Whether you’re running Lean or sprinting with Agile, turning the corner successfully on a big project can bring huge disappointment, especially if you didn’t plan for it.

You know what I’m talking about. Stop pretending that you don’t.

You’ve been awake for practically a month—3 hours here, 5 hours of sleep there.  There are white boards and sticky notes covering the walls like trellises in some mad hatter indoor garden. You did it! You ran those reports, watched the data, re-read that manuscript and looked at the calendar, shocked. You shipped.

But now you feel like crap on a stick…after it has been scraped off a shoe.

You may have practiced the Pomodoro technique while you hustled, programmed your desktop to lock you out of your favorite social media site, made running reminders in Wunderlist, outlines in Asana, tasks in Trello, and publication budgets in Basecamp. You were organized, and you still had to rush at the end. You still skipped breakfast, the potty, the hug.

You slipped out on life. You created a moment in time, with a new mantra: “When I get done with x, I will finally do y.”

Now you’re done and there is no way to go and do y. Y moved on. Y lost its glamor.

Seth Godin calls it the Lizard: the fear you must face to ship. Sheryl Sandberg tells women “to lean in,” to push through the challenges to get that C room office. Steve Blank wants you to understand and accept that you are questing from failure to failure in search of a biz model that is productive. Creativity hackers tell you to trick your resistant self with games, breaks, inversions and reward yourself for each small success.  There’s a lot of force here, quite a bit of elegant faking it to you make it, and a lot of success. Most of it works.

So why then does it suck so much?

When I Grow Up
Completing any large project is like going through an initiation. You just joined the DONE Club (Definitely Over, Now Escape). Now that you are done, what are you gonna do now? In the 1990s, Mickey wanted you to come and kick it with him at Disneyland. These days, your boss (who is likely the loudmouth in your head) wants you to be vigilant and watch the metrics. Look for the bounce. Check the spin. Mind the funnel. But you are DONE.

You are so done, that you are now sick, or paralyzed at your desk with confusion seasoned with just a twinge of terror. “What comes next,” reverberates in your brain, but that ache in your chest is asking, “Who am I NOW?”

You crossed the Rubicon. You walked the coals. You moved heaven and earth. Now you are new. You get a natural do-over, because every admission to the DONE Club is a free pass into Started It Land.  And once there, you can choose to keep starting anything that you already put in motion while you sprinted to the finish line.
These are usually projects that diverge wildly from the initial scope/goal/target. This is where your opportunity to dazzle yourself is the greatest.

You can take control of the terms of your DONE Club membership. It’s Definitely Over, but Now Evolve.

Float Like A Butterfly
One of the most common errors in planning a major overhaul, pivot, or undertaking is neglecting to chart time for emotional needs. There’s quite a bit more to your human experience than eating, sleeping, and, um letting out the garbage. Even though organizations like Google, Apple, and Netflix recognize the need to treat workers better by providing opportunities to “own” a project or even to rest when the need arises, there is still a pressure to optimize your life so that it fits into work.
Each massive project, however, is extraordinary labor by definition: the tasks required to complete them are often unknown, the workflow is improvisational and frankly, the goal posts move, a lot! In this situation, charting the life flow along with the workflow over time ensures sustainable and enjoyable performance for everyone involved. Jumping on the canvas, getting into the scrum, clearing the desk, pulling out the deck of innovation cards are externalized ways to go deep within and invite genius out. Whether alone or as part of a team, you are headed into a cocoon. Honor that.

This is a cyclical process, not a mad dash to a finish line. And you are taking your entire life into the husk and rewiring it accordingly. If you want to come out looking snazzy and brilliant, chart the impact of the project on all aspects of your life. Doing so will allow you to move with determination towards shipping because you will know what happens after you enter the DONE Club. Beginning in any other way will almost always lead to an exhausting fight with your Lizard, Shadow, Inner Critic, or whatever colorful name you’ve given to your private emotional highjacker. Change is inevitable, almost haphazard. Transformation is guided. Evolution is natural, but it is your choice: fight to the finish, or float into the next phase.

Hard at work on the Friday after Turkey Day? Not quite. I prefer to study while stuffing my face. Here’s a gem I just came across in the ever-developing work of customer psychology and technological disruption. enjoy!

A welcome return to : “you had to be there.”

How could SnapChat drive ticket sales for your next event?

Here is my opening keynote talk for the 2013 Øredev Conference.

"Brave." "Disruptive." "Inspiring." "Warrior spirit." These were a few of the ways people spoke about the presentation. I hope you find it enjoyable and useful. 

What an exceptional conference! I had several personal breakthroughs at Øredev. Dancing for developers as their opening keynote was radical. One of the things I truly enjoyed was the very strong workshop nature of the event. Truly inspirational. Many thanks to Mattias (the nuke in the suit), Emily, Pär, Britta, Ola, Maria, and Uncle Martin ;->

I am cooking up a few things for clients today and showing my mom around LA (it takes a village or a very gracious extended family to pull off  awesome things when you’ve got kids), but by tomorrow, an astounding number of things will begin to hit the homepage.

For now, I leave you to ponder this equation:


10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Coffee

Are you addicted to your morning cup of coffee? Though caffeine takes about 15 to 20 minutes to kick in, its effects can last up to 14 hours, depending on the person. No wonder coffee is so addictive!

Of course, different coffees contain different amounts of caffeine, but contrary to what many may believe, light roasts tend to contain more caffeine than dark roasts. It should also be noted that decaf does not mean the coffee contains zero caffeine.

Surprisingly, beyond coffee and tea there are 60 plants that contain caffeine. 90% of the world uses caffeine in some form or another. Be careful not to take in too much caffeine, as 10-20 grams is considered a lethal dose. That’s the equivalent of drinking 4.69 gallons of coffee. They say, after all, that what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger though, or at least will you keep you up forever!

I’ve been super busy, but thrilled nonetheless preparing for a big event: I’m the opening keynote speaker for Øredev 2013! I would love to meet you in person in Malmo if you are there, so be sure to introduce yourself.  

that's me, wading through materialized datasets ;->

I’m thrilled, too! If you’ll be in Sweden and would like to connect about quantum storytelling or the power of shifting your weight (spoilers), send me a message on Twitter @doctoradancer.

If you were wondering about OCTENATE’S “mascot,” here are a LOT of the reasons why we take our operational cues from this incredible creature. Article does not mention that they “hear” at the infrasonic level, thus making them appear prescient. Gotta love it. 


How the Freaky Octopus Can Help us Understand the Human Brain

The octopus is weird: eerily malleable body, sucker-studded arms, skin that can transform into a convincing facsimile of seaweed—or sand—in a flash. It can solve mazes, open jars, use tools. It even has what seems to be a sophisticated inner life. What’s confusing about all this is that the octopus has a brain unlike that of almost any creature we might think of as intelligent. In fact, the octopus brain is so different from ours—from most of the animals we’re accustomed to studying—that it holds a rare promise: If we can figure out how the octopus manages its complex feats of cognition, we might be closer to discovering some of the fundamental elements of thought—and to developing new ideas about how mental capacity evolved. “Part of the problem in working out what’s essential to intelligence in the brain is working out which are the features that, if you took them away, you would no longer have an intelligent system,” says Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher at CUNY who studies animal minds. “What’s essential as opposed to an accident of history?” Think about it: Chimpanzees are, like us humans, primates. Dolphins are mammals. Even clever crows and ravens are at least vertebrates. But our last common ancestor with the octopus was probably some kind of wormlike creature with eye spots that lived as many as 750 million years ago; the octopus has a sophisticated intelligence that emerged from an almost entirely different genetic foundation. If you want to study an alien intelligence, Godfrey-Smith says, “octopuses are the closest thing we have.”

If you were to measure octopus smarts by the number of neurons the creatures have (500 million to our almost 100 billion), they’d come up pretty dull. But forget that metric. The octopus’s neurons aren’t even concentrated in its head; about two-thirds of its “brains” are distributed in its arms, dedicated to the fine operation of these limbs and each of their hundreds of suckers. The rest of the neurons are split between a central brain—surrounding the esophagus—and large optic lobes behind the eyes. Like we said: alien.

But somehow octopuses do things that suggest they’re brainier than plenty of animals with backbones and more familiar nervous systems. Here’s an easy one: Lots of octopods have learned to twist off standard jar lids. But in 2003, biologists at the Seattle Aquarium challenged Billye, a female Enteroctopus dofleini—a giant Pacific octopus—with a childproof bottle, the kind that can baffle even the smartest Homo sapiens. Billye figured out the push-and-twist trick in a little less than an hour. And in subsequent attempts, she popped those tricky tops in a mere five minutes.

This is just the beginning of their abilities. Octopuses in the wild may be using tools—a feat that, not so long ago, was considered the exclusive domain of humans (though now we know it’s the province of other species too, like dolphins and some birds). Researchers have observed octopuses off the coast of Indonesia collecting—and awkwardly carrying—coconut shell halves along the sandy seafloor. For a shelter on the go, they whip out the two pieces of shell, swoop inside, and snap the pair shut. “That’s a spectacular example, because it really does suggest foresight,” says Jennifer Mather, who studies animal behavior at Canada’s University of Lethbridge. “In terms of cognition, that’s pretty good.”

The octopus displays sophisticated (some might say even irreverent) behavior in the lab too. Just ask Jean Boal, a behavioral researcher at Millersville University. On the way to feed her octopus subjects one day, she suspected they might not like what was on offer: They preferred the very freshest of frozen squid, but the stuff she bore was a bit stale. She doled it out anyway, walking down the line of tanks, dropping a subpar serving into each one. When she finished, she walked back to the first octopus to see if it had gone for the meal. The food was nowhere to be seen, but the cephalopod was waiting for Boal—waiting and watching. This octopus locked eyes with her and moved slowly sideways to the drain in the front right corner of its tank. Pausing above the outflow, it shot the stale squid out of its arms and down the drain, continuing its stare (or was it a glare?) at Boal, who got the message. Two, actually: This octopus was not going to tolerate crummy food—and maybe it even wanted Boal to understand that.

These behaviors are especially impressive because octopuses are solitary creatures—you can’t argue that they learn skills like tool use from their parents. There isn’t an octopus culture; you can’t posit that their apparent ability to communicate with us stems from group behavior in the wild. (Actually, they tend to be cannibalistic. Even octopuses know that octopuses are delicious.) What you can argue, though—and it’s something Boal and other researchers have suggested—is that the octopus got smart because the octopus got soft (or vice versa). It has no bones, no shell, no scary spikes. So if the octopus wanted to go hunting in an ocean full of fish that are also hunting (sometimes for octopus), it had to become fiendishly clever. Not unlike a certain shell-less, clawless, furless primate we could mention.

Just how smart octopuses are, however, has been difficult to determine. They are tough to study—not just conceptually but physically. You need a backup set of everything, because your stretchy-armed and curious subjects will inevitably pull stuff into their tanks for examination. Besides stealing lab equipment, they will yank up tank drain plugs, and they can and will escape through any opening larger than their small beaks. They are also temperamental. As Boal and colleagues put it in a research paper, “A chief roadblock in investigations of octopus learning abilities has been their relative intractability as experimental subjects.” Try to test their memory and spatial navigation skills in a maze, as you might with a rat, and lab octopuses often refuse to budge. So while it’s easy to make casual observations about their behavior, it’s difficult to run the creatures through the kinds of task-based tests (like mazes and object-discrimination trials) that scientists rely on to prove things in vertebrate subjects.

Furthermore, their combination of dexterity and smooshiness makes it nearly impossible to use traditional monitoring technology. Octopuses will take off or rip out external or implanted wires, and they lack hard structures on which to affix devices. Michael Kuba, who has studied octopus intelligence at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, talks with fond laughter about his original postdoc plan to record the neural patterns of octo-subjects as they were learning new tasks. “It was a miserable failure,” he says. “They just pulled the wire off.” Even with new, smaller wireless data loggers, “it’s going to be some time before we get anything like exact neural recordings of an octopus brain,” Kuba says.

Just about any animal can pick up a behavior through training—even a snail can “learn” not to open its breathing hole if it’s poked enough. But most animals don’t seem to be able to master complicated puzzles, make tools, or communicate individual preferences.

Scientists think one reason we humans can do those things is that we have an unusually well-developed capacity to learn and remember. Our short- and long-term memories are lodged in multiple parts of the brain—an arrangement underscored by people who have suffered, say, a prefrontal lobe injury. These people might have difficulty with short-term memory, but their long-term memories remain intact. Simpler organisms like sea slugs, however, use a single spot—and even the same synapses—for both forms of recall. And human long-term memories are made by a process known as long-term potentiation, which strengthens nerve synapse activity, allowing more data to be stored. Most vertebrate lab animals have brains that work the same way, so we’ve only been able to guess whether ours is the optimal—or the only—solution for achieving as much as we have, cognitively speaking.

The octopus may hold the answer to this question. Despite our last common ancestor being that worm, the octopus has evolved a similar setup for recording and storing memories. This is striking, because “not that many brains are organized to acquire a lot of memories,” says Binyamin Hochner, also of the Hebrew University. Hochner and his colleagues have discovered that the octopus depends on long-term potentiation to learn and create long-term memories. The presence of these familiar structures and dynamics in the animal, which has quite a different set of genes than vertebrates, suggests that LTP might be one of those rare, crucial elements of intelligence that Godfrey-Smith alluded to. With that tantalizing suggestion, researchers can now focus more intently on the workings of octopus learning and memory as an alien but useful foil for our own.

The octopus might even present new kinds of intelligence. Most of what we do all day—scratch an itch or sing along to Miley—is controlled by our outsize noggins. Our brains are big and powerful and have a highly developed frontal lobe, which handles the executive functions that make possible amazing things, such as studying octopuses. But it turns out that this sort of centralized encephalization is not the only evolutionary solution for developing substantial intelligence. The octopus’s unusual neuronal layout allows its eight individual, flexible arms to act and carry out instructions on their own—and in coordination with one another. That means the central brain doesn’t have to be bothered with small, continuous signals from and directions to each of the suckers. They’re operating on their own volition, a fascinating alternative to our own jointed, head-directed limbs. And it’s not just brain researchers who are learning from octopuses; one scientist has advised the military about ways of replicating this capability for troop and command structures, and roboticists are trying to figure out how to instill this sort of “embodied intelligence” into their bots. As one researcher puts it, the octopus is like the Internet, whereas we are stuck with individual CPUs.

That’s the deeper suggestion behind the mind of the octopus—that it’s time to get out of our own heads. To really expand and accelerate our understanding of intelligence, we need a model that is sophisticated but so utterly alien that it will keep us reexamining our ways of studying—and thinking about—the brain. The mind-bending model of the mind that octopuses offer us right here on Earth forces us to look beyond the standard lines of study we have set up around ourselves. We need the octopus. Even if it’s a challenging, mystifying, and occasionally saucy subject. Or perhaps precisely because it is.

In the future, you’ll just submit your updates to have your personality assessed. Meanwhile, what words are begging to be used in the story of your business?

Map of the US, showing happy words