On limitations

Some limitations are actually very useful. They push us to do better with less and get more creative. Comedians who can’t curse on the airwaves have to work around it. Old school demos are all about pushing against very limited hardware. Limitations also offer a safe harbor for excuses when we fail at our goals.

Of course many limitations are just that, limitations. The original 10 minute limit on YouTube didn’t make anything better (people just uploaded several videos). Nor did the 56k modem make early browsing any more enjoyable compared to cable modems.

Next time you blame a limitation for failing, make sure it’s an actual limitation and not an excuse.

What’s your MUST?

If a goal is a MUST then you will achieve it. We all have daily MUST goals whether we realize it or not: catching the 8:52 bus to work, brushing your teeth in the morning, watching the latest Game Of Thrones episode. MUSTs are goals which you often set even without realizing it. It’s something so important you couldn’t imagine not doing it. More than fifty consecutive daily blog posts later, writing once a day is now a MUST for me. Seven days of healthy eating and it’s beginning to form into a MUST.

What’s your MUST?

Right the first time

Consider these firsts and their Apple counterparts:

Microsoft Tablet PC (2002) vs. iPad (2010)

Rio MP3 players (1998) vs the iPod (2001)

Napster (1999) vs iTunes (2001)

Being first to do something is great when you’re climbing a mountain, breaking records or going to space. Being first to launch a product is great only if you get it right.


Omit the obvious

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.Mark Twain

When it comes to writing, my basic principle is to use as few words as I possibly can to describe something. vs. My writing style omits the obvious.

It takes lots of skill and time to condense your writing into something that’s short and to the point. vs. Meaningful writing is difficult and takes time to learn.

I have no problem in writing long and winding sentences with tons of unnecessary details. vs. Writing too much is easy.

Why fire extinguishers are red

I was browsing Facebook and came across a designer fire extinguisher: Phoenix by Jalo Helsinki. It’s sleek, stylish and designed by Oiva Toikka, a Finnish designer famous for working with glass. It blends seamlessly into any designer kitchen. The question is, should a fire extinguisher blend into its surroundings? 

If I buy this fire extinguisher and put it in my kitchen next to the stove, I know it’s a fire extinguisher. But if I’m having a house party, and I’m in the toilet while one of my guests sets something on fire, would they know it’s a fire extinguisher?

One of Don Norman’s user-centered design principles is “making things visible“. The user should be able to know what something is and what you can do with it, just by looking. I’m not saying a fire extinguisher should look ugly and red, I’m saying it should look like a fire extinguisher.


P.S. Jalo Helsinki also makes other designer fire safety related products such as smoke alarms and fire blankets. They look great and I would be happy to have them in my house.

Quick tip: update later

Always resist the temptation of updating critical software when you are working on something important. You launch your tools and it starts nagging about the latest update. There might be a cool feature which you want to try, but just resist. No new feature is worth the risk of introducing bugs to your development environment when you need to get stuff done right now.

Centralized data

Never ever keep the same data in two separate places. Meaning, if you somehow have two or more different databases where you keep a table of your customers / offices / equipment, make absolutely sure there is automated synchronization between the two. I’ve worked with data sources where there are upto five different locations (cloud services, different SQL databases)  for the “same” data. In the end nobody really knows which is the most accurate source, nor which one is truly up to date. KISS works here the best: One source of data per dimension.

Prioritize ideas, not value

Your website doesn’t look good enough so you won’t launch. Your DSLR doesn’t do 4k so you won’t film. Your X isn’t Y so you won’t do Z.

YouTube is full of corporate promotion videos which cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to produce. They all look great, professional. And almost all of them have hits in the hundreds, not millions.

Why and what you create is much more important than how you create it. I’m not saying production value doesn’t matter, I’m saying it comes with time.

Somebody had to invent fast food

I went to see “The Founder“, a movie about the rise of McDonald’s as a franchise. A part of it was dedicated to explaining how the McDonald brothers came up with the concept of fast food. They created an entire line of custom kitchen tools, the layout for the burger assembly line and timed everything to the T. They got rid of servers and complicated menus. They created the concept of making food, before the order was made.

Only after I stepped out of the theater, it occurred to me: fast food had to be invented.

We can think of what was before automobiles, iPhones and space shuttles, but what was before graphical user interfaces, personal computers and surgeons washing hands? Invisible inventions are everywhere.

P.S. That movie taught me a great business lesson: ink on paper doesn’t mean bupkis if the other guy has an empire.

Make a choice – don’t browse

How many hours do you spend just browsing something? Clicking from one YouTube video to another, going through podcasts, picking out something on Netflix only to go back to the menu to watch something else. Having choice is great but control over media has turned us into picky, fidgety consumers. I’m absolutely guilty of doing this myself.

Here’s my advice: make a decision and then stick with it. Watch the whole movie from beginning to end even if it isn’t that great five minutes in. For added difficulty, put your phone in the other room so you don’t play with it during the film.

Sticking to a decision will relieve you from the stress of trying to “maximize” the enjoyment by finding the perfect thing to consume. Being mindful over your experience and not playing with your phone constantly relaxes your brain much like meditation does. Yesterday, I watched Blade Runner in its entirety without a single break and felt damn near enlightened.


P.S. I wrote about why I love watching TV a while ago. If you liked this post, you might want to read it also.