The Magic of Limitations

magic-of-oz

“If you go back back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic – being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle. These are all things that would have been considered magic a few hundred years ago.” – Elon Musk

I learned an important lesson a few years ago from a designer working at Apple. He said the more constraints you have, the more magical your designs tend to become. This post is intended to take you through what I’ve learned thus far as a result of that encounter and hopefully allow you to see life’s limitations as a springboard of possibilities.

Growing up I loved the concept of magic and owned a few magic kits. I never really got to put my magic to work in front of a large audience until a traveling magic show came to perform at our elementary school. Each teacher was asked to pick a student from their class to be in the show. I was picked by the teacher and I have to admit I was a little apprehensive tending to be on the shy side. I did however love the idea of being able to practice a newly learned trick and finally having an audience, even if it was the entire school.

That morning I met with the magic company so they could teach me and the others chosen how to perform all of the tricks for the show later that afternoon. I was paired up with another boy to do an escape from a magical trunk. The trick was they would put the other boy in the trunk, lock it, and I would stand on top of the trunk to “ensure he couldn’t escape even if he managed to somehow get past the lock.” The magician would pull a hula hoop attached to a curtain up and around us so the audience couldn’t see us for a few moments and “magically” the boy in the trunk would appear on top of the trunk and I would disappear. Once the magician opened the trunk I would appear and the audience would be even more amazed. What the audience didn’t know was the trunk did lock as a volunteer from the audience proved, but on the inside was a small lever that allowed the person inside to unlock it. Luckily the trick went off without a hitch and my friends were amazed, or at least entertained.

I’m in my mid thirties now so it has been quite a few years since that show but even in my professional years I’m still quite intrigued by the concept of magic. Creative companies, and most companies who offer their customers an experience have used the word magic in their products. Disney is one of the most famous companies that likes to make its customers forget their problems and bring visitors back to their childhood as soon as they enter the gates. Disneyland has even branded itself “The Magic Kingdom” and it is hard to walk away from your experience at one of their parks or media properties without feeling the magic. Where things get interesting in the professional world is when you limit yourself  because time and time again I’ve found those constraints to be what drives some of the most creative things I’ve done.

Magical Web Design
When you give a web designer 1280+ pixels to design a website they won’t hesitate to fill the page with features and content because they have the space. If you give that same designer 640px (iPhone resolution etc) they tend to stop and reconsider every pixel because they are now space constrained. The less space you have to work with, the more difficult it is to meet the original requirement.  Those consuming your design will expect magical things to happen with each interaction because interacting with smaller device, say a phone, is often times more difficult for them. In the web space it is interesting because if I was to ask you to think of the last website you went to that you would describe as “magical” you might have a tough time, right? However if I was to ask you to tell me about a time when you interacted with your smart phone and it did something “magical” you would have no problem thinking of an entire list of examples.

The best example of this principle is when I first used Shazam on my smart phone. Being able to hold up my phone within the proximity of a song playing and have it tell me the artist and song title was magical. Another great example was I tried Uber for the first time a few weeks ago and I have to say that experience was also magical. If you are not familiar with Uber it allows you to get transportation, often within a few minutes, right from the tap of a button on your smart phone. Upon leaving the car you are automatically billed the agreed upon amount via PayPal or a Google Wallet account you setup beforehand. Whether you call them magical moments, or wow moments, I am really passionate these days about designing magical moments.

Magical Writing
I’ve always been someone who loves to create, but often find myself jumping from idea to idea rarely finishing most projects. I have found the projects with a deadline, or often, a sudden deadline are those I tend to finish. The reasons why projects with deadlines likely get finished as compared with the others is you will be held accountable for meeting that deadline, or in other words you now have a constraint. When writing try and give yourself a deadline to finish it, or give yourself rules like not being able to use the backspace key to free write.

Magical Video Moments
In the past when I’ve had to create videos it is usually designed to educate and entertain the audience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve created something I thought was fantastic only to be told to “cut the length in half.” I’ve heard things like “people these days don’t have time to watch a two minute video” to “it has to be a minute or less.” What is interesting is although I initially liked the initial video, time after time the final video tends to be better because of the constraints I was given.

General Creativity
“We need to first be limited in order to become limitless.” – Phil Hansen

One of my favorite examples of someone who has been able to leverage a constraint in life to make something magical is Phil Hansen who “developed an unruly tremor in his hand that kept him from creating the pointillist drawings he loved. Hansen was devastated, floating without a sense of purpose. Until a neurologist made a simple suggestion: embrace this limitation … and transcend it.”

Your Magical Findings
Have you found life’s limitations have helped you create magical moments? Tell me about your experience.

It’s a Catch-22

catch22

From James Altucher on Quora:

Joseph Heller wrote the massive bestseller, Catch-22 about World War II. I recommend anyone read the book but that’s not what this answer is about.

Later in his life Heller went to a party in the Hamptons. Mostly young hedge fund guys at the party.

While he was at the party, someone came up to him and pointed out some 25 year old guy. “You see that guy over there?” the someone said. “That guy made more money last year than all of your books will make in your entire lifetime, times ten.”

Joseph Heller looked at the 25 year old guy then said. “But I have one thing that that man will never have.”

His friend gave a sort of scoff and said, “What could that possibly be?”

And Joseph Heller said, “Enough.”

2014 Resolutions

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” ― Paulo Coelho, Alchemist

2013 in Review:

Something I haven’t done in past resolutions is reflect on the past year. 2013 was one of my more difficult years, I have to admit. I even checked with Christina tonight to verify I wasn’t missing anything. In 2014 I’m ready to get some big wins again.

  • My cat Eclipse had to be put down
  • My dad had heart surgery
  • Lizzy walked
  • Tyler completed his first tball season
  • Tyler learned to ride a bike
  • Tyler started first grade
  • Rolled out a social network at work
  • After 14 great years, I was laid off at work
  • I completed the first draft of my online resume (plug)

Past resolutions:

2013 in review:

One of the first things I talked about at the start of 2013 was the number of blog posts I had shared with the world. At that time I was at 2,900 posts and as of today I am at 2,966 posts. I think I’m learning something that many of you were already aware of with blogging. I focused a lot of my energy on sharing many things I thought you would be interested in because I really enjoy sharing what I learn or discover in life. I’ll continue sharing but perhaps in another way. I’ve been working on a platform since 2008 that I have been obsessed with. A tool I use every day but know others won’t find value in as is today. With more dedicated personal time on my hands as of late I’ve tried each day to make incremental improvements to it. I say all of this to reassure you that I haven’t lost my love of blogging, or sharing, but rather hope in 2014 I can share with you what I’ve been working on and how much I’ve contributed to the platform myself.

The next thing I discussed in my 2013 resolutions was I wanted to be able to do 50 consecutive push-ups.  This goal hasn’t been accomplished for a number of reasons. The first is 50 consecutive push-ups is difficult and difficult resolutions are often the most challenging to accomplish. The second is with two kids and everything life demands, focusing on something you would think you could work on at almost any time and any place just never took priority.  My right arm has been nagging me as of late. I never had it looked at by a professional but back in high school I think I tore one of the muscles in my arm playing baseball. If I let my arm rest for a while it doesn’t ache but carrying around a 26 pound baby at extended lengths of time has aggravated it again. It isn’t a constant pain but flares up when my arm is stressed.

I also talked about taking more pictures. Interestingly that hasn’t been happening as of late and I’m not exactly sure why. I got a digital SLR camera which has broken once, I sent it back for repairs, and on a recent trip to Monterey it broke yet again. The SLR camera is great but it is cumbersome to carry around and I’ve never been happy with my point and shoot (especially once I got my SLR). I know I can’t “have my cake and eat it too” but somehow I became more disinterested in taking pictures.

I brought up “rocking the ping pong” and I think I did. Safeway buying a table and letting us play on Friday afternoons in an empty conference room was fantastic on so many levels.  One of the more interesting and unexpected things I found as a result of playing ping pong at work was the opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t normally bump into. Managing Safeway’s intranet you get to know a lot of people from a wide range of departments but each department usually had certain employees I interacted with. Ping pong was great because I was able to play something I’ve always loved and have a great time with new people. One of my favorite things about ping pong in 2013 was playing with members of our team and seeing their skills evolve. There was a ping pong tournament towards the end of the year and due to part luck of the draw, and part determination I even made it into the finals (but lost). At the end of the day it wasn’t so much about winning or losing for me, it was just getting a chance to have fun with colleagues. That isn’t to say I like to lose, I’m one of the most competitive people I know, but I will always remember all the great times we had.

Probably my least favorite resolution was making the bed each day in 2013. I don’t think I came anywhere close on this one I have to be completely honest. If you go back to past resolutions you’ll see I seem to have this as a recurring resolution but in 2014 I’m not including it. One of the things I’m learning is life gets busy and you prioritize your time accordingly. Almost all of 2013 was incredibly busy and this will sound wrong but I just had better things to do with my time (higher priorities) than worrying about if the bed was made.

Teach Tyler to ride a bike without training wheels.  It took a lot of trials and tribulations but ladies and gentleman I am proud to announce he did it. As a matter of fact he’s actually outgrown the bike in the video and got a new 18″ bike for Christmas. Hard to believe he’ll be 7 years old in May.

Run a 5k with an average pace of less than 10 minutes a mile. I started this goal out with a vengeance but just as I was about to run my first 5k I came down with a horrible cold. I wanted to still run the race but Christina who is my wise advisor said I would be crazy (and she was right). The number one thing I would tell someone who starts running is no matter what…DON’T STOP! The reason being it is hard to start running because the first few weeks, or for me, months were horrible. There was pain and definitely fatigue, I just hated it. Eventually I started to get stronger and run farther but just as I was making progress I ran into an obstacle and I stopped. I tried running a few times after but I let too much time elapse and before I knew it I was back to the pain and fatigue phase and stopped for good the rest of the year.

2014 Resolutions:

This one is probably going to surprise many of you because you probably didn’t know it is something I’ve always wanted to be able to do but I want to be able to juggle with 3 balls. I saw a book at a local bookstore the other day and told Christina I’d love for Tyler to be able to juggle because everyone needs a seemingly useless talent to just master for the sake of being able to do it. Admittedly I’ve tended to do things in life that I thought would benefit me but sometimes there are things I just want to be able to do “just because”. Tyler most likely won’t learn to juggle if I can’t juggle so I’m therefore making it a resolution for the year. I know it is a resolution that I am very likely to fail at because again it is difficult and will take patience, time, and practice.

The next resolution is to focus more time on stretching and becoming more flexible. This is going to sound lame but at 36 I’m just now starting to realize the aches and pains of ageing. I’ve never been flexible but I’m probably one of the least physically flexible people I know and I think that is very unhealthy because as I age I’m realizing how important it is.

Drink more water. Pretty self explanatory but yeah, drink more water.

My dentist has been telling me for years to floss but I’ve never taken her advice. I would like to floss at least 3-4 times a week in 2014.

Read a book a month and I’ll even share my list with you.

You might think “getting a new job” would be a 2014 resolution but I don’t think I’m going to add that one. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and have come to a number of new realizations as of late. This is one of the most unique times in my life and I’m not wasting a day. I want to be the best “Person” I can be in 2014 and beyond! Here’s to a great 2014.

Star Wars Exhibit at the Tech Museum of Innovation

Pumpkin Patch 2013