Do Both


This is from a June 07, 2005 post on my original Simplicity blog that a reader found still exists on the Wayback Machine here.

Brand is an inoperable asset for the customer. It doesn’t make your product work any better. Although it does makes a potential consumer desire your product more.

Is it cheaper to improve a product’s reliability and functionality? Or is it cheaper to improve a product’s desirability? Considering the marginal costs of additional research and development, combined with production, testing, assurance, and so forth, the answer is fairly clear. Investing in advertising is a cost-effective way to increase the profit for an existing product. If the campaign is any good of course.

What determines “good”? Is it the copy? Is it the visuals? Is it the celebrity that has been chosen to be the head cheerleader? Seems like there are tons of subjective variables to consider that will ultimately define success or failure.

On second thought, maybe it is cheaper to make the product better. But nobody would know if it were any better without proper advertising.

Perhaps the one sure thing is to realize product improvements combined with a relevant degree of marketing. In essence, the proverbial “do both.”

Do both. has been a recurring theme in my life just as much as Nike’s Just Do it. Do I do X or Y? Both are extremely hard tasks. You would think that a good mentor would steer you in an efficient manner by telling you which to attack first. Turns out that all of my mentors (at least the ones I would respect) would damn me with the simple recommendation to Do both. Sure does solve a lot of problems. Kind of kills your personal life though …

Dr. Daniel Cabrera’s LOS for Emergency Medicine

I was pleased and honored to see this adaptation by Dr. Daniel Cabrera at Mayo Clinic on applying the Laws of Simplicity to the emergency medicine space. The link is here: Thank you Dr. Cabrera! -JM

  • Reduce. The easiest way to approach a clinical problem is to reduce it to its minimal meaningful expression.
  • Organize. Grouping problems and information make infinite problems appears finite.
  • Time. Decrease time spent in meaningless activities and increasing time on essential tasks.
  • Learn. Knowledge is key, you need to know where to find the answer to any question.
  • Differences. The key is to find what makes a clinical problem different from others and not how to make it fit into a pattern.
  • Context. The environment provides meaning to the problem; not the other way around.
  • Emotion. Use your intuition (quasirrational decision making) and avoid your emotional and cognitive biases.
  • Trust. Less information is better than more information. Subtract the meaningless and add the meaningful.
  • Failure. Use metacognition to learn where the system failed. Learn from your and others mistakes.
  • The-One. Clinical problems are more complex than they look but simpler than you think. 

Simply Imperfect


A friend gave me this book by Robin Griggs Lawrence entitled “Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House.” The book speaks to the Japanese concept of beauty as elegant instances of imperfection. Nature is “perfectly imperfect” — and thus to emulate that condition of beauty is what brings us in harmony with the way the earth presents itself to us. It’s ironically what lies at the essence of the pursuit of perfection in Modernism, and yet is so easy to forget. -JM

Commencement Memories

I’ve noted a habit within me around commencement time every year — which is, naturally, for my mind to drift back to my own commencement experience. There’s one thing I remember quite clearly that truly shaped my life that I heard from my commencement speaker at MIT in 1989. His name is Paul Tsongas. I had no idea who he was, at the time. You can find the entire transcript of his speech right here. He describes himself well by sharing the thought after a few minutes into his commencement speech:

“When I graduated from college, if the speaker had announced that one of us sitting there would be elected to the United States Senate at the age of 37, and come down with cancer at the age of 42, I would have been absolutely and totally certain that neither event would happen to me. And yet, both did.”

That line caught all our attention, especially me. What isn’t remaining in the transcript online is something he adlibbed that stuck to me. It was to the effect.

“Look to your left. Look to your right. In twenty years from now, or maybe even sooner, one of your fellow graduates will have passed away for some unexpected reason. All you get to control right now, is what you do with your life right now.”

It was the kind of point made, that someone who had experienced life as he had done so … that made it much more than a generic comment to generate inspiration in a younger generation. It was the first moment that I felt that all of my youthful invincibility and training acquired through achieving the “college dream” instilled by my working class parents, might be somewhat of a mirage. And true to Senator Tsongas’ point, as I got older I understood his simply stated prophecy — which is a simple fact of life — that some of us get to keep on going, and some of us don’t. His message spanned many themes of national security revolving around his thoughts around Soviet Union and China, and also touched heavily on the rapid evolution of the financial markets at the time. Yet what I remember most, is that one point he gave to all of us about our inherent mortality. Which was especially brought home when I returned to MIT as a professor around the same time that Senator Tsongas passed away at the young age of 55. So when one of my mentor Mits Kataoka shared his thoughts about life as being lived in four quarters, and how I shouldn’t waste my second quarter, you could say that thanks to Senator Tsongas, I was more than ready to hear, understand, and try to act upon that knowledge. Thank you, Mr. Tsongas! -JM

Always Being Told That You Have Potential

Yesterday I had lunch with an old friend — Bob Sabiston — the computer graphics animator that helped Richard Linklater make his groundbreaking film Waking Life. We talked about how blown away we were at all the computer-based work that the new generation keeps cranking out. And we were both shocked by all the artist-coders and designer-programmers that are out there now — having come from a time when a “unicorn” was just a myth, and when Bob and I were emergent anomalies along with other folks we knew at MIT like Michael Johnson at Pixar, John Underkoffler at Oblong, and a few other *very*-confused folks around the world. I should note that watching Bob do what he did as a student at MIT in the 80s — combining traditional two-dimensional hand-drawn animation with 3d graphics programming — was what motivated and inspired me to crossover from technology into the creative world.

So while talking tech, creativity, and so forth, it was a completely unexpected turn when we started talking about the question of, “How did we become the old guys?” The background music from a few movies I had seen before … started to play in my mind as we talked. In the end we concluded that we have to keep on learning new things, and learn what we can from the next generation.

This morning I woke up and remembered a story that helped me get out of my “old man” thing from yesterday. It was told by a wise young man that another friend had met at a conference a few years back. It went like this,

When you’re young and up-and-coming, everyone tells you … “You  … have such potential. Such great potential!”

When you’re older, everyone tells you … “You did such great things. You … really made an impact!”

The trick I’ve figured out, having had the chance to meet and talk with incredible people from all generations, is … to always be told … no matter how old you are … that, “you have potential.” The key to life is always being told that you have potential.

So to the reader of this little post, I want you to know that … you have potential. Have a maximizing-your-potential day! -JM