Safety, Satisfaction, and Connection

I’ve recently recommitted to the habit of listening to one or two chapters of Rick Hansen’s Hardwiring Happiness each morning. In the (audio)book Hansen offers 21 focal points for mindfulness practice. As the title suggests, he argues that if you practice these meditations, you can carve new pathways in your brain so that when you are experiencing a challenging emotion, like fear, for example, your brain will make a connection to a positive emotion that will ease that fear. This theory that you can rewire your brain is called neuroplasticity. While I’m not a 100% believer, I do find this book very helpful.

The focal points are organized into three categories that target three different parts of our brain:

  • SAFETY  – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harm (reptilian)
  • SATISFACTION – Subcortex, focused on approaching rewards (mammalian)
  • CONNECTION – Neocortex, focused on attaching to “us” (primate/human)

All 21 focal points listed out below:


  7. PEACE






  7. LOVE

Inventor Spotlight: Simone Giertz, The Every Day Calendar

Simone Giertz is known for her intentionally shitty robots and her straight man schtick in her demo videos. But this project here, the Every Day Calendar, is a more serious piece. The Everyday Calendar is a touch-sensitive, light up display that you can use to help keep track of a habit that you want to form. Giertz used it for meditation practice.

Check out Giertz’s kickstarter campaign here

Building Safety in Your Organization

At present, I’m reading a leadership book called, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. In the book, the author claims that successful organizations have three things in common: They build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose.

Building safety is step one. How do we build it? We send a consistent stream of signals that reinforce the belief that people in the organization are connected. Coyle calls these “connection cues.”

In successful cultures, leaders continually provide a steady stream of small, powerful behavioral signals—we are connectedwe share a future—that moves people away from selfish behavior, and creates cohesion and cooperation. Successful cultures aren’t smarter—they are safer.

What cues signal that safety is a priority for your organization? Here are a few tips from the book:

  • Overcommunicate that you are listening
    • “Yes.” “Uh-huh.'” “Got ya.” These cues encourage the speaker to go on
  • Spotlight your fallibility early on, especially if you’re a leader. Open up, show you make mistakes
    • “This is my two cents.” “Of course I could be wrong here.” ” What do you think?”
    • Spark a response in the listener, “How can I help?” This invites participation
  • Embrace the messenger
    • If someone brings you bad news, embrace it. That way they know it’s safe to come to you when there’s  a problem in future
  • Overdo “Thank yous”
    • Saying “thank you” is less about thanks and more about affirming the relationship and cueing safety, connection, and motivation
  • Make sure everyone has a voice


Take it further:

Daniel Coyle website

Daniel Coyle at RSA (video)

The Abrasiveness Trap

It’s becoming more well known that being an assertive woman in the workplace is not a quality that gets women promoted. Whether a woman’s manager is male or female, studies reveal that women who are assertive are perceived as abrasive compared to their assertive male colleagues who are perceived as decisive and confident.

There’s a lot of advice out there for women. One of the most popular books on negotiation tactics for women, Ask for It by Linda Babcock, suggests that women should be clear about what they want, but that they should ask for it in a “relentlessly pleasant” tone. To the author’s credit, she comes right out and says, “I don’t like it either, but the research shows that this tactic is highly effective.”

However, Babcock follows this statement with one that has a big hole in it. She writes that if enough women play the game and use the relentlessly pleasant approach to acquire positions of power, then perhaps when more women are in power, assertive women applying for jobs or asking for promotions will no longer have to play this game.

This claim is flawed because, as Babcock points out in an earlier chapter, both female and male managers are biased against women. If this bias magically goes away when more women are in leadership roles, Babcock fails to explain the magic.

So what do we do about this trap? I’m not sure. Perhaps negotiation advice for women should be focused less on individuals playing the game and more on communities of women having their eyes wide open and helping each other out.


Take it Further

The Abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews




Leading with Empathy: Yourself, Your Team, Your Customers

When you are leading a project, it’s tempting to focus on the solution. But it’s much more important to lead with empathy. Leading with empathy allows you to understand problems all around you. And once you understand these problems, you are in a much better position to build solutions. In terms of leading a product team, there are three levels of human relationships with which you need to engage empathy: yourself, your team, your customers.

Empathizing with yourself might seem like an oxymoron because the very definition of empathy is to stand in someone else’s shoes. That said, sometimes you need to see yourself as someone who really cares about you sees you. When you need to understand your fear, as a trusted friend might, and distinguish which parts of it are within your control and which parts are beyond your control, then focus your energy on the former. You need to be kind to yourself, just as a friend would,  and tell yourself that you belong here. Empathizing with yourself is the first step to leadership. If you can recognize your own hurdles, then you can help others work through theirs.

Empathizing with your team is important to leadership. It’s important to know what each team members goals are. Because when you know that, you know what motivates them and you can help them align their own motivations with the work that needs to be done. Motivated team members are the best team members. It’s also important to recognize the different points-of-view that your team members bring to the table and verbally acknowledge that you value that diversity. This acknowledgment quells doubt and builds confidence. Empathizing with your team members to understand and appreciate their motivations and their diversity creates enrollment. Enrollment is what you need to lead your team. 

Empathizing with your customers or users is a path that’s becoming more well known these days. This shift in thinking about project management is a shift from focusing on the bells and widgets of the solution or gadget that you want to build to paying attention to the problems that your customers have. Paying attention requires empathy. It requires emersion in your customer’s problems. The field of anthropology offers us a thorough set of tools for doing this that has been adopted by several prestigious innovation programs.

Leading with empathy will help you understand the problems at every level of the project at hand. Understanding problems will help you lead your team and customers to create and enroll in solutions that are driven by empathy. Empathy all around.


Take it further

Empathizing with yourself: Hardwiring Happiness

Empathizing with your team: Radical Candor

Empathizing with users: Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

4 Ways to Level Up Technology Education

When technology is taught out of context, it can only get us so far. But when we pair it with disciplines that teach effective methods for intentional change, then we can make the world better. Here are a few pairings:

  • Technology + Design. Students learn to empathize with users and to employ design processes to develop solutions that give their users super-powers.
  • Technology + Sustainability. Students learn models for human, biological, and ecological systems and to identify and leverage points in a system for positive change.
  • Technology + Entrepreneurship. Students learn how to create and test business models and use that knowledge to inform their product development process and launch.
  • Technology + Leadership. Students learn how to navigate fear, set goals, build highly functional teams, and develop trusting relationships as they work on technology projects.

What other pairings might we explore?


Managing Fear

If you are an artist or inventor, managing fear is part of your daily routine. When your job is to create something out of nothing or explore unknown territory, fear has to be a part of that.

Fear shows up in many forms. Its goal is to keep you from doing the work that you are supposed to be doing. World-changing work. Fear doesn’t want you to change anything. It’s busy trying to maintain the status quo. So your first task is to recognize it in its many forms:

  • Self-deprecation. That voice that tells you that you aren’t good enough to pursue your dreams? That’s fear telling you that. It’s trying to scare you into inaction. And it’s really good at doing that.
  • Worrying. That habit you have of worrying about things so much that they paralyze you? That’s fear. Again, trying hard to scare you into inaction.
  • Resentment. The stories you tell yourself about how other people are ruining your life by the demands that they put on your time. That’s a form of fear.
  • Busy Work. If you find yourself spending most of your energy on tasks and putting little to no energy into higher level discussions or projects, that’s fear.
  • Advice. If you find yourself giving advice to a lot of people, that’s a symptom of fear. Fear to face your own life. So much easier to focus on others.
  • Oo. Shiny. If you are constantly taking on new projects, that’s fear. Fear of finishing something because if you finish it, it might fail. Better to never finish it at all.

So what do we do about it?

  • Learn to recognize it. Even if changing your behavior feels impossible, just recognizing symptoms of fear is incredibly valuable. It puts you, and not your fear, in the driver’s seat even if you just sit there for a while listening to the radio and not going anywhere.
  • Commit to changing your habits. Succumbing to fear is a habit. We perfect this habit over the course of a lifetime. Changing it is hard and you will stumble, perhaps for the rest of your life. But committing to change isn’t too hard. Just say yes and when you stumble, say yes again.
  • Distinguish what you can and can’t control. Then take those things that you can’t control off of your plate. Yes, bad thoughts about them will creep up, perhaps even daily. But if you have identified and named the worries that you can’t do anything about, you will spend less energy worrying about them.

If artists and inventors talked more openly about fear and how they manage it, perhaps more people would be able to see themselves as artists and inventors. They wouldn’t be scared off by the illusion that artists and inventors are confident uber humans. The truth is, artists and inventors are filled with fear just as much as the rest of us. The only difference is that they have accepted that managing fear is a part of their work.



In this twitter thread, @suhail calls on CEOs to talk more openly about fear

Creating a team that trusts each other

It’s not that hard to do once you decide to do it

STEP 1. Know Yourself, Especially Your Fears. Know what triggers you. Know what scares you. See how that influences the decisions that you make, the things that you say to other people without thinking, the control that you insist on keeping.

STEP 2. Be Vulnerable. Be transparent about your fears. Not all of the time. But when they get in the driver’s seat and mess things up, it’s ok to say to your peers, “Hey. This could have been smoother. I was driven by X. Next time I might try Y.” Be honest with your team in a way that invites them to be honest with you and with each other.

STEP 3. To Change Habits, Use the Pause Button. Recognize patterns of behavior that show other people that you don’t trust them. Then commit to changing those patterns. You don’t have to know what the new pattern will be right away. You just have to teach yourself to press the pause button. Instead of reacting when you are triggered, press pause. Give yourself time to think about the best way forward. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, you will eff it up sometimes. You’re human. The important part is that you recommit and that you keep trying.

STEP 4. See and Hear the People Around You. Know what their priorities are. Know what fears they have. Don’t assume that you know them or can read them without really talking to them. And don’t assume that you know them through gossip. (Btw — don’t engage in gossip. Shut that sh*t down)

To get to know people’s priorities and fears, you might ask, “What’s on your mind?” and follow that with, “And What Else?” These questions* help people dig deep and they help people feel seen and heard.

STEP 5. Value Your Team’s Diversity. Acknowledge Tension. You have a diverse team because you value multiple points of view. But the cost of that diversity is that it sometimes creates tension. Don’t avoid the tension. Don’t pretend it doesn’t happen. Lean into it. It may very well be a sign that your team is about to make a breakthrough or solve an important problem.

STEP 6. Don’t Rush to Solutions. Each problem has multiple solutions. Before you make a decision, articulate the problem you are trying to solve, and if you have a solution in mind, share it along with the rationale behind it. From there your team has the information they need to offer you alternative solutions. Spending a little time in this process creates buy-in, gains trust, helps people be seen, makes them feel included. It seems like a lot of work, but taking the time to build trust is worth it. A trusting team works better than a team that is distracted by fear.

STEP 7. Give Feedback. As a rule, criticism in private, praise in public. When you give criticism, be sure to share your rationale and your high-level thinking. This will make the criticism less personal and more inclusive. As for giving praise, be sure that it’s more than, ”Great job!” Let people know that you see their process and that process is something you value. “I like how you did X. I can tell you really thought about Y,” is useful and meaningful feedback.

A trusting team is free to redirect the energy that they used to spend on protecting themselves to helping make your organization great. Because they believe in it. Because they have buy-in. Because they feel seen and heard and trusted.

When Women Lead in Technology

Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 6.26.33 AM

When women lead in technology, they scale amazing things. But there are a lot of obstacles for women in tech. It’s not easy for them to find, let alone stay on, that path.

If you google the phrase “famous inventors” one of the first images you’ll get back is an image of “The Famous Inventors Jigsaw Puzzle.” This is a large format puzzle that pictures the faces of over 50 inventors. Each face is white and each face is male.

We’ve all seen the numbers about women in tech.

  • Only 5 percent of startups are owned by women
  • In 2016 only  2.4% of 59 billion VC dollars was invested in women-led companies
  • The quit rate for women in high tech is double the quit rate of men

Quite a puzzle, indeed.

So WHY does this matter? It matters because technology scales really well. And when it’s in the hands of more women, it can scale amazing things.

When women lead in technology:

  • We get inventions like Supa, a smart system that enables your athletic wear to monitor your health, invented by Sabine Seymour 

  • We get people like Elisa Miller-Out who sold her first tech company and turned around to start Chloe Capital, an angel fund for female founders

  • And we get Danielle Applestone, the CEO of Bantam Tools who is using her position to help manufacturers hire and train women for new tech jobs 

There is no doubt. When women lead in technology, they lift people up. When women lead, they make the world better.

This lack of women in tech is a systemic problem. What’s puzzling is that 75% of young girls express an interest in STEM. But when you look at the low numbers in industry, it’s clear that something breaks down along the way.

Growing up, I loved lego as a kid and I excelled at shop class and mechanical drawing in high school. But I didn’t see anyone who looked liked me doing this stuff. Every image I had of an engineer or inventor looked like the faces on the inventors puzzle.

Since I liked making stuff with my hands, I studied art in college. It took me ten years after I graduated to find industrial design and to finally discover who I was meant to be.

So what can we do to help girls and women find a technology path and stay on it?

  • If you’re a teacher or a parent, encourage and support girls in STEM. Help them find role models.
  • If you run a tech company, ask the women who you work with what they need to succeed and don’t shut down if their answers make you feel uncomfortable.
  • If you are an investor, invest in women. They won’t let you down.
  • If you are a woman yourself who likes tech but feels too afraid to get into it, do it anyway. Find people to support you either in your company or outside of it. Become the role model that young women need to see.

We get to decide who invents the future by who we choose to see and support and lift up. Let’s solve “The Famous Inventors Puzzle” together.


The stats in this post are pulled from



Teachers are the ultimate leverage points

I care deeply about who goes into technology as a profession and what they decide to do with it. Why do I care about that? Because technology is a powerful lever. It has an enormous impact on society and the world. When it’s in the hands of thoughtful people, it can scale amazing things. But in the hands of less thoughtful people, it scales mediocrity and distraction, and even worse, destruction. And since we need more truly amazing things and less mediocrity and distraction and destruction, we need to nurture thoughtful technologists who will design and launch amazing things.

How is it that some people go into tech and others decide not to? There are a few factors. Role models and cultural signals are huge influencers. Growing up, I didn’t have tech role models or see any signs from the people around me that tech was a path. So while I loved lego as a kid and I excelled at shop class and mechanical drawing in high school, I didn’t find my way to engineering. I didn’t know it was an option. I pursued art.

Ten years after art school, I discovered Industrial Design and finally found where I was supposed to be. A rich mix of art and design and engineering and systems. I was home.

But I didn’t become an industrial designer. Instead I put my energy into teaching, into trying to fix this problem I had in my youth. I wanted to help young people discover their inner techie earlier than I did. I still want to help them do that.

But I’m burnt out on teaching. Ten years of it and I’ve only reached a few students a year. Yes, I’ve helped set those students on a path to making and launching deep technology. But that’s not enough impact. It’s too small and it’s too slow. I need to level up or quit.

Recently I’ve been thinking that I want to quit teaching and try something new. Maybe even go back to being an artist. But the world keeps telling me that my teaching is my art. I need to lean into that. And I need to find a way to leverage it.

I think I’ll turn my focus from educating students to educating teachers. Teachers are the ultimate leverage points. If you can empower a teacher to teach technology in a thoughtful way, a way that inspires their students to become world changers and inventors, then you can reach, let’s say, 50 students over that teacher’s career — students who discover the path to designing and shipping meaningful technology. And if you can empower hundreds of teachers to teach technology in a thoughtful way, you can reach tens of thousands of students. And if you can teach a few of your peers to teach teachers, then you can reach millions of students. Leverage.