How are you?

Notice how grooved we get in our reply to this question.

Either we respond with an anodyne “Fine thanks. And you?”

Or we use it as a chance to vent about the last three things that went wrong in our day.

Here’s an idea: use this as a moment to consciously, genuinely share the most positive thing that’s happened recently, or one thing you’re looking forward to.

By sharing that emotion and that energy, the person who was kind enough to ask can feel that and pay it forward.

I have nothing to say

Most of the time, most ideas worth writing about don’t show up fully formed at the precise moment we stare at a blank sheet of paper.

Indeed, if we expect all of our useful, original ideas to show up only after we settle into the chair, we are setting ourselves up for a lot of frustration.

The ideas come at other moments.  Our job is to remain curious and attentive, so that we stop for long enough to notice our glimpses of passionate insight, of outraged exasperation or of simple, concise observation.

When these moments occur, we must hold on to them for long enough to write down the feelings we have, the core of the insight, and a few scratches about how the argument will flow.

Once that’s done, the writing boils down to the relatively simpler act of putting words around the thoughts so others can see them too.

Graduation – Dorothea Tanning

I came across this beautiful poem on the NYC Subway today.  Poignant words as we head into a graduation weekend.


He told us, with the years, you will come

to love the world.

And we sat there with our souls in our laps,

and comforted them.

Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012)

Also made me think about this article that came out Tuesday in The Atlantic about how smart phones are turning our public spaces into private ones.  I’m experimenting with not looking at my iPhone in the elevator, just as a start.  Crazy that even that would be a challenge.

What have you noticed lately?

A friend just shared this fascinating conversation on the AIGA website about noticing.  It touches on a few interrelated themes, but starts with the basic premise that it is important to be an “active noticer” (my made-up term) in the world if you’re going to be an effective designer (and, I would argue, communicator and storyteller).

I’m seeing the importance of noticing coming up more and more.  You need to be an active listener if you’re going to be successful at connecting with people.  You need to pick up on peoples’ cues, the flow of their conversation, even their language (I’ve noticed this last point especially when speaking in a foreign language, and how one’s accent naturally adjusts depending on the person with whom you’re talking.  I’m pretty sure it happens in English all the time as well, it’s just harder to notice).  But more broadly, the more you notice in the world, the more informed, connected, and aware you are of your surroundings, both local and global.

Noticing is also at the core of the design thinking mentality of great design firms, and IDEO has worked closely with Acumen Fund (where I work) to help us think about and incorporate user-centered design in creating products and services for the poor.

What a radical notion: start with poor people, their habits and their preference, when figuring out how to design a product.  Take their opinions seriously.  It’s about listening and valuing what you’re hearing and seeing, and knowing that you as an outsider don’t have all the answers.  It’s also the opposite of how lots of poverty alleviation has been practiced by international organizations, like the World Bank (“Bring in the experts!”), for decades.

From the conversation at AIGA, Dan Soltzberg comments:

It reminds me a lot of the approach we take to being with people when we do fieldwork. In the field, you have to simultaneously drink all kinds of information in, and at the same time be active in guiding the interaction. There’s this tightrope walk between action and non-action, ego and non-ego. To move back and forth gracefully between these different ways of being requires noticing not just what’s going on around you but what’s going on inside you as well. It’s one of these things that sounds so simple, but really takes practice to be good at.

If you’re going to be an effective communicator and storyteller, you have to be good at noticing – it’s the source of your raw material and the fabric of your conversations.

I’m discovering that it’s also part of the value of blogging: it forces you to notice and really pay attention to the world around you.

What have you noticed lately?