On Coaching

Last year I observed a national program that helps academic researchers get on an entrepreneurial path. I was impressed by how the program leaders made a big point of encouraging the teaching team to distinguish the difference between coaching and consulting.

Coaching is question-oriented. Consulting is prescriptive. Coaching is more effective and Consulting is less so. Coaching is harder. Consulting is easier.

My partner and I laughed the other day as we watched a scene on television in which a Rabbi on his deathbed was talking to his attending doctor who was clearly in pain. He said something like, “I’m about to die here so I’m just going to skip the part where I pretend that I don’t know what to tell you. I’m just gonna tell you, ok?” We laughed because when we are tired, this is how we teach! We fast forward to the advice part. And then we beat ourselves up later because we know it’s not an effective approach. I mean, if you’re on your death bed, you can pull it off. But otherwise, coaching is the way to go.

So why do we consult when coaching is more effective? Like I said above, it’s easier. If you think you know the answer for someone, it’s 1000 times less work to just tell them what you think rather than ask them 20 questions to try and tease it out.

And why is coaching more effective than consulting? Because it empowers people to formulate their own questions about their own work and lives and not depend on others to do that for them. Yes, for the coach it feels like you’re giving up control of the situation. But that’s what it’s supposed to feel like. That’s the very definition of empowerment.




Friday’s Printable: Some Color for You!

5 mar header

Oof. It’s still pretty cold and grey here in Ithaca, NY. But soon it will come alive. Here’s to looking forward!

On Fridays, I post a pair of printable cards made from shots that I snap on my phone. Print them out, keep them for yourself, or share with friends. Enjoy!

Download this week’s cards here

A few production tips

  • PRINTING. Use cardstock to print these out and make sure the print settings are set to “actual size.”
  • CUTTING. I included a little mark halfway down the page so that you know where to cut. The best way to cut this in half is with a metal straight edge and an x-acto knife.
  • FOLDING. The best way to fold these is to line up the corners, then use a long flat edge, like the side of a marker, to make the crease.
  • MAILING. You’ll need some envelopes. Something like this should do the trick.

You can find more printables here

Inventor Spotlight: Melanie Shapiro

Melanie Shapiro is the CEO and co-founder of a wearable identity system, Token. Shapiro holds a PhD in Consumer Behavior from the University of Reading, sold her first tech company, Digsby, in 2010, and has spent time as a researcher for Microsoft.

In this video, Shapiro spends a glorious eight minutes talking about her product at a high-level, “We are trying to give people control of their identity and we start by eliminating all of the things that you have to carry around to prove who you are.”

She’s talking about the social and human behavior that her design team is responding to  (the problem space) and not the technological features that her team is building (the solution space). Shapiro offers us some history,

“When we were living in villages, our society was only as big as the 150 people around us. People knew us by our personhood…and that was enough. Complexity was added when that society grew to be a global society and suddenly I need to prove who I am to someone that is all the way on the other side of the world and that person has no history with me. How do we create that sense of trust?”

And then goes on to critique the centralized and siloed structure of our current solutions for creating trust. It’s an insightful and articulate critique.

It’s such a pleasure to watch a tech video that isn’t focused on features but rather on human behavior, culture, and society. And I appreciate a smart device team that thinks beyond the screen and beyond siloed solutions as the Token team is doing. The tech world needs more of this.



You can read more about Shapiro’s human-centered approach on the Token blog

When Artists Talk to Artists

Journalists have a talent for making the obscure understandable to the general public. So they ask questions that are pretty broad and help the experts that they are interviewing be understood by non-experts. It’s a great service to society!

Something different happens when an expert interviews another expert. Yes, it can get a little heady. But it can also be super fun, especially if it’s a subject that you the reader cares about.

This interview with Zappa guitarist Steve Vai  is one of those “experts interviewing experts” situations. It’s not for everyone. It’s niche. But if you’re into music and musical notation and in this instance, polyrhythms, then check it out.

The link above starts about 20 minutes into the interview. In the first 20 minutes, Vai talks about the importance of owning your publishing. It’s the business side of the story and an important one. As he points out, a lot of musicians sign crappy deals. So he gives some useful advice on that.

But the magic begins when he talks about music and his journey into it. He first heard Zappa as a student at Berklee. He was so obsessed with understanding what that music was about that he started transcribing it. He then sent a transcription of a song to FZ, and Zappa hired him to do more. Only later was Vai invited to play in the band!

I enjoy how Vai talks about the process of figuring out complex rhythms. In order to figure them out, he says, he has to feel them first, and then visualize them on the page. A truly synesthetic experience!

And I adore what he says to the interviewer, Rick Beato, at the end of the interview, “I’ve done 1000s of interviews, and not once has someone asked me about polyrhythms. Which is weird because it’s something I know a lot about!”

It’s fun to talk shop. Yes, there is a time and a place for it. And if you’ve got newbies in the room, don’t be rude, bring them in! But it’s ok to balance general speak with nitty-gritty.



This entire series from producer Rick Beato is fantastic. It ranges in complexity from accessible videos about rock songs to advanced lectures on music theory and ear training.

This video in which he deconstructs The Police song “Every Little Thing” is great.




Does Art Make Us Smart?

The other day we attended a celebration of author, critic, and Cornell English Literature professor Dan Schwartz. It was a lot of fun! Schwartz has been teaching at Cornell for 50 years and so there were a lot of former students up on the stage talking about what they had learned from their professor and how it had manifested in their own lives and careers.

The folks in the room were fluent in literary theory and I am not. But as a designer, I spend a good amount of time thinking about the intention of the designer and the relationship between the designer, the objects and systems that they design, and how a user interprets the designer’s intent. Literary critics think and write about the same relationships but with different words: they replace the word designer with author; designed objects with text; and user with reader.

Schwartz wrote a fun piece in the Huffington Post a few years back–Why Study the Arts and Humanities? –that evolved into a book–How to Succeed in College and Beyond. 

In the article, he claims that engaging with the arts does, indeed, make us smarter. Here are a few quotes that speak to that in broad strokes:

That entry into other worlds and minds does give us a larger context for thinking about how to live and how to confront and understand present personal and historic issues, even while also giving us pleasure for its own sake.

Another way to think about what the arts do is to ask whether experiencing the arts makes us more perceptive and sensitive humans. We can say with some certainty that reading and viewing masterworks in the visual arts or in attending performances of great music, opera, or ballet widens our horizons about how people behave and what historical and cultural forces shape that behavior.

And this quote goes beyond broad strokes and digs into the details:

The form of imaginative art, as well as the form of well-written non-fiction, organizes the mess (if not the chaos) of personal life as well as that of external events. Form not only organizes and controls art but also other bodies of knowledge within the humanities. Form imposes structure that our own lives — as we move from moment to moment through time — may lack.

The effect that a text has on our thinking and feeling is interesting. And so is trying to understand the techniques that the author used to shape our experience with the work.



I just discovered a youtube series by a former music prof of mine called “What Makes This Song Great?” It’s super fun and if you watch the videos, you will become smarter, a smarter listener at least. Check out one of these episodes here

and a link to Dan Schwartz’s article is here

When You’re the Product and Not the Customer

You don’t have rights on facebook and twitter. That’s because you’re not their customer. You are their product.

And if you switch from facebook to instagram as many of the kids are doing these days, you’re still on facebook. Facebook owns instagram. They are still capturing and selling the data that you give them for free when you upload, comment on, or “like” content.

It’s pretty weird. But ever weirder is how little we understand or do about it.

But there are things you can do:

  • You can opt out. I’ve tried that a few times over the years. It’s hard. And FOMO wins every time. Facebook knows this, of course. It’s their leverage.
  • You can take some of your conversations elsewhere – join a discussion group via listserv or slack or a discuss group.
  • You can engage more with blogs! Start one and read more. The platform I use for this blog, Wordpress, has a great tagline: “Own Your Content.”

With all of these options, you still don’t have privacy. But you are taking more control of your content and not just handing it over to the man.

Yes, if you make some or all of these changes you will feel the “pain” of a smaller network. But you’ll also feel the rewards of engaging with a group that is speaking and listening with much more care and intention.


Take it Further:


Craft in the Industrial Age


The Arts & Crafts movement was a design movement that emerged in the late 19th century/early 20th century in response to the gaudy design coming out of new industrialized factories that featured fake joinery and Victorian Era ornament. Faced with the chaos of industrialization, the members of the Arts & Crafts movement aimed to find a new aesthetic, one that celebrated the authenticity of handcraft while embracing new techniques that would make craft affordable to everyday people. Gustav Stickley, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Roycrofters in East Aurora, NY are famous leaders of this movement.

Yesterday we visited the Stickley Museum in Fayetteville, NY. It’s housed in the old Stickley Factory that was opened in 1900 and operated til 1985 when they moved operations to a larger shop down the road in Manlius, NY.  Also housed in the old factory is the Fayetteville Public Library which is one of the first libraries to build a Fab Lab. This little spot a few miles east-southeast of Syracuse, NY is a magical place. You can feel the history, the sense of purpose, the carving out of a new voice in the face of dramatic technological change.

There are hints of a similar movement today. Artists & Inventors like Nervous System are exploring desktop fabrication in a way that embraces the unique qualities of it. Artists & Inventors like Lauren McCarthy are exploring sensors and machine learning in critical and thoughtful ways. When we look back 100 years from now, who will be the leaders of the “Arts and Crafts” movement of this time? And what legacy will they leave behind?

Seen and Not Heard

We all get confusing messages growing up. I grew up in the 1970s and was raised on Sesame Street and Anti-Coloring Books and tofu. It was great. But there were also messages from my parents’ postwar upbringing that found their way into our home. More conservative lessons. One such lesson was, “Children are to be seen and not heard.”

What a crazy lesson! It teaches you to keep quiet and be compliant and that if you do speak up, you are breaking the rules!

So we learn that keeping quiet is the safe way to go. If you don’t speak up, then you don’t get criticised. Then you don’t get judged. Easy Breezy.

Speaking up is harder. And there are painful consequences.

What a waste of energy it is to have to sort it all out. How much emotional labor do we spend on keeping quiet or beating ourselves up when we don’t? And I wonder why it is that these lessons are absorbed by some children and not other children? Who grows up thinking that speaking up is a good thing and who grows up thinking that it’s wrong? And what are the consequences of that?


Friday’s Printable: Mary and Mic

4 mar header

On Fridays, I post a pair of printable cards made from shots that I snap on my phone. Print them out, keep them for yourself, or share with friends. Enjoy!

Download this week’s cards here

A few production tips

  • PRINTING. Use cardstock to print these out and make sure the print settings are set to “actual size.”
  • CUTTING. I included a little mark halfway down the page so that you know where to cut. The best way to cut this in half is with a metal straight edge and an x-acto knife.
  • FOLDING. The best way to fold these is to line up the corners, then use a long flat edge, like the side of a marker, to make the crease.
  • MAILING. You’ll need some envelopes. Something like this should do the trick.

You can find more printables here

Vision is Always Ahead of Execution

One reason that creative people are drawn to new ideas, often at the expense of executing ideas they already have, is that new ideas have an ideal perfection about them. But once you sit down and start to execute a new idea, you soon realize how complex it really is and that you’ll never be able to make it as pretty and shiny as it appeared when you first thought of it. This reality bums you out, so you find a new, new idea.

I adore this excerpt from the book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland (1994) that makes an interesting claim about vision and new ideas and how they are perceived differently by beginners versus masters:

Fears rise in those entirely appropriate and frequently occurring moments when vision races ahead of execution. Consider the story of the young student who began piano studies with a master. After a few months practice, the student lamented to his teacher, “But I can hear the music so much better in my head than I can get out of my fingers,” to which the master replied, “What makes you think that ever changes?”

That’s why they are called masters.

When he raised the student’s discovery from an expression of self-doubt to a simple observation of reality, uncertainty became an asset. Lesson for the day: Vision is always ahead of execution, and it should be. Vision, uncertainty, and knowledge of materials are inevitabilities that all artists must acknowledge and learn from. Vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue.

“Vision is always ahead of execution, and it should be.” If you can hold this in your mind as you are struggling with the imperfection of your own work, it will ground you. It will keep you focused. And it will earn you the title of master.