevant background. “I recently graduated with my MBA and have relocated to the Twin Cities, and am interested in these fields which is what your experience is in, etc.”
  • My objective. “I am currently looking to build a network of mentors while searching for the next great professional opportunity.”

Lynda.com

Although school is out, there’s no reason to stop learning! (Especially while you still get free access to services!) I’m happiest when I’m learning, so taking a few classes on Lynda.com has been useful. The best courses are in programs or topics that I know virtually nothing about, so the slow pace works well.

Some tips for getting the most out of Lynda:

  • Close all other tabs when working on a Lynda course
  • Take copious notes. (I use Evernote)
  • Stop and start the video to try things out as they talk about them
  • Make an effort to use the exercise files

Part Time Work

Following graduation, my venture partner and I got an opportunity to work with a pre-launch start-up in San Francisco doing user experience strategy. It has been invaluable to continue working on an interesting, challenging project with a great team while stretching my user experience design skills. Regular meetings and tight deadlines, even at 13-17 hours a week, are enough to keep me feeling involved.

Making a part-time, remote, contract gig work:

  • Transparently track your hours
  • Check in with the client and team members regularly
  • Share files and progress when appropriate
  • Ask for what you want

Baking

How often do you have time to make pizza with homemade ricotta, homemade pizza dough, homemade buffalo tofu, and fresh sauce? In normal life, probably never. Taking advantage of the time I have to try baking experiments and make delicious food has been a joy. Each project ends with something to show/eat for it, even if not everything turns out perfectly.

Inspiration in a Digital Age + A Digression

While sources for creative inspiration on the web abound, recently I’ve been blown away by in-person, real-life inspiring experiences. In the mad crush of grad school, moving, and planning a wedding, I’d almost forgotten how incredible art exhibits, live music, leisurely meals, and time spent quietly in nature can be.

Most adult Americans spend about 8.5 hours daily in front of screens. An additional 8 hours are spent sleeping. The remaining 7.5 hours of the day are often taken up by meetings, meals, grooming, commuting, household maintenance, and maintaining relationships. There is no natural space for a non-digital inspirational experience.

Despite this seeming death sentence for non-digital experiences, restaurants, museums, and concerts are alive and well. What if we’ve reached saturation in terms of digital interaction? What if our usage time starts to dwindle? What if it doesn’t?

Ernest Cline poses one fascinating optional reality in his novel Ready Player One, set in a world where life is lived almost entirely online. We’re not far away from having the technology to enable that type of life. In Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, he asserts that “what you see is all there is.” Our beliefs, our inspiration, and our perception of the world is based on the information we have. We cannot know what we don’t know. If all we see are carefully selected, flattering, and sometimes photoshopped images and Pinterest-perfect meals, how long will it take before the altered overtakes the actual in “what we know?” If our primary mode of existence is digital, will it matter if perception skews toward the altered version of reality?

In designing experiences, digital and non-digital, we strive to evoke visceral, non-digital meaning. We ask ourselves “what does our brand smell like? what would it have for lunch?” Human centered design, a rising trend, holds fast to the humanity of the user, striving to understand the real over the rational. Inspiration from tactile experiences is embraced and encouraged. Brands like Aerie, Dove, and Debenhams are rejecting airbrushed imagery. Other services, like Meetup and Mosey, facilitate non-digital experiences. These trends indicate that digital reality hasn’t yet won.

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For now, I will continue to luxuriate in the smell and taste of delicious meals, the texture of interesting fabrics and old books, and all the sounds of live music. I will be inspired by heady discussions over wine with my friends, classmates, and my partner, living in analog.

Summary: The Signal and the Noise

By exploring prediction methodologies as they pertain to events ranging from earthquakes to chess, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver offers insights on the art of prediction. As the title suggests, a central theme is separating signals (underlying truths), from the noise (the plethora of available data that forms meaningless patterns that can be mistaken for signals). The book makes a case for using Bayesian logic, thinking probabilistically, for better predictions. The premise is that by using information gathered from past events, you can predict future events.

Rather than read the physical copy, I listened to it at 2.5x the recorded speed. It was an interesting method to try.

Rather than read the physical copy, I listened to it at 2.5x the recorded speed. It was an interesting method to try.

Bayes’ theorem is an equation that takes multiple factors, expressed as probabilities, into account. Both general probabilities, things that are generally true, and conditional probabilities, probabilities based on if-then situations are used. For example, I eat hummus for lunch 50% of the time. (Probability.) If it’s raining, I only eat hummus 10% of the time. (Conditional probability.) The result of the equation is a likelihood of the event occurring. If you used the equation to evaluate whether or not I am likely to have hummus for lunch next Tuesday (using more information than I provided here) you may determine that there’s a 20% chance that I’ll have hummus, which does not rule out the possibility of a hummus lunch, but indicates that it is less likely than my having something else. For more information on Bayes’ theorem, check here.

Silver also addresses the value of the human versus computer in prediction. Despite a computer’s ability to sort and process massive amounts of data, humans sometimes have an edge, at least for now. In baseball, for example, the book examines predictions of player performance down the line. Computer programs made a list of players they predicted would do well, and human scouts made predictions. When the predictions were examined years later, the human scouts were more accurate. They were able to take in less quantifiable data that the computer did not consider, like personality.

Qualitative data plays a role in certain  types of predictions, although it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to take personal bias out of it, which may lead to error. Personal bias may lead us to over-emphasize certain information, while disregarding other data. The predictions that most obviously benefit from qualitative data involve human behavior. For example, predictions around poker, chess, basketball, and politics fit this category.

I was attracted to Silver’s assertion that there are uncertainties in prediction, and there always will be. There is no way to have access to all pertinent data relevant to a prediction.  Nor is it possible to un-biasedly and correctly analyze all available pertinent data. In part, this is because it is difficult to correctly discern which data is relevant. Otherwise stated: it is difficult to tell what is noise and what is signal. Silver asserts that it is important to accurately represent uncertainties, even when it makes the prediction less useful. For example, rather than stating that population growth will be P% in 30 years, it would be better to state that “pending X and Y conditions, if Z holds steady, population growth is projected to be between P% and Q% in 30 years.”

Silver also cites a Donald Rumsfeld quote: “…there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.” “Unknown unknowns” present the greatest chance for introducing danger or inaccuracy into predictions. In representing uncertainty accurately, it is important to take this under consideration. To combat unknown unknowns, Silver suggests absorbing as much data as possible by reading avidly. The more prediction-makers know, and the more they know that they don’t know, the more accurate they will be. The book asserts that most predictions go wrong due to human error, and the more data prediction-makers collect, the more human error is reduced.

When considering more data, though, there is potential to get caught up in “noise.” Rather than take “more data” as a net positive at face value, I believe there are criteria that data should meet before having equal consideration. Silver does not address this extensively in his book. The basic premise of the book is that there is so much data out there that it is easy to get stuck in the weeds, and so if we are supposed to absorb everything we can, without extensively filtering it, we are likely to become overwhelmed and confused. While I believe Silver understands this, it is not addressed and the basic idea of “get as much data as possible” is expressed throughout the book.

The concepts above were the ones that most interested me, although other gems are strewn throughout the book. Silver touches on betting strategy (always go for it if the likelihood greater than projected), poker strategy (learn the behavior of your opponents), and the relationship between extreme and non-extreme instances of events. After listening to the book, I feel much better informed about prediction strategy and am planning to incorporate representation of uncertainty into my predictions from here on out.

Brand Tribes

In addition to our socio-economic demographics, career path, and extracurricular interests, we are also defined by the items we buy and use. The things we loyally buy and use put us into “tribes” of people who share an experience, and increasingly, a set of values. In Brand Strategy, we were asked to identify five brand tribes we belong to and why. My answer is below.

The New York Times. There are many fine newspapers out there, but this one is my home. I have my favorite columns, favorite authors, favorite weekly features, and head to NYT.com whenever I’m procrastinating. It says that I’ve visited 549 articles recently. (I share the account with my fiancé, so can’t take credit for all of them. He’s also an NYT fanatic.) I trust the NYT to keep me informed of major events and to provide accurate information. The cooking section will often inspire me to try something new, and the travel section helped me plan this summer’s trip to France and Spain. The NYT also loves me. In early 2011, when they switched their pricing model, I got nine months of complementary digital access, along with many others, as an appreciation of “frequent readership.” In the last year, we upgraded to a physical edition on Sundays, and reading the paper with pancakes and espresso at home on Sunday mornings is one of the best parts of my week.

Apple. Weird as it is, I didn’t have email or use a computer regularly until I was in college. (Very late adopter.) My first laptop was an Apple PowerBook G4. It was by far the most expensive and beautiful thing I’d ever purchased. It brought email, my own music digital music collection, and Salad Fingers into my life. I’m now on my third Apple laptop, and have acquired an iPod, iPad, and iPhone. I go to Apple products because I understand how to use them. All the major devices in my life communicate with each other, and sync music, calendars, podcasts, and browser bookmarks. The interface is clean, and my most heavily used programs- InDesign, iTunes, Keynote, and Evernote work well on my Mac. Whenever there’s an issue, I can make an appointment to have it checked out by a real person who is working on my actual computer. For free.

IKEA. My home is so much IKEA. My desk, bookshelves, plates, silverware, and cutlery are all IKEA. IKEA products are easy to match (get everything in the standard black-brown finish), easy to fix or replace (break a plate? No worries, there are thousands of plates just like the one you bought three years ago at a store near you for individual purchase), and affordable. They’ve branched out into offering a variety of colors, styles, and patterns for basics. My IKEA desk lamp, for example, comes in seven colors. I love how modular everything is, so you can mix and match components. Their designs are often clean, functional, and reliable. Once you speak “IKEA,” assembly for any IKEA furniture item is easy. They have a great return policy, design their stores for optimal functionality, and have some sustainable initiatives. They also have a fun personality.

Trader Joe’sI love Trader Joe’s. They provide fun, interesting food items, affordably. A flexible cook and eater, most of my groceries (non-produce or specialized ingredients) come from TJ’s. I like their attitude, their ever-changing samples, and their ability to cater to all diets and lifestyles. They stock all sorts of gluten-free and vegan munchies. Some of my friends are hardcore TJ’s users, and we connect over their boxed cornbread (so good), and their seasonal powdered chai flavors. Reliable, fun, and easy.

TCHO chocolateFor gifts, treats, and occasions of all sorts, I turn to TCHO. The chocolate is delicious, and between the quality, packaging, and price, I feel decadent whenever I eat it. I used to buy people Blue Bottle Coffee as a gift, but now it’s always TCHO chocolate, and I never worry that it won’t be enjoyed. As a brand, they value simplicity and good design, which resonates with me.

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So, based on my brand tribes, who am I? The same as you? Different? Very different? Can you guess who I voted for in the last election? What kind of car do I drive? What kind of career I might be well-suited for? My income? My age? What are my values? What brand tribes do YOU belong to? What do your brand tribes say about you?

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