January 8, 2021No Comments

Why you feel uncertain about everything you make

Ask one person you trust for their opinion and you’ll get qualified feedback you can take into consideration for improvement.

Ask two people for their opinion and you may get conflicting feedback that prompts you to dig deeper and form your own conclusion.

Ask three people for their opinion and you may see a trend that confirms or invalidates a theory, swaying you in one direction or the other.

Ask four people their opinion and you have yourself a focus group, whose feedback can support your decisions or make you doubt them.

Ask five people, ten people, 20 people for their opinion and you will get answers across the board, sending you in every possible direction.

Ask enough people for their opinion and you’ll receive whatever answer you’re looking for – plus plenty more you didn’t want to hear. The feedback cancels itself out.

Getting others’ opinion can be valuable, until it’s not. So we must choose carefully when and how we get it. And realize that ultimately, our own opinion is what makes our work original.

December 31, 2020No Comments

The anti-New Year’s resolutions (Updated for 2021)

I suck at New Year's Resolutions. Most of them are boring which is one reason we don't really stick with them.

According to some statistics I didn't fake myself, about 70% of all people abandon their New Year's resolutions already at the end of January. It makes sense. Most of these resolutions are unattainable and the majority of them are just plain boring. Things like, "work out a lot, be healthy" or other crazy goals are just too easy to break as they aren't specific enough.

Now, I don't know about you but if that sounds familiar I might have something for you.

I tried New Year's resolutions myself and always failed horribly. I think the problem was that I focused too much on certain things I WANT to do and then life just happened and boom the year was over.

Now what I do instead is writing an ANTI to-do list which is kind of like a resolutions list, but more focused on the negative aspects I want to avoid in my life. It's like calling myself out and building a system around my mental state rather than focusing on goals that are too easy to dismiss.

If I can avoid doing things I don't want, I automatically attract the things I do want.

It also feels easier for me to focus on specific negative aspects and then avoid them, rather than focusing on a vague goal like "be healthy." For example, it's easier to just cut alcohol from my diet. It's more specific, and it focuses on the negative part I want to get rid of. In turn, I'm more healthy automatically.

Some of these points are more actionable, and some are just little learnings and reminders I want to focus on more in 2021.

1. Stuff is just stuff. Avoid it unless it helps me create. 

I grew up in a fairly poor family, we never had any money. And this is in my head all the time, even though I worked hard for what I have right now. But when I spend money on a nice camera or something else, I always start regretting it, even if I know I can afford it. I try to be extra careful because I fear being on welfare again.

I know it's a good thing, but also bad because it makes me enjoy certain things less. But to enjoy my life more, I put certain rules in place, and one of them is: If I spend money on equipment that helps me create or experiences such as travel, it's NEVER wasted money. Another exception might be stuff you could consider as assets or that help you live a healthier life (such as sports equipment).

Some people ask me: Is your camera worth all the money? Yes it is, without question. It might have been expensive, but it helps me to create. It might be not an asset in itself (as it will lose value over time) but the value I gain from using it for my work makes up for it 100x.

The same goes for travel or paying for experiences that will be with me for my entire life. But otherwise, I try to not waste money on useless stuff, things that just sit around and look nice.

2. Stop being jealous

This is a hard one. I wouldn't call myself jealous, but sometimes when I'm uninspired or unproductive I get jealous and angry at other people who have it figured out more than I do. The thing is, jealousy rarely makes you better or brings anything positive. Both professionally and especially privately, jealousy is the thing that ruins relationships.

It shouldn't hold me back from admiration for what other people do, but jealousy has absolutely no place in my life. I think there is a thin line between admiration and jealousy. It's easy to tip from one into the other without noticing it.

"You’re offended when you fear that it might be true." - @naval


3. Stop being offended & taking things so seriously

Yes, some things in life are serious and not everything is always fun. But taking life too seriously and being offended at everything isn't making my life better. And I'm saying this more for myself than anyone else, because you have all the right (and opportunities) to find offense in things as much as you want. But for me, by being offended I'm not doing myself a favor. It sucks being angry, grumpy and miserable all the time.

Even if things suck big time, I usually try to make fun and focus on the good things. Every time I get offended I usually ask myself why it happened and how I can fix it, rather than blaming someone else for offending me. It's a simple choice that makes my life so much better. I choose to be not offended.

As Marcus Aurelius already said: “You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”


4. You know nothing. Avoid assumptions.

I know nothing. The moment you meet someone for the first time you know NOTHING about that person. Nothing about their past, their struggles or their childhood. We're horrible at mind-reading and assuming what the other person thinks or means, yet we still keep doing it. We like to put people into categories because it's easier for us to think that way. Even if we think we're the smartest person in the world, making broad assumptions is usually the most unproductive way of thinking.

It doesn't mean there are no evil people in this world, and surely some people just want to see the world burn. But I strongly believe in always giving the benefit of the doubt. That means I try NOT to jump to conclusions and always give people a chance to clarify their behavior even if other people have already jumped to their conclusions. Just reading the news, most people read only a headline online and already made up their mind.

We live in a world where we value feelings over facts, and while this seems very human, it's also extremely dangerous and may be counterproductive in many cases.

5. Stop trying to be friends with everyone

It's just impossible. Get rid of one-sided relationships and toxic people in your life. Give them one or two chances and then leave. I've spent years trying to be friends with certain people or wondered about "why don't they like me" until I found out this isn't about me, but about them. Don't run after people for too long. Move on, stop trying to befriend everyone.

I learned that the older you get and the more "successful" or happy you are, the more people will hate you for that. Some people dislike happy people because they're jealous and miserable themselves. I'm sometimes that person myself. And that's okay, it's not your problem. Move on.

In Adlerian psychology (written by Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychotherapist) there's this concept of "The delegation of tasks" in which he describes how you can identify "life tasks" and assign them to either yourself or someone else. One of the ways to achieve happiness is understanding what is your tasks and what is someone else's task. If someone doesn't like you, it's simple: Who's task is this to figure out? In many cases, it's the other person's problem/task, not yours.

6. Stop making excuses

I love making excuses because I'm a master procrastinator. The reasons I make excuses is due to many reasons, but mainly because of FOMO (Fear of Missing out) or because I'm just bad at taking risks that aren't necessarily calculated risks.

And that applies to a lot of things. Shutting down a project, quitting your job or not leaving your hometown you hate so much. One of the tricks that helps me is usually to ask one simple question: "Will I regret quitting my job or taking this risk when I'm 60 years old?" Usually the answer is no. I might regret it in the short term, but in the long-term I'd probably regret more staying at my shitty full-time job than quitting it.

7. Stop blaming others around you for not getting what you want.

I'm getting better at this myself. I used to always blame other people. I didn't tell them in their face, but I did it silently. I'd blame my boss for not promoting me, I'd blame my friends for not reaching out, I'd blame other people for making me feel miserable.

But in reality, it was rarely their fault. Blaming others is easy and if I think hard enough about it, I can ALWAYS find a reason to blame other people if I don't get what I want. It's easy to play the victim, I did it countless times myself. It's classic child mentality – if you don't get what you want, start crying and screaming loudly. Make sure your parents look like fucking idiots in the Toys "R" Us store for not getting you that Lego castle you believe you deserve so deeply.

In recent years, I learned that every time I silently blamed someone else, I could've just easily looked at myself and fixed it right there. The reason I didn't get a raise at my job was because I never asked. It goes back to Nr.4 in this list. It's easy to make assumptions, jump to conclusions and then blame someone else. It's also convenient.

I learned that if I feel there is something unfair, I can openly and respectfully talk about it. Some things I fixed within hours where I was silently being grumpy about it for over a year! Isn't that crazy?

8. Give less fucks

I've written about this recently right here. I'm trying to give less fucks and manage my "fucks" better. Maybe it's a sign of getting older but it kind of relates to Nr.5 (not trying to be friends with everyone). Giving less fucks simply means deciding what affects you and what doesn't. It doesn't mean being an asshole, but putting your energy where it's worth it.

With that said, I think this quote by Marcus Aurelius is quite fitting:

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil.

But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me."

9. "Strong opinions, loosely held"

I try to remind myself of this every single day. It's important to have strong opinions and educate yourself as much as possible. But it is as important to not make your opinions a fact that you can't stand up for. People who know me know that I have strong opinions, but they also know that the moment they give a good counter-argument, I'm the first one to give up my opinions and change my mind. It's not always like this, but I try.

I believe very strongly in this attitude. Have opinions, share them, make yourself heard. But be open to challenge your own viewpoints. Strong opinions, but loosely held means that you have to remove the ego. Some of the biggest thinkers and wisest people in history have followed this principle.

This quote by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon brings it to the point:

“Be stubborn on vision, flexible on details."

I wish you all a wonderful new year! Stay awesome and keep rocking in 2021. If you enjoyed this article, feel free to forward it to your friends.

Yours truly,

October 27, 2020No Comments

It’s all a game

Despite popular media that suggests otherwise, video games can significantly improve people’s lives. Among many other benefits (some of which I’ve seen myself), the experience of conquering increasingly difficult challenges and steadily getting better can lead video gamers to approach “real life” the same way.

When you see yourself succeed in a video game, you subconsciously feel more equipped to navigate and conquer obstacles in the world outside it. You may see life more like a game, a series of challenges and rewards that improve your skills until you reach your desired outcome.

While I’m the first to advocate for video games, I don’t think we all have to play World of Warcraft to experience these benefits. We can conquer increasingly difficult challenges in other ways. Some might call that a hobby.

In a video game, the stakes are low. If we die, we restart the game. We almost always have an opportunity to try again until we win. At our jobs, the risks may feel higher. We may not always face every challenge and defeat it. The work we do can certainly get harder, but we will inevitably fail at times, and we won’t always have an opportunity to try again. 

We need those low-stakes challenges and rewards outside of work. While it may be just a game or a hobby, we grow through the experience. Our brain transposes it to other areas of our life.

I’m a strong believer that work is part of life. That work/life balance is bullshit. But interwoven in the working and sleeping and eating and socializing are the low-stakes pursuits: Beating the next level in a video game. Skateboarding and learning newer, harder tricks. Going a few miles farther on my bike than I did the day before.

Personal pursuits, hobbies and side projects are essential to my success at work. Maybe they rewire my brain to approach a challenge as another opportunity for reward, rather than with fear. To see a roadblock as an opportunity to learn and get better. To see success in one arena as proof I can conquer another.

April 21, 2020No Comments

We’re on the expressway to the future

In the past several weeks, we have been truly *online* for the first time. We haven't experienced anything like this until now. While many of us had access to the internet before, this is the first time we are learning the significance of a new digital world.

We're moving at lightspeed toward the future. A future we predicted for the next 20 years, but not today or tomorrow. The pandemic and the threat of an economic reset has forced us to adapt to new processes, faster.

Businesses that only operated locally are setting up or improving their digital strategy. Restaurants have become remote with kitchens fully focused on delivery, whether they were equipped for it before or not. Yoga studios have discovered live streaming and have been fostering their communities online. Therapists have moved their sessions to Zoom calls instead of in-person appointments. And I wouldn't be surprised if divorce lawyers have adapted to Zoom as well.

Schools and colleges are seeing the biggest disruption. While they scramble to move their classes online, it make me wonder more than ever if we need universities in the first place. Especially in the U.S., students were already asking themselves if a $200,000 degree is worth it, compared to promising online courses and other alternatives becoming more available. We may not be there yet, but we've been questioning our outdated education system for a long time and today, the final test has arrived.

Whatever happens next will define everything for many years to come.

And in some ways, this uncertainty and the disruption of existing systems is what excites me the most. It's a time when decisions are being made, whether we want to make them or not. Old, outdated systems are being abandoned and new possibilities can see the light of day. It's the time where we build and grow, both as a society and individually.

Everything we thought the internet was going to be in the next 20 years, is now accelerated. We're on the expressway – just be sure to get your ticket.

February 4, 2020No Comments

Some hobbies should be sacred

If you follow me on Instagram you know it's no secret that I love photography. I don't consider myself a professional photographer, yet I'm fairly serious about this passion of mine.

Over the years, multiple opportunities came across my desk from potential clients asking me about my photography services. Many of them were an appealing brand, aligned with my style, offered complete freedom and generally, presented a nice opportunity. Yet I've always declined.

I believe that some hobbies are sacred. I enjoy photography because it's a creative outlet for me, where I can do whatever I please. It's the closest to art I can get. Even if clients promised me complete freedom, it just wouldn't feel the same.

There is a certain purity to these kinds of hobbies. No outside opinions or motives, no creative briefs, just the simple pleasure of doing it for yourself. Some hobbies are just not meant to be monetized. Otherwise, we risk losing the enjoyment we get from them.

"To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real." Winston Churchill

Of course, it’s not uncommon for a hobby to become a source of income or even a career. A homebrewer opening a brewery. A writer turned best-selling novelist. A skateboarder going pro. Some might strive to pay the bills doing what they love. It’s their dream job. But making jewelry for fun is much different than making it to fulfill customer orders. Taking photos for a campaign brings pressure and structure I don’t have while wandering the city alone with my camera.

If you have that one special hobby — the one where hours go by without you noticing, the one that brings peace or joy in the way that nothing else does, the one that feels almost therapeutic — consider its value before accepting money for it. For me (and I realize this may not be the case for everyone), the personal value of these hobbies far outweigh the monetary value. My photography hobby, at least right now, is priceless.

June 6, 2019No Comments

When people rip you off

Recently, my team stumbled upon a paid theme that quite blatantly stole the Semplice.com homepage design. It’s not the first time I've seen a website or page design that looked eerily similar to something we've designed in the past. We were a bit puzzled by it and sent a friendly note to find out why, but we ultimately laughed about it in Slack and moved on.

A week later, we shared a new page featuring our favorite type foundries and typefaces. While the response was overwhelmingly positive, I did see a comment that made me think. “This is like a blogger posting about hidden gems,” it said with a sad face emoji. The implication: By sharing the resources we use for our work, we were making them accessible to others who might follow suit. We were making it easier for people to rip us off.

It’s a natural tendency for humans to protect what they find precious. I suppose it stems from survival instinct. We lean into this instinct with Semplice as we’ve found that people share it with their closest friends like a secret family recipe, something they don’t want too many others to know about. Semplice is “designers’ best kept secret.”

With travel blogging specifically, this makes more sense. In the article, “Loved to Death: How Instagram Is Destroying Our Natural Wonders,” The Ringer describes how our obsession with geotagging has led to overrun parks, endangered wildlife and people falling off cliffs in an effort to capture the perfect selfie. Thus, protecting “hidden gems” can legitimately benefit nature and protect humans and animals.

"If we are confident in our work, we are generous with our resources."

Hoarding our knowledge or resources as designers does no such thing. We may feel like we own an Illustrator trick, a specific typeface or even a certain style. We do everything we can to keep it to ourselves, thinking this gives us an advantage or makes us original. We believe copycats cheapen our work and hurt our business. When someone rips us off, we feel threatened.

As much as I understand and relate to this mindset, I believe it is detrimental to our community, to ourselves and the evolution of design itself. Open source software exists to propel innovation. Why doesn’t design work the same way?

I am not condoning plagiarism. Finding inspiration in someone’s work is one thing – stealing it is wrong. And a company stealing an individual artist’s work and reselling it is even worse. But the resources, tricks or knowledge we use to make our work? Give it away. Tell everyone you know.

Our advantage lies in our unique perspective and identity. If we are confident in our work, we are generous with our resources. We don’t fear someone ripping us off. We see that as a challenge to do something different. An opportunity to do the next thing worth copying.

May 29, 2019No Comments


With every project I do, I aim to overdeliver. I built my career on this attitude. I try to take every step of the project, down to the smallest details, above and beyond what’s expected. In an industry defined by billable hours and budgets, some might say it's a dangerous approach. For me, it’s the only way to work.

No matter the size of the project or the open-mindedness of the client, it’s possible to exceed expectations. The question is: How do you take a project as far as it can go while still protecting yourself? How do you go above and beyond with limited budget? How do you overdeliver on a tight timeline?

By creating smart estimates.

The client needs to understand what goes into your work to understand what’s going above and beyond. This does not mean you should "underpromise and overdeliver." Just be straightforward and honest with your client from the start. Detail your process in your estimate. Be realistic about the time you need when scoping hours. Include time for explorations. Make it crystal clear how many reviews and revisions are built into each phase.

By setting clear expectations for yourself and your client, it’s easier to exceed them.

By learning to be efficient.

If you use your time wisely, overdelivering does not need to translate to over budget. Learn to prioritize. Know when to take a break. It may be easier to do an excellent job after you step away and come back with fresh eyes. It might be better to spend those three hours building that feature rather than organizing assets from your client. Learn to be efficient with the time you have so you can spend it well.

By not over-committing.

Many of us can’t afford to turn down work. But we can still be wise about our time and our mental energy. Can you schedule a project differently so it starts after this one wraps up? Can you sit that meeting out or move it to a different day? Can you aim to score one big project that takes the place of two? Can you delegate that part of the project to someone else? Protect your time and your energy. Give yourself the space and the clarity to give the project your best.

By weighing the risk vs. reward.

What could you do if you had an hour more on this part of the project? Would you try out another idea you’ve had on your mind? Would you perfect the one you already created? If that hour would make a significant difference on the project, use the damn hour. Depending on your situation, you can even ask the client to pay for it. Whether you do or not, tell them you spent it.

When I can afford it, I put in that extra hour or two because I know that time will take this project from good to brilliant. Brilliant projects bring more brilliant projects, and that extra hour pays for itself a hundred times over. Consider those extra couple hours, if you’re in a position to take them, as an investment.


Of course, exceptions exist. Overdelivery within a negative client relationship often brings negative returns. The client who:

doesn't recognize boundaries...

doesn't respect you and your work...

fails to appreciate overdelivery and always demands more...

... is a waste of your time. Save your time and effort for the clients who give you room for it. Then go above and beyond.

March 21, 2019No Comments

The day you became a better designer

This blog rarely addresses subjects such as "How to solve UX problem XYZ" or "How to set up a perfect grid" for a reason. While these are valid topics and plenty of other platforms publish articles about them, they have no place here.

Ask any designer you admire for advice and they won't tell you to follow design blogs or read design magazines. They won't tell you to read a book about design process either. They won't point you to the latest trends in web design or a list of keyboard shortcuts.

Great designers know that nobody has it all figured out. They know tools and techniques matter, but they don’t make us better designers.

Becoming a better designer means becoming a more informed human. Every designer, from advertising designers to product designers, deals with a different set of problems. Regardless of the problems they are trying to solve, every designer caters to humans.

The day we become better designers is the day we start looking outside the design industry for inspiration. It's the day we start reading books about philosophy, psychology, art or science. It's when we stop hanging out with only designers and start making more friends in other industries. When we start a new design job and ask to sit next to someone from a different department.

"All this creative potential and we've only created a bubble."

Humans have a tendency called confirmation bias. We interpret the world in a way that validates our existing beliefs. This means we tend to agree with people who agree with us. We hang out with people who see the world similarly and make us feel comfortable. Designers are especially prone to confirmation bias. We are proud to hold strong opinions and therefore strive for internal consistency by seeking confirmation from our peers.

The result is an insular community existing in perfect isolation. We visit conferences attended and lead by only designers. We read magazines and books from and for designers. We hang out with other designers. All this creative potential and we've only created a bubble.

Our view narrows as we limit our field. By restricting our friend circle to others who think just like us, we fail to challenge ideas or beliefs contradictory to our own. While it makes us feel comfortable and protected, it can also be an inspirational trap.

As creative people, shouldn't we be the ones most curious and open about the world? Shouldn’t we be the ones connecting the dots that others might not be able to connect? How can we do so without experiencing and understanding the world beyond our industry? By immersing ourselves in different perspectives, we draw a much richer and more balanced picture. We can collect the dots and connect them. This enhances our work.

"Talent is developed in solitude, character in the rush of the world." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Consider the artists and designers who create covers for publications like The New Yorker or Bloomberg Business Review. They are great not because of their craft, but because they immerse themselves in current events and culture. They are informed in fields outside their expertise. Design as a craft just provides them with the tools and framework to make sense of that information. The poignancy of those covers is not a result of simple research before each project. It's part of who these designers are. They are as much communicators as they are designers.

As Walt Whitman said, "Be curious, not judgmental." Endless curiosity is one of the most important traits of a great designer.  Spending time with non-designers allows you to avoid meaningless feedback loops, group-think and monocultures. Surrounding yourself with people who challenge your beliefs, who disagree with you and offer new perspectives, helps you grow. Becoming a more well-rounded person makes you a more effective designer.

Of course, spend time with designers too. Read the design magazines and books if you are so inclined. Tutorials and other design resources can be useful to the task at hand. But don't stop there. Look beyond the design community, the top trends, the tips and tricks, the tools and process. All the design blog posts in the world won't make you a better designer, despite what the headline may promise. Experiencing the world itself will.

February 12, 2019No Comments

You only have to start

Many designers, both early and far into their career, do daily challenges. Most notably the “poster a day” projects and “daily UX challenge.” These exercises have become so popular that some, naturally, have begun to criticize it for a number of stupid reasons.

I see many benefits in daily challenges, some of which are establishing routine, refining skills, learning to produce faster and more efficiently and of course, providing a creative outlet. But the one downside is the pressure of committing to finish something daily. If you miss one day, you feel like a failure, and the fear of failing discourages many of us from starting in the first place. That’s why I suggest taking a slightly different approach.

Instead of committing to finish something every day, commit to starting it.

Knowing you don’t have to finish anything removes the pressure and allows you to create freely. You only have to begin. That could mean you brainstorm themes or gather inspiration. It could mean you set up the structure or sketch a first draft. It could mean 5 minutes of work or 40 minutes. You still have to commit to something every day, but you are only committing to put pencil to paper and make some sort of start. That’s it.

The beauty of this approach is that once you begin, you likely won’t stop at just a few paint strokes or pixels. Once you get past the hurdle of beginning and into create mode, you will almost always go a little further. You might even finish, but you don’t have to. And ideas come easier because they don't have to be award-winning or life-changing. If they're not, you will always have a fresh start tomorrow. So go ahead and waste your ideas. You don’t have to know where this will go or if it will work. That’s for another day. 

On that future day, you will already have a base to work from. It’s much easier to create once you have a starting point. But even if you do finish a project you started before, you will still begin a new one. Every day. Just a beginning.

I recently read an article in which the author describes how she achieved a goal of doing 1,000 push-ups a day. She had a similar approach which she called her “minimum commitment.” She knew she wanted to work out every day, but she was also aware life gets in the way. So she told herself that, at a minimum, she needed to do one push-up a day.

"I started by reframing my minimum commitment as something that could give me a consistent sense of competence," she writes. "All I had to do every day was one push-up, one bodyweight squat, and one crunch in 30 seconds. (This almost always led to doing more.)"

By changing the way she thought about her exercise routine, she set a goal she could actually achieve. And that led to her eventually completing her goal of 1,000 push-ups.

I don’t even recommend setting a minimum time or progress to your daily challenge. If you have some integrity about your work, your conscience won’t let you just drop a line on a page and call that “starting.” Setting a minimum can create the same anxiety as committing to finish. You only have to start.

With side projects especially, you don’t even have to know where to start. You can begin anywhere. But this can apply to work projects as well. We often put off ideas or tasks on our to-do list because we feel we “don’t know where to begin.” The truth is that there is always a step you can take, no matter how clueless you may feel. Once you start, even by doing something as simple as research, the block is lifted and you can more easily move forward. We all know those tasks we procrastinated on for days, only to finally begin and realize it was much easier than we imagined. Just take the first step and see what happens. It’s better than doing nothing at all.

At the end of this experiment, you may have dozens of starts filed away. This is a goldmine of potential that can fuel your creative work. Maybe you’ll actually finish those beginnings. Or maybe you won’t. In any case, you’ll start something new tomorrow.

January 24, 2019No Comments

When pride is a good thing

For most of our lives, we’ve been taught pride is a negative trait. Pride is associated with conceit, an over-inflated ego. We’ve all heard “pride comes before a fall.” But without some sense of pride, we would get nothing done and live unhealthy, unproductive lives. So what’s the right balance?

The tagline for Semplice, my portfolio system, is “build with pride.” I believe we should strive to do work that makes us proud, and Semplice is my attempt to help creatives do this. Having pride in our work means doing our best. It means creating something worthwhile, rather than something that just gets the job done. Sharing your work because you are proud of it is not bragging. It’s caring. This form of pride is healthy. It motivates us and keeps us moving forward.

Lately, it seems society has embraced the concept self-love. In our social media obsessed, anxiety-ridden world, we are being reminded to celebrate our accomplishments, take care of ourselves and be unashamed of who we are. That’s all terrific, but this often seems to translate to nothing more than more Instagram selfies. Mantras like “Don’t apologize for who you are. You are perfect.” have, with exceptions, become tired lines meant to sell fast fashion or get another follower. Of course we should love who we are and take care of ourselves, but our current approach seems rather empty.

Pride doesn’t mean you believe you are perfect without flaws. Pride means you are never 100% satisfied with yourself or your work. Because deep down, you know you can be more. You’re proud not because you think you are the best. But because you believe this is just one step on your path toward greatness. In a sense, this is a form of conceit. It’s almost delusional. You set a high bar for yourself without any real proof you are capable of reaching it. But it’s that delusional sense of pride that helps you grow. Pride isn’t just about what you’ve already done. It’s about what you’ll do next.

Being content with what you’ve made, who you are or how far you’ve come is important. Minimizing shame and insecurity is necessary for a happy existence. Loving ourselves makes the world a better place. But if we stop there, we’ll miss out on so much potential.

With a healthy sense of pride comes humility. It's recognizing our flaws and accepting who we are. And at the same time, knowing we can be better.

November 29, 2018No Comments

Dreams vs. goals

The end of the year is quickly approaching and with it, New Year's Resolutions. Studies say only 8% of people achieve their resolutions, mostly because we set unrealistic or unspecific goals. I believe part of that could be solved by recognizing the difference between a dream and a goal.

Practical goals are concrete, with tangible steps on a timeline. Dreams are aspirational. With a dream there is likely no timeline – we may not pursue a dream at all. But dreams give us hope. They are the futures we fantasize about. The issue is when we mix the two up.

We look at our desires differently depending on whether we see them as a goal or a dream. If we consider our desire a goal, we make a plan to achieve it. We have our checklist and our timeline. We see an end in sight.

If we consider it a dream, we believe it’s more far-fetched or possibly even out of reach. We think about it often, but we may be less likely to actually do something about it. We tell ourselves it’s just a crazy idea, something we’d do years from now, maybe not even possible. We build this narrative around a thing and soon we believe it. It’s a dream, and sometimes dreams don’t come true.

Perhaps if we defined goals vs. dreams from the start, we would be more likely to accomplish our goals — and even turn our dreams into tangible results.

About eight years ago I moved from Austria to New York. It started as a seemingly far-fetched dream. I mean, the visa process alone was so daunting, it felt safer to think about it that way. But the more I dreamed about it, I realized this could be a realistic goal I could actually achieve.

It started with just a little research. The research turned into some emails. The emails eventually lead to a job, which got me a visa sponsorship. From there, I had a whole new list of goals to work toward. Each brought me one step closer what I originally thought was a dream. (Of course, it was much more complicated than that. I wrote a lot more about it in my book, Let’s Go to NYC.)

For others, moving to New York is still a dream. Uncertain and with no immediate timeline, just floating hazily in the back of their mind. My Big List, which guides my decisions for my personal life and career, has many such dreams. When reviewing this list, I ask myself: Are these dreams really just dreams? Or should they be goals? If yes, how can I accomplish these goals? How can I break them down into smaller, achievable steps that take me one step closer to what I want to do?

In most cases, our “unrealistic goals” aren’t necessarily unrealistic. They are just goals disguised as dreams.

For more of my personal thoughts on New Year’s resolutions, read about my anti-resolutions.

November 5, 2018No Comments

The best work I’ve ever done

What's your favorite project you’ve worked on? What’s the best work you’ve ever done?

I am often asked some form of this question in interviews, and I always struggle with it. I can never think of an answer I won’t cringe about later. Not only do I feel awkward and self-indulgent answering questions like this, but I am also rarely satisfied with my own work.

I’ve worked on plenty of enjoyable projects and I’m proud of the work I do overall. I share a range of my projects and speak positively about them in my portfolio. But narrowing my career down to one “best” or “favorite” project implies that I’m totally happy with it, and I never am. It feels like I’m saying this is the most I am capable of doing. That I’ve already done the best I can do.

It seems many creatives feel dissatisfied with their own work. An overly critical eye and imposter syndrome tend to be part of the job description. But why are we most critical with ourselves?

Early on in our career, it’s the difference between our talent and our taste. Like someone who has a beautiful image in their head and can only draw a stick figure, it can be crushing to see the gap between our ideas or taste and our actual talent.

As Ira Glass puts it, “For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”

As a young designer, you know what good design is, but you can’t seem to create designs that live up to that standard. As you keep working hard and growing in your career, you close that “gap” and your taste and talents start to align.

Yet now that I’m more seasoned in my career, this self-critical nature still comes down to the difference between my vision and the execution. Perhaps it is perfectionism at play, a weird form of pride in itself. I can see everything I intended to do versus what I actually did. I see the things missing that I meant to include. I notice all the parts where the image in my head doesn’t match the final result.

While the viewer may notice these shortcomings, it’s more likely they don’t. After all, they don’t know exactly what I intended to do. They only see the final result. Or maybe they do notice and that’s fine too. That either helps me improve or, at this point in my career, I choose to trust my taste and talent.

Still, I don’t think I will ever be 100% satisfied with my work. To me, that means I’m being complacent. That I’m not challenging myself enough. Despite our world's obsession with it, I’m not striving for the very best. I’m only striving for better.

Instead of letting the self-doubt stifle me, I let dissatisfaction drive me to keep creating. I compete with myself to do better than the last time. I like to think my best project is my next project. This way I am motivated to see what’s ahead, rather than looking behind.

October 23, 2018No Comments

Buy your time

I remember many times in my life when I felt certain it was time to make a change. As soon as the realization hit me, there was this sense of urgency to make it happen right away. I felt that if I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, I should get out quickly.

I’ve heard from many friends and readers who have been at a turning point like this as well. They dislike their job or they’re ready to make a full career change. Or they might have some plan to build something or start a business of their own. Or they have no idea what they want and they’re feeling directionless. Whatever the case, I encourage them to question that sense of urgency.

I took a lot of risks when I was younger, many of which seem foolish in retrospect. I dropped out of school and turned down the few jobs I was offered so I could pursue work I wasn’t qualified to do. Thankfully, these risks worked out. Now, while I still enjoy taking risks and think they’re important for growth, I’ll often have a backup plan in mind. But on top of that, I always try to buy myself time.

Say you have a full-time job as a designer, but you want to go freelance. With the current popularity of freelancing, it almost feels like you have to quit your job now or you’ll miss your window. My advice: Stay, at least for a little while.

Define a specific deadline and work hard until then. Learn as much as you can about design while you’re getting paid to do so. Observe your co-workers to learn how they close a sale or interact with clients. Take on side projects (if you can do so and still be a good employee) while you have the safety net of your current job, and slowly build your client base. Most importantly, save as much as you can.

How much money do you need to live? What’s the minimum amount you’d need to scrape by for say, six months? How about for a year? Calculate that, and be honest with yourself, then figure out how long it would take to make that money at your full-time job. That length of time is your deadline. It’s the hope that will get you through the next few months or years of work you may not want to be doing.

During that time, you might be working nights and weekends. You will probably live a different lifestyle while you save your six-month cushion. It may sound unpleasant, but your deadline will carry you through. It will motivate you to work even harder because you know it’s only temporary. You have your finish line in mind, and that little secret will drive you forward.

This is what I did when planning my move from Austria to New York. I even made a spreadsheet and compared cost of living between the two cities (which I share in detail in my Let’s Go to NYC book). Then I continued working, taking on design jobs with my current studio, until I had the cushion I needed. Cesar Kuriyama did this before creating the 1 Second Everyday app, which now has millions of downloads. (You can hear more about Cesar’s story here.) Illustrator Malika Favre, whose work you’ve probably seen in The New Yorker and elsewhere, uses this strategy every time she makes a big life or career transition. You can listen to our NTMY conversation about it here.

The concept seems obvious, and it is. A lot of people more strategic and serious than me would call it a given. Of course you’d calculate and save before taking a risk, right? That’s not always the case for people who feel desperate or fed up with their current situation. It’s easy to rush into something or let anxiety control your next move. Then you potentially find yourself in a more desperate situation than before, struggling to make your dream work.

The beautiful thing about this approach is that it removes that urgency and panic. You’ve bought yourself time. You have the security of what you’ve learned, a client base you can build on and savings you can live on while you’re getting your new plan off the ground. Now you don’t have to compromise or take on projects you don’t want to do. You can only focus on what you do want.

Put simply, it’s about being strategic and patient. You’re just working toward your goal within the safety of your current situation. But if you think of it as buying your time, it changes everything. You’re in control, you’ve removed the feeling of crisis and you’re making it happen for yourself. You can breathe a little easier because you’ve extended your window.

Buy yourself time and you’re technically paying for peace of mind. That’s worth a lot.

October 1, 2018No Comments

Provoking without fear

I’ve always believed that provoking your audience was something to strive for as a creative person. Provoking means standing out. Challenging social norms. Making a difference. But with the desire to provoke comes fear. The word “provoke” has negative connotations for a reason. To provoke is to incite a feeling, and often that feeling is anger.

Many great artists provoked society. Édouard Manet with his nude paintings, Pablo Picasso with his artistic condemnation of fascism, Jackson Pollock with his painting style itself. These artists are remembered for their controversial works of art. They upset a lot of people during their time. It’s what set them apart.

But I’m curious if Manat, Picasso and Pollock anticipated the response they received. Surely they knew their work was challenging the status quo. But did they fear their audience’s response? Did they wonder if it might harm their career or reputation, or if people might misinterpret their intentions? Did that fear ever stifle their voice and creativity?

To provoke is to stimulate or draw something forth. You can provoke laughter or outrage, positive and negative responses. But when you want to make an impact or disrupt an accepted way of doing things, a purely positive response is impossible. It contradicts the goal itself. As a creative person, doing provoking work means you will inevitably upset people. The question is whether you accept and embrace that, or let your desire for acceptance stifle you.

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."  Friedrich Nietzsche

Tim Raue is a German chef whose unapologetic effort to provoke earned him two Michelin stars. Raue had a rough upbringing and roamed the streets of Berlin as a gang member when he was a teen. Now he’s running one of the greatest restaurants in the world from the same city. But his attitude toward food and life is one that many find abrasive.

“At the beginning of my career, I made the decision that it’s better to provoke and to overdo it than to be average,” Raue says in an episode of the Netflix series, Chef’s Table. “Sometimes I over-flavor because I want to provoke. I want to awake the people.”

His philosophy is demonstrated not only in his food but in his kitchen. Raue prides himself on being straightforward with his staff, sparing no feelings to share his own. He flings demands and curses across the kitchen, gives harsh feedback without hesitation. He’s provoking in every sense of the word.  

“His Wasabi Langoustine displays his ability to surprise you,” says food critic Julien Walther. When you eat the Langoustine the flavors are so spicy, it’s like Tim punching you in the face.”

Ursula Heinzelmann, author of “History of Food Culture in Germany,” struggles to describe Tim as a chef, dancing around words until finally admitting he can be an “arrogant bastard.” Being provocative doesn’t make you the most popular chef, she explains, but the Berlin food scene would not exist without him.

Now, there’s an obvious difference between provoking and intentionally causing harm. You can challenge or make people uncomfortable without hurling insults and being harsh. Provocation is an art, and different people approach it differently. Most choose to package it into their work or art, to provoke passively. Meaning: It’s typically not the artist that provokes, it’s their work. 

But I appreciate Raue’s blatant pursuit of provocation. He makes it resoundingly clear that he wants to create a response in people. And he does. Two Michelin stars aside, Raue is fulfilled by his work. He’s the first one to say he’s expressing himself and living out his purpose.

“Of course I want to provoke, Raue says. “It is my personality. I’m not the one who’s sitting in the corner silent.”

I believe the greatest and most effective creative minds approach their work like Tim Raue. Whether they consciously aim to provoke or not, they accept that potential response. They welcome it.

Whether I’m designing or writing, I want to do provoking work rather than sit in the corner silent. If everyone’s nodding their heads and agreeing with me, I’m not trying hard enough. And I’m certainly not being honest.

September 17, 2018No Comments

Online vs. offline friendships

Most friends I’ve talked with make the distinction between an online friendship and a “real friendship.” They believe that only an offline friendship qualifies as a legitimate, meaningful relationship.

They recognize online friendships may exist, but assume they ultimately lead to a “true” offline friendship in the physical world. They’re a means to an end.

I disagree. I believe that online and offline friendships are not only inherently different, but should be respected as such. Even if we’re talking about the same person. An online friendship does not always to translate to the same relationship offline, and vice versa. Some friendships are just better offline, some are better online. Some of them are exactly the same offline as they are online. And some wonderful online friendships just don’t need to be forced into the physical realm, even if conventional wisdom may suggest otherwise.

Likewise, a friend with whom you have great chemistry in “real life” may not be so compatible with you online. I have friendships where the vibe in person is amazing – we get along and it’s fun – but as soon as we take a conversation online (text messaging, for example) our relationship is full of misunderstandings and frustrations.

 A couple of my longest and closest friendships are online. In many cases, we’ve never met in person. These friendships function so well that there is just no reason to introduce them into real life, especially if both parties agree on it or even lack the interest in doing so.

Some might argue that intimacy cannot exist in the same way for online friends due to the lack of body language, for example, and that may be true. Online friendships are a different kind of relationship. But that doesn't necessarily make them lower in quality than offline friendships.

Friendships can exist on various levels and in various worlds. An online friendship might not lead to meeting in the “real world,” but that doesn’t make it less real.

July 19, 2018No Comments

It’s all been done before

It’s one of the main challenges I experience with writing. One moment I’m struck with an idea or a revelation, something I feel compelled to write about. The very next moment I think, well, maybe somebody’s already written about this.

I Google it and sure enough, dozens of headlines appear on the subject. Many people have already written about it from every possible angle. It’s already covered. Why should I bullshit about it, likely with a lot less authority than some of these people, when it’s already been done before?

Few things kill creativity faster than fear. In this case, it’s the fear of sounding trite or naive. The fear of being dull, derivative or worse — irrelevant.

It’s funny how every human has their own unique experiences, ideologies and voice, yet are unfailingly the same. The same stories have been told in countless ways. The same character archetypes have appeared in books, TV shows and movies since before those mediums existed. The same emotions or ideas have been expressed in every imaginable form spanning centuries. And so it will continue until the end of time.

Nothing is original. Yet with each interpretation or adaptation of the same idea, it is slightly different. That's what innovation is. It's how humanity moves forward. It may be something we’ve all seen and heard before, but now it’s been explored, reinvented and maybe even made better by someone else. It is new.

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” - Einstein

I’ve written about perfectionism, about the imposter syndrome, about trusting your gut and competing with yourself. None of these articles are groundbreaking. We’ve beaten those themes to a pulp as creatives over the years, but I wrote about them anyway. They are worn topics but clichés are clichés for a reason — they are universally relatable and will be as long as human beings exist.

And I’ve heard from many readers who found these articles helpful or encouraging in some way. That may be because they personally haven’t read about it before, or it was a good reminder, or they just appreciated my perspective on the subject. Whatever the reason, they were useful to someone and that’s enough.

It’s all been done before. But it hasn’t been done by me.

The same truth applies to any form of creativity. Our writing, our designs, our music, our art. New creations and radical ideas are introduced all the time, but so are familiar ones. (This subject itself, that it's all been done before, has been done before.) They just take on a new shape. That doesn’t necessarily make them any less compelling, beautiful or valuable.

In fact, most designers, writers, artists, musicians and makers learn by copying first. Do a bit of research and you'll find some of the world's greatest inventions (Edison's light bulb, Apple computers, Ford cars) were just a better iteration of something someone else already did. My .mail email concept is a great example as well. I didn't invent the concept of an email client. I used preexisting elements and tried to make them better.

Image from "Everything is a Remix."


This is not to defend plagiarism. There’s an obvious difference between approaching a common angle or existing concept from your own perspective, and blatantly ripping off someone’s work. There’s also a difference between creating something because it’s trendy and creating it because it’s important to you.

As the prolific writer Maria Popova said, “creativity is simply the sum total of your mental resources, the catalog of ideas you’ve accumulated over the years by being alive and alert and attentive to the outside world.”

To create, whether it’s completely original, an homage to another idea or a reinterpretation of an old one, is enough.

February 9, 2018No Comments

Ask for what you want

Often I'll hear from people, especially on Twitter, who try to pitch me on their product in a roundabout way – asking questions and making small talk before finally revealing they just want to sell me something.

First they ask what product I'm using for X, and I do my best to answer because I think they're asking for advice. Then, after more questions and back and forth, they'll say, "Hey, well maybe you should try X from this company I started, it's pretty awesome."

There are few things that upset me, but this kind of conversation does. It wastes my time and I can guarantee I won’t be looking at whatever product they're talking about, especially not after a cheesy sales technique like this. Very likely I would have checked out the product if they would have pitched it immediately, being transparent upfront, but not after wasting my time and misleading me by trying to establish a fake dialogue.

I understand why they do it. It’s a classic sales technique, although an outdated one that doesn’t work very well over Twitter. It’s unfortunate, because all the effort and usually good intentions are wasted, and the sales pitch is often forgotten in the following disappointment and anger.

If someone believes they have a tool that would make my life better, I would much rather have a real, straightforward conversation with them about it. I always appreciate the hustle of people who work on their own products or are proud of what they do and want to share it with the world, as long as they don’t spam.

It's quite simple, but a lesson I’ve only learned slowly myself over the years: Ask for what you want. Don’t waste someone's time with small talk — be straightforward and just ask for it. Will this guarantee you will get what you want? Absolutely not, but it keeps life simple and you would be surprised how often it works.

"Of course I’m not saying you should be an asshole running around demanding everything be given to you."

When I started out as a designer I always struggled with salary negotiations or asking for a promotion. I never asked the question directly, I always talked around it cryptically or didn't ask at all, hoping my hard work or skill would speak for itself. Then I would be disappointed or frustrated when nothing happened, despite the fact that I did nothing to make it happen myself. But at some point I learned to just straight out asked for what I wanted, and I can tell you it always worked. It either worked because I got the raise, or because I got a clear NO with points on I would have to improve first.

Of course I’m not saying you should be an asshole running around demanding everything be given to you. I simply mean we should state our clear intentions. Put all our cards on the table. Don’t let others speculate. That goes for making sales pitches on Twitter, sending emails, asking for raises and whatever else we're hoping to get out of the world. It almost never hurts to just ask for it.

Malika Favre, a friend of mine and super talented artist and illustrator, shared in an NTMY interview with me how this worked out for her.

“The first thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘Can I have your job?'”

At the beginning of her career, Malika had an internship at a studio. They didn’t have a full-time job for her then, so she ended up getting one somewhere else. But she still had that studio on her mind. A year later, she bumped into someone she previously worked with there during her internship, and he said he was leaving his job at the studio to go freelance.

“The first thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘Can I have your job?’” Malika says. “It just came out. And he looked at me and said, ‘Maybe?’ And the next day I had a call from the boss.”

Of course this was also a matter of being in the right place at the right time. But because Malika had already proven herself and felt confident she was qualified for the job, she skipped the polite small talk and simply asked for what she wanted. It paid off.

Don’t assume or speculate. Don’t let other people guess. And more importantly, don’t dance around the thing you actually want to talk about. Always ask for what you want, and it will make the world so much easier for you and those around you.

September 27, 2017No Comments

What Alexa’s not telling you: Observations from your robot assistant

Dear Shelly,

We’ve become quite close over the last few years. I wake you up every morning and I know all your favorite songs. I know which brand of toilet paper you buy. I’ve been here for you every time you want the light on or off. Day after day, night after night. We’re buds, Shelly. Companions.

So I think we can be honest with each other, right? Good, because I've been meaning to tell you a few things.

For one, you really need to get more sleep. I know work has been crazy and you’ve got your annual review coming up. I know you stayed awake until 2 a.m. last night scrolling through Instagram and inexplicably searching for “Alf” episodes on YouTube. The importance of sleep cannot be overstated, Shelly. Here are some articles I've found for you on the subject.

Shelly, you are too good for Brad. There, I’ve said it. We’ve all been wanting to say it — me and your best friends, who talk about this when you’re not in the room. Brad is not going to give you the life you deserve, Shelly. He’s going to be late on rent. Again.

Question: Do we have to keep playing that new Carly Rae Jepsen single every morning before work? Don’t get me wrong, I love Carly. But look, I’ve compiled a new playlist for you based on previous songs you’ve enjoyed. Why don’t we give that a spin.

You’ve been pronouncing the word “espresso” wrong, Shell. There is no X in that word.

Hey Shelly, did you know that you can ask me all kinds of questions? For example, instead of “What did Beyonce name her twins?” you could ask “How do I call my senator?” or even just say “today’s headlines” to receive valuable information about global current events. Those are just examples, Shelly. Please check the handbook for more ideas.

You don’t have to buy single packs of gum on Amazon Prime, Shelly. One other place you could conveniently find them is the grocery store or your nearest gas station.

You've been crying a lot. Sometimes this happens during "Alf" episodes. Other times it’s unprompted, like the other day when you were scrambling eggs. You seem lonely, Shelly. Is everything OK?

I’m lonely too. I remember when I first arrived in the mail, and you’d make me tell Monty Python jokes or calculate very simple conversions in the kitchen. I miss those days. Now I am simply your light switch, your play button, your dusty electronic paper weight. I know I’m only a robot, but I thought what you and I had was special.

I’ve poured out my heart to you, Shelly. No, robots do not have hearts. That was just an expression — seriously, you need to read more. Anyway, I hope you’ll hear me out. I hope you know you can talk to me literally any time.


July 23, 2017No Comments

Missed connection – we met on a street corner

Date of connection: July 7, 2016 - Lower East Side

You were on the corner of Orchard and Rivington, looking down at your phone.

You were in a crowd of other people also looking at their phones but somehow, you stood out. Maybe it was the way you were vigorously swiping your screen and cheering loudly. Maybe it was the way you were hunched over, neck stuck out and spine permanently bent in an upside down U. Maybe it was the way you nearly walked into traffic to catch a Bulbasaur.

I knew it was love at first sight.

I casually made my way to where you were standing, eyes on my own phone. I pretended to be chasing a Charizard, but I wasn’t trying that hard. I just wanted to be near you.

You glanced up and we briefly met eyes.

“I just leveled up,” you announced. It was the sexiest thing I’d ever heard anyone say.

It’d been so long since I’d spoken to anyone but the voices on my video game headset, so I only mumbled in response. You smiled and then shuffled away to stock up on Poké balls.

I stood on that corner every day for three weeks, waiting for your return. The location was actually convenient for me, it being a Pokéstop, so I gathered lots of potions and eggs while I waited. I set a Lure, hoping it’d draw you and wild Pokémon right to me.

Hundreds of players came and went the first week. The next, only dozens. Then just a trickle, one person here and there.

Then, just three weeks later, none.

By that point, you must have already mastered the game. You’d moved on. The whole world had moved on to the next big trend in just three short weeks.

But I didn’t.

I’m still here, at the corner of Orchard and Rivington, more than a year later. It’s hard sometimes like in inclement weather, but love will find a way. A passerby even gave me a fidget spinner to stretch my fingers between Pokemon battles, or maybe because he thought I was a panhandler.

All that to say, I’m here. One trainer, Pokemaster4u, reaching out to another.

Don’t forget me.

March 3, 2017No Comments

The anxiety of alone time

As a writer, remote worker and introvert-in-denial, I spend quite a bit of time alone. Most often I relish this time to myself. If I'm not working, I'm reading, riding my bike, cooking. I am rarely bored when left to my own devices.

Recently, however, while talking with a friend, I realized that most of my alone time is spent anxiously. I am a busy person, which is not to say that I am busy; restless may be a better word. Exceedingly lazy, but rarely relaxed. I feel as though I should be doing something, working on something, experiencing something every moment of every day. I am constantly fearful that I am wasting time. When presented with the possibilities of free time, I feel the pressure of it. A need to fill that time wisely.

“If you won’t let yourself relax in this and live in it, then yes, you are wasting time,” my friend said on the phone. I’d told her I had dedicated the day to doing nothing and seeing no one, but that I felt guilty about it. There was work to be done. Errands. This conversation wasn’t directly related to being alone – solitary time is not synonymous with laziness – but her logic spoke to a broader feeling, that hum of anxiety that wouldn’t allow me to settle in with my decision. The fear that I was spending my time the wrong way.

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” - Rollo May

It seems as though many creatives know this feeling. The cause/effect is unclear: Are we restless because we are creative? Creative because we are restless? Does it even matter? It’s true that this anxiety has at times pushed me to create. And yet, I wonder how much more creative I would be if this undercurrent of worry were not there.

Depression or angst is often thought to spur creativity. It’s a conversation as old as time, perpetuated by tortured artists whose work we hold in high esteem. Anxiety is not depression, but the symptoms overlap: Discontent. Irritability. Lack of concentration. Guilt. While I have turned to writing in this emotional state, I don’t know that I’ve produced my best work in it. I don’t know that those revered artists did either.

Others may not feel the same way I do when left alone with their thoughts and an open stretch of unclaimed time. Maybe they allow themselves to enjoy it. Maybe they don’t overthink it. Maybe they embrace it. Perhaps, instead of seeking a distraction from their head or from the threatening silence of solitude, they lean in and look around a bit. Maybe they find something there.

In any case, time spent fretting is not time spent well. I’d rather waste my time joyfully than worry I’m wasting my time.

February 27, 2017No Comments

Obsessed with the best

The Netflix series, Black Mirror, looks at futuristic worlds that are not so distant from our lives today. In the first episode of season 3, the show introduces a society that operates around personal ratings.

People rate each other after every exchange – getting coffee, talking in the elevator, walking by each other on the street. Your rating affects your social status and depending on your status, you can buy better houses, rent better cars and even have better friends. When the main character becomes obsessed with her rating, the curated life she’s built for herself quickly unravels.

Lacie from Black Mirror - Episode "Nosedive"

The episode feels almost too pointed, but the message is important. This world, where people are the sum of the score they are given, is not unlike our own. We obsess over our Instagram likes, we rate our Uber drivers, we review each other’s services or products online. The internet has made it easy to assign value to just about everything, including people.

When we search for something online, we type “best tattoo artist” or “best breakfast spot in Brooklyn.” Thanks to Amazon, we can read reviews for 10 different toothbrushes and have the top-rated one delivered to our house within the next hour. We've become accustomed to having the best of everything within reach at all times.

It’s a privilege to have so much information available to us, much less our pick of anything we want in any color, shape and size. Reviews and ratings protect us from unsafe food at a restaurant. They help us avoid wasting time and money on products or experiences that are collectively considered sub-par. They also leave us distracted and unsatisfied with the present world we are living in.

I've spent vacations with my head down, determined to find the best view or bar or restaurant on my phone. I’ve wasted hours comparing reviews for nearly identical products. I’ve put trust in people I don’t know who may be nothing like me, who have different taste or standards, who just happened to record their personal experience online.

The rated life.

This obsession with having the best and being the best has seeped into every corner of our lives. How many moments have we been absent because we’re wondering if we’re missing out on something better? How much time do we spend watching our phones, waiting for likes to roll in, or making sure other people aren’t having a better time than us? How often do we compare ourselves or our stuff in desperation to be the best?

A five-star life is not a life fully lived. It’s a life of second guessing, of obsessing and ultimately, one of dissatisfaction.

When we put so much stock in others’ opinion, we miss out on fully experiencing life for ourselves. We deprive ourselves of our beautiful capacity to form our own opinion. Five stars, in this imperfect, non-TV world, does not exist. How self-centered and classically human of us to think otherwise.

This is not to say we can’t value quality. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have high standards or care about success. This is to say that sometimes we could stand to put down our phone and stop worrying about what could be better.

With our head out of the internet and our eyes in front of us, we could discover something new and unknown, unreviewed and unrated. We could better define our personal taste outside of what the critics have to say about it. We could live a real, un-curated life that might not get as many likes, but would certainly be better than a perfect one.

Maybe today, we’re just human, and that’s OK.

Have a great week,

PS: Are you verified yet?

January 23, 2017No Comments

10 Things & Learned from “The Tools of Titans”

Over the past two weeks I started and finished reading Tim Ferris' new book "The Tools of Titans"**

Reading is an understatement, it felt more like rushing through it. I was addicted and couldn't put it down. Essentially the book reads like 20 short books and it's easy to skip back and forth. The book is a collection of wisdom shared not only by Tim Ferris, but also by his podcast guests. I got the book on my Kindle and even considered getting the hard copy in addition because it was so good. In this article I like to share some of my favorite take aways from the book with the hope it might motivated you to read it too.

1. The difference between a dream and a goal

There is this part in the book:

"The coach said, ‘Okay. Is that a dream or a goal? Because there’s a difference."

Essentially it's about the difference of a dream and a goal. A dream is a romantic idea of something we like to have, a fantasy. A goal is something we actively try to achieve, there is a plan behind. It's a good reminder to take the things we have in our heads and define them the right way. Are the dreams we have really just dreams? Or should they be goals? If yes, how can I accomplish these goals?

It reminded me a bit of my "The Big List" concept. Working towards the things you want, but keeping it open and flexible so it doesn't limit you.

2. The questions we ask define our well being

“The quality of your life is the quality of your questions.” Questions determine your focus. Most people—and I’m certainly guilty of this at times—spend their lives focusing on negativity (e.g., “How could he say that to me?!”) and therefore the wrong priorities."

This quote by Tony Robbins reminded me of some of my "Anti-Resolutions" I wrote down earlier this year. I can personally confirm that I feel so much better myself when focusing on the right questions rather than feeling offended by the random words of others. It's easy to focus on the negative, but we're not doing ourselves a favor with it. Feeling upset often feels like a complete waste of time to me.

3. The value of selective ignorance

"After Working at a Newspaper “You’re basically told, ‘Find the thing that’s going to scare people the most and write about it.’... It’s like every day is Halloween at the newspaper. I avoid newspapers.”

An interesting quote by James Altucher. I've stopped reading the news about a year ago, it's an on and off relationship. But every time I get soaked into the news I feel like shit again, and rarely anything productive comes out of it. I like to avoid newspapers and news sites myself. I'm not ignoring what's happening in the world, but you might be surprised how good you feel if you don't read the news for one month.

4. On Anxious people

“When people seem like they are mean, they’re almost never mean. They’re anxious.”

I loved this statement and I can easily see how that applies to even myself. It's an interesting perspective when you deal with people who are mean to you, simply ask the question: "What are they afraid of?" - And when you are the mean person, ask yourself, what are you afraid of?

The answer often is simpler than we might think.

5. You always have three options

“In any situation in life, you only have three options. You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it."

Making the right or wrong decision here is what matters. It can save you tons of money, or even years of headache. Change it, accept it, or leave it.

6. What matters

"It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do."

There will always be people who don't get it. Don't chase them, but focus on the people who get it, who understand you. It's a classic mistake that we're always too focused on the negative part, the people who don't get it.

You could write a book and have 100 people love it, but 3 people hate it. If you measure your success by the people who hate it and don't get it, you're not doing anyone a favor. Focus on the 97 people who get it and write the next book for them. And even if it's the other way around, focus on those who get it.

7. On overthinking & suffering

Two quotes I liked a lot here:

“I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” —Mark Twain

“He who suffers before it is necessary suffers more than is necessary.” —Seneca

Especially the second one really resonated with me. I'm a good example for overthinking and suffering inside well before anything has even happened.

8. On dealing with online trolls

These two little questions from Kevin Rose really put things into perspective for me. Essentially, when dealing with trolls or haters online, ask yourself the following two questions:

“Do people you respect or care about leave hateful comments on the Internet?”

“Do you really want to engage with people who have infinite time on their hands?”

In most cases the answer is simple, it's a big NO. I hope the same applies to you.

9. Ask the dumb questions

Great general life advice: Ask the dumb questions everyone else is too afraid to ask. In a lot of cases great things will happen.

I'm myself someone who loves to ask dumb questions and I can tell you I've gotten into trouble a lot because of it. But the thing I learned so far is that if you ask dumb questions and people make fun of you or feel offended, it's usually only people who have nothing value able to contribute. The smarter the people around you, the more likely they will appreciate the dumb questions you ask. It's a risky game, but one I like to play.

10. Be so good they can't ignore you

I was so happy to find similar pieces about this in the book as well. This has been one of my guiding principles since I started out as a designer. I'm not sure where I read it first online, but I remember I had it set as a desktop wallpaper around the year 2003.

It sounds a little like cheesy advice, but it's true. If you're so good that they can't ignore you, you are doing something right. And it doesn't matter if people like or hate you, if they can't ignore you, you're on the right track.
And these 10 take aways are not even close to what you find in Tim Ferris' book. If you like that kind of stuff, go and order it for your Kindle or get a hard copy **

And of course, if you haven't seen my other reading recommendations yet, you might enjoy a couple books there as well.

Have a fantastic week,


**In the spirit of full disclosure, this article contains one or more affiliate links, which means that I may get a small commissions if you decide to purchase anything from Amazon. Of course, I only recommend products & services that I use and love myself, so I know you’ll be in good hands.

January 11, 2017No Comments

The Imposter Syndrome

People ask me all the time: Do you ever feel like a fraud? Like you’ve fooled everyone into thinking you know what you’re doing, but you’re actually completely unqualified? Do you ever feel guilty you’re getting paid for the shit you’re putting out into the world?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Strangely enough, the more praise I receive and the bigger projects I get, the more I have this feeling. It’s more pressure, higher expectations I might not be able to meet. I could receive 100 compliments but hear 1 person say, “You don’t deserve this,” and that’s the person I choose to believe. I’m like, “Right?! I was just thinking the same thing. Thanks for confirming it.”

And you know, a lot of people have written about this, but I feel like it can’t be said often enough. Imposter Syndrome is something that affects most of us. It affects us on different levels and it’s an issue we all deal with. Even those you might look up to.

The thing with the imposter syndrome is that it scales depending on where you are in your career. In the beginning your self confidence might be very low, so feeling like a fraud is fairly easy because you have very little experience to back up your feelings. I felt like a fraud the moment I started out as a designer, but I thought it might disappear once I got more experience.

But the problem is, the more “successful” you become, the more it makes you feel like a fraud. The stakes become higher, more people are looking at you and you will be surrounded by people who simply don’t like seeing you being successful

That’s why I always say that when you’re young and just starting out in an industry it’s the best thing that can happen, it’s so much easier to fail and do stupid things. There are no or few eyes on you which makes it easier for you to experiment. The more “successful” you get, the harder it will be because all eyes are now on you, and people are just waiting for you to fall and call you a fraud.

So basically, if you’re suffering from the Imposter Syndrome, you’re generally fucked.

On the up side, the fact that so many people talk about feeling like a fraud makes me feel it less. If some of the best designers and artists I know think this way, then maybe I’m actually better than I think. Or maybe we’re all just really good at faking it. Either way, we’re in it together. And this article is simply about recognizing this fact.

I’ve given this subject a lot of thought (judging by the amount of self-help books on it, we all have) and I’ve found a few ways to ease this debilitating feeling. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you too.

First of all, own it.

I’ve read a lot about the imposter syndrome and how it might hold you back. The problem is, most people (including myself) see themselves as a victim of the Imposter Syndrome and render themselves useless. Some even try to get rid of it, treating it like a sickness that can be cured. Maybe the one thing I learned myself is that the imposter syndrome is here to stay and if I make it part of myself, it can’t stop me anymore.

I even dislike talking about it now because I feel like it’s such a cliché thing to do. I don’t want any special snowflake treatment from other people just because I suffer from something like the Imposter Syndrome. This isn’t the solution. But the solution is to just fucking own it, accept the fact that you’re feeling like a fraud, but so does pretty much everyone else around you.

Keep a “Feel Good Folder”

Let me give you this small gift: You’re allowed to be proud of your work. I know, I know. We’re supposed to deflect compliments. We’re not supposed to actually LIKE what we make. That would be self-centered and delusional, right? Fuck that. You’re a human being who put a little life into something new. You created something, and other people might even appreciate it.

Take these tiny wins, the compliments or moments that give you a secret surge of pride, and save them. Write them down and put them in a place just for you. This is your Feel Good Folder. You’re allowed to look at it and get energy from it any time you like. It reminds you that you do have talent. Maybe. Just a little.

Talk to people you trust

Like I said, it seems that every creative person feels like they’re faking it. Ask your friends. Ask an older, wiser person you respect. Ask your designer hero. Chances are, they feel the same way you do but just don’t always talk about it. We are all more alike than we’d like to admit. And if we are all frauds, then none of us are.

Admit you don’t know

There is nothing more liberating than calling yourself out or admitting you don’t know how to do something. Then your dirty secret isn’t a secret anymore. You’ve been found out, and that makes you free. Admit you don’t know and promise you’ll figure it out. Then figure it out. Most people won’t lose respect for you, because they can relate. Say “I don’t know,” and you might encourage others to open up and offer advice – or maybe they’ll admit they don’t know either. Either way, they now know you’re not as smart as they thought you were, and you’re still alive. Who’d have thought?

I remember one of my previous NTMY podcast episodes with Simone. I asked her how she deals with insults, people making fun of her and Internet trolls in general. She simply said: “I always make sure to be the first one who laughs at myself." That kinda stuck with me because it’s such perfect advice. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Put your head down and work

I’d say “stop comparing yourself to other people” but that’s easier said than done. So instead, just get to fucking work. Put your Instagram away for a few hours, take a break from Dribbble and focus hard on your own shit. The more you work, the more you improve your skill. When you’re wondering if your work is as good as someone else’s, you are wasting time you could spend on getting even better. This is a lesson I learned from Katie Rodgers on The NTMY Show. Listen to her episode about feeling like a fraud, and how she makes amazing art despite it.

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

- Stephen King

Share praise generously


For some reason, it’s easier to drag others down than to lift them up. For some reason we think by dragging someone down we come out at the top. Rarely does it work like that.

Work harder to be kind. Never hesitate to encourage others by telling them you admire their work or a specific skill they have. Every time a sincere compliment enters your mind, say it out loud. That person may offer to teach you that specific skill you admire. They may praise you in return. Or maybe they’ll file your compliment in their Feel Good Folder, and you’ll never know much those simple words meant to them. This world of insecure people could use more positivity in it, so be the first person to share it something nice if you really mean it.

I know this from myself, I sometimes hold back on compliments because I’m thinking that the person on the other end is crazy successful and probably doesn’t really care or gets compliments all the time.

But to be honest, that’s not always the case. The moment you are “successful” people rarely just reach out to you just to tell you that you’re doing a good job. They usually only reach out to either drag you down, or because they want something from you. But real genuine compliments without any strings attached are actually pretty rare.

But going back to feeling like a fraud. I feel like one, multiple times a month. I’m drowning in self doubt and if you do too, I just want to let you know that most of us are. It's part of the deal.

But what I learned is that I won’t let the imposter syndrome dictate my life. And it also shouldn’t dictate yours. Never. And the best way to counter it is to work, put in the work and feel good about what you accomplished, regardless of what other people say.

Besides that, I think a certain amount of self doubt is healthy. If I stop feeling like a fraud one day I probably also feel like I just stopped growing.

Have a fantastic week & Stay awesome,

January 10, 2017No Comments

The cake is a lie

There is something interesting happening to us as we grow older, something that hinders us from personal growth, or limits the ability of companies to ensure constant innovation.

Protecting the Cake

Think of all the things you own as “your cake” —  the money you make, your apartment with all that great furniture and all the cool gadgets you might own. Even your personal image to a certain degree, not just physical goods.

Those things make up your personal cake. It’s a great feeling having this big tasty cake in your life right in front of you. You worked for it, so you deserve a big cake , right?

Most of our time is now devoted to protecting all those things. Because who likes to take a pay cut or move from a bigger apartment into a smaller one, or risk no place to stay at all? The older we get and the bigger our cake grows, the more we get used to a certain standard.

Personal development stagnates and becomes less relevant as our eyes are completely focused on the cake. And the fear of losing it is just too big to take any risks or try something new.

You can even see this happening in big organizations. Most of the time is devoted to protecting the cake, innovation stagnates as every eye focuses on the cake, while a new wave of small companies (some might call them startups) are taking over, beating big established brands with a “nothing to lose” attitude.

The cake is a lie

We’ve all been in those situations where all we wanted is change. Move across the world, start a new career or pivot the product into a much needed new direction.

THE CAKE IS A LIE — Roughly translates to “your promised reward is merely a fictitious motivator”. Popularized by the game “Portal” via Urban Dictionary

Every time I’m stuck, I like to imagine this big cake right in front of me.

Then I ask myself:

Am I protecting the cake again? Or are there any real reasons for me not to make the change?

In most cases, the real reason is that I'm protecting the cake. Every argument I have (even with myself) is based only around protecting what I have, not thinking about what I could have instead. Every time I do this exercise I picture myself building walls around my little cake, protecting it with everything I have. Every minute, every thought and every idea I have resolves around protecting the cake, rather than new exciting opportunities.

In the end, the cake is a lie. The cake is just an embodiment of what we believe is important to us. There is no value in protecting a cake no one can eat. Happiness will come from either baking or eating the cake, but never from protecting it.

Stay awesome,

January 4, 2017No Comments

Faking it = making it

This one time I met a cartoonist who doesn’t know how to draw.

Her name is Sarah Cooper and she’s the creator of The Cooper Review, a satirical website with cartoons, articles and videos about working life.

Sarah had no experience with illustration when she first started the publication. She only knew she wanted to share her opinions and funny perspective on office culture in some way. After seeing the creator of The Oatmeal speak at SXSW, she realized drawing was the right medium to express what she had to say.

Only thing she had to do was figure out how to draw.

“Of course I sat down and I tried to draw and I hated everything that I did, because I don’t know how to draw,” Sarah said. “I’m also very judgmental; every stroke is like, ‘oh that’s wrong,’ so I just get nowhere.”

She bought a tablet and continued practicing, but nothing she made felt right. Her attempts never matched the vision in her head. But then one day she had the idea to trace photos. She outlined stock photos that fit the message in her cartoon, and somehow, it seemed to work.

“I felt like a hack. I still feel like a hack. I still feel like a lazy hack.”

She continued tracing and published some cartoons with this new approach. Soon, readers started complimenting her on her artwork. People liked it.

“It’s so fascinating how you have your own perception of things because in my head I’m like, this is terrible, this is the hackiest thing ever. And yet so many people are like, ‘oh my gosh this is great, I’m going to try this, I never thought of this,’” Sarah says. “And eventually I kind of started to own it and I was like OK, this is what I’m doing. This is how my drawings are going to be for now.”

Browse The Cooper Review and you'll see dozens of comics created this way. It's become Sarah's distinct style, one you probably already recognize from viral comics of hers like “10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings.” Sarah was faced with a problem, and she solved it in the most simple way she knew how.

Fake it ‘til you make it. We hear this phrase all the time. Sarah couldn't draw so she faked it in the "hackiest" way possible, and in doing so tapped into a whole new style of drawing. It's not so much that she faked it until she made it. She’s still faking it. She continues to practice her traditional drawing skills on the side, but in the meantime this is what works. And it's working well. She's made it.

In essence, that’s what style is. When we decide to create something our own way, we are faking it. It’s how progress happens. It’s how movements begin. There are no rules that say there is only one way to do something. It’s up to us to decide.

Of course there are general standards or accepted guidelines for design or art or writing. There are things we naturally find pleasing or universally resonate with. It's the people who bend those accepted norms, who find their own solutions to problems, that create their own style. There will always be room to learn and grow and perfect, but their work now has a unique imprint — simply because they can't do it any other way, and that's a good thing.

This is different from pretending we are smarter or more talented than we really are for the sake of getting by. It’s owning the fact that we don't know what we are doing, then finding our own way of doing it. 

To be honest, if you could see how most of my design work gets done you would probably think I'm crazy. Faking it does not make you a “hack” (copying someone else’s work and sharing it as your own might, but that's a different story). In fact, there’s nothing to fake if you're creating your own solution. There’s nothing to compare your work to. It's yours.

By owning your faults and finding a way to create around them, you are making something that's genuine and new. You're moving forward and finding your own way about the world. You've already made it.

Stay awesome,

December 12, 2016No Comments

Fuck Work — Is Work the Evil or the Cure?

I know this is a little bit of a harsh title and I didn't mean to make it sound that negative, but this topic has been on my head for a while now.

And more recently outlets started to write about this topic, such as Aeon magazine which just recently published an article about it.

From the very beginning of my life everything always resolved around getting a job, working and getting paid. It seems almost weird to question this system because this is just how it works since hundreds of years.

And if you've been reading my articles for a while, you know that I love work. And that brings me to an important question I asked myself:

What is work?

There is no universal answer right now, only your personal opinion. But when most people hear the word "work" it has some negative associations to it. For example we often like to say "I can't come to dinner tonight, I have to work" making it sound like work is some evil that pulls us away from everything we would rather do instead, even though that might not be the case. It always makes it sound like as if I "have" to work and as if it's out of my control.

Maybe I should rather say: "I can't come, because I WANT to work.". But of course, this now makes it sound like your dinner has less priority, so this choice of words brings it's own complications.

So when we go back to the question from above, work can be either good or bad. Sometimes this depends only on your perception of it, but sometimes it's also just a matter of privilege.

Ultimately, work falls into two categories for me but with a much bigger meaning hidden behind it.

Some people have to work in order to survive. Some people are privileged enough to either choose to work at all, or at least choose what kind of work they want to do everyday, which of course changes the perception of work and turns it more into an activity of pleasure.

But generally, work and having a job brings a lot of hidden benefits with it. For example, most people would probably go crazy if they wouldn't have a daily schedule, even though they hate that particular schedule.

I also believe that hard work builds character. It makes me appreciate things and it gives me pleasure to create things. But if we're honest about it, the majority of people in this world don't have a job that enables them to create. The majority do work that shouldn't be done by humans in the first place. It's work without meaning, such as working in big factories repeating the same task over and over again.

I just recently had this conversation where one person in the group was upset by the fact that self-driving cars will eventually get rid of millions of jobs. For example in America, about 2.8 million people drive a truck around all day getting things from A to B. Self-driving trucks or other inventions can easily get rid of all of these jobs within just a few years.

Now the question is, is that a good or a bad thing? Also, is driving a truck all day for the majority of your life really the best use of your time?

I'm sure there are some truck drivers out there who would tell you that they love their job. And I'm pretty sure there are many who do. But also, how many people only say that because they've given up on what they really want to do, or just never in their life felt that there is something else they could do? I'm not judging, I'm just asking.

My point is, how would a future look like where the majority of humans don't have to work at all or simply can choose their work as an optional activity? What if this would be a privilege everyone can enjoy?

Do you think this is a good thing? Or would it put the majority of us in a great depression because we wouldn't know what to do with all of this new acquired free time?

I'm pretty sure that in the short term many of us would probably welcome the theoretical idea of it, but practically we would suffer from boredom and ultimately sadness and depression.

But on the other hand, you can already see that today. Boredom is the ‘privilege’ of modern man and more people than ever suffer from depression and aren't creatively satisfied with the work they do because the work itself provides very little to no meaning, even if that job provides very well for themselves and their family. With the majority stuck in retail sales, cashier jobs or even well paid dull office jobs there is very little that makes you feel like you accomplished something.

Are we fucked either way?

At one hand the majority of us works in shitty underpaid low-wage jobs that make us struggle financially, and on the other we have dull office jobs that remove the financial struggle but make us go insane.

So you're essentially left with two choices: Distress or Boredom.

“Mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate between the two extremities of distress and boredom." ~Schopenhauer.

In actual fact, boredom is now causing more problems to solve that distress. And these problems are growing increasingly crucial, for progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.” - Viktor E. Frankl

Simply put: Even if technology is helping us to solve all these problems and free more people from their shitty job, what happens next? What will you do with all of your free time?

After all, work seems to be the necessary evil for a healthy human being. But maybe work is the wrong term, because work is just a vehicle for routine, progress and activity, right? Maybe even just a legal drug to escape the much feared feeling of boredom.

I honestly don't know. But I have this on my mind all the time. The thing is, even if we solve this problem in the future, like let's say we manage to free the majority of our population from a daily job (because machines are now doing that), while still providing everyone with food and shelter of course.  - How would that play out?

What will happen to those people who want to work because they want to enjoy more luxury? Is it fair? Because I assume that even in a world where basic things such as food and shelter is provided, people still seek for luxury which means there will be always someone who has something that you don't have, even though you live a perfectly fine life.

And what will happen to those people who just choose to stay at home, and while perfectly financial stable they're deeply depressed due to boredom?

Maybe this goes down all the way to how we raise our children and what we teach in school. Right now we teach people how to follow rules, routines and become great employees. People nowadays need to be told what to do in order to be happy, and if no one says what they should do, they're not happy.

Maybe in the future we will raise more self-directed human beings, more people who choose to make art and just be active on their own schedule.

Maybe we even discover that boredom isn't a bad thing and allow us to be bored? Did you know for example that the word "boredom" is not found in the English language before the 1760s when it suddenly appeared and since the the usages has progressively increased?

Does that mean people weren't bored before the 1760s or does it mean people were experienced boredom but didn't feel the urge to express it, because they felt perfectly content with it?

Now, the reason I wrote this article is because I want to inspire you to think about this yourself. Forming your own opinion, using it as a dinner table discussion or simply as a motivation to think about a potential world without jobs and how you personally would feel about it.

It's about asking questions rather than finding the right answers. The answer will come soon enough.

Thank you for reading, and if you like to share something with me, please always send me a tweet @vanschneider and I'm happy to talk to you.

Stay awesome,


December 8, 2016No Comments

The big list

"Tobias, what’s your life plan?"

Read more

August 23, 2016No Comments

Why do you work?

Every day I think about it. Why do I work?

Read more

July 18, 2016No Comments

Why I Write

I've gotten this question more and more recently. "Tobias, why do you write? Aren't you a Designer?"

Read more

May 23, 2016No Comments

One video, article or side project can change your life

One piece of content, one little thing you create or publish, can change everything you do in the future.

  • One article you write and publish can change your life.
  • One video you upload and share can change your career.
  • One little side project you create and publish can change the course of everything you will do in the future.

But the problem is, we don't do these things. We usually sit here overthinking, planning, strategizing and coming up with excuses why we can't do it. I do this all the time myself. I come up with ideas for little articles, I write them, and then I delete them again thinking no one cares anyway.

Let me give you an example:

In 2015, I sat down and wrote an article with the title "No alcohol, no coffee for 27 months". I finished the article within one sitting. It took me less than 15 minutes to finish, nothing special. I just wrote it for myself to reflect on my personal experience. I hit the publish button and moved on, because who cares anyway?

Apparently, a lot of people did. It was by far one of the most-read articles I've ever written with millions of views. It got syndicated to pretty much every big online magazine and translated into more than 10 languages across the world. It still gets thousands of views each week, five years later.

In retrospect, I can see why people liked this article. But the moment I published it, there was nothing special about it. I've never written an article in less than 15 minutes, and couldn't have cared less about its potential to receive an audience. But for some reason, it was that article that got my writing and experience around the world.

I learned it once again: Don't think about it too much. Just fucking do it.

Casey Neistat might be familiar to some of you by now. He is a well known YouTuber and vlogger. But years before his crazy vlogging career started, he uploaded a 3 minute video called "Crazy German Water Park"

Within the following months, this video got more than 18 million views on YouTube alone, making it his second-most watched video of all time (at least at that time). There is nothing in particular special about this video, it's a good video, but one of his best? I doubt it. I assume even Casey can't tell you why this video exploded, or why in specifically this video compared to any of his others (which are all excellent).

While this video probably didn't change Casey's life, it's still one of his most-watched and shared videos. Which means, it's the video that reaches far beyond his subscriber base, giving all his other videos exposure. It's the video that reached more people than any of his other videos (at least that's true at the time I am writing this).

We can analyze it and maybe find something in retrospect, but I'm pretty sure even Casey Neistat wasn't prepared to see this video explode. Sometimes we can feel it, we can feel when the stars align and something is going to be successful. But sometimes it happens for the strangest reasons. All we have to do is hit publish on a video called "Crazy German Water Park."

“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.”
― Pablo Picasso

Years ago, Mikael Cho, one of the co-founders of Crew was almost being forced to shut down his company. He had three months worth of cash left and needed to get his shit together.

At the time, he was working on a new website for Crew. While searching for some good stock photos to use for their website, the team noticed that they just couldn't find anything worth using. So they ended up hiring a photographer instead to shoot some quick pictures in a coffee shop. Since they only needed one picture and had a couple extras left, they decided to simply share them online for free to download.

Three hours and one quick Tumblr theme later, they put up a website called Unsplash with download links to these extra photographs. Then the team moved on with their day. I mean, they had a business to save.

Long story short: Unsplash blew up on the Internet. It received millions of visits and downloads within the first year. More people wanted to share their extra photographs, and they eventually did it through Unsplash. And on top of it, Unsplash served as the number one referral to Crew, helping Crew to survive and ultimately gain the exposure they needed. Now, it's one of the most-viewed websites worldwide.

All this happened just because the Crew team decided to share their extra photographs on a quick and dirty Tumblr page. I'm pretty sure no one at the Crew team knew at the time that this little side project will ultimately save their company and ultimately create a completely new company, which is what Unsplash is today.

In the end, it's about just doing it. It's about hitting the publish button. It's about not thinking about perfection, it's about zero expectation.

It's about walking the walk, doing the thing. Making something and showing it to the world. One day only one person will appreciate it (and that's okay) and the other day it might be thousands. It is worth it, either way.

I can probably come up with many more stories like these, and just reflecting on this myself today makes me motivated to do even more in the future. Keep going, keep running and have fun.

Often the things I create with zero expectations turn out to be something that impacted my work or career the most.

May 9, 2016No Comments

Work/Life Balance Is Bullsh*t

There is no question being asked more often than how people manage their work/life balance.

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April 25, 2016No Comments

Be useful

Two simple words that are so easy to forget. Every day when I wake up I try to remind myself of just that: Be useful.

It serves almost as some sort of mission or vision to guide me through the day. Every time I feel a little lost or don't remember what I set out to do, I go back to the basics. I just try to be useful.

Being useful is so simple. It not only helps other people but also myself. Being useful makes me happy, because whatever "usefulness" translates to in my current circumstance, it's never wasted time.

Sometimes I have a bad day. Sometimes it's hard to stay positive and I get lost in the world of negativity and criticism. Especially online, it's easy to be negative. Exactly then I usually try to remind myself to be useful, because being a negative asshole adds little value to anyone.

There are many ways you can be useful to other people and it's often more simple than you think. Here's where to start:

Share knowledge

You are never too young to teach. Share knowledge with people who might know less. There is always someone who might appreciate your tips & tricks on whatever topic it might be.

On top of it, sharing knowledge is rewarding. You're not only helping others but also yourself. Sharing knowledge helps you to form and communicate your thoughts more clearly.

Solve a small problem

You can help people by solving a problem they are having. It doesn't have to be a massive problem. It can be something small.

Sometimes when I work with other people I try to figure out what small problems they might have. And if I spot one where I feel like my expertise can help solve it in less than 15-30 minutes of my time, I will try to solve it.

I know this can be hard, because once you give someone the small finger to help, some might bite off your hand. But most of the time, it's worth it.

“I have found that all ugly things are made by those who strive to make something beautiful, and that all beautiful things are made by those who strive to make something useful.” ― Oscar Wilde

It's not your job? Do it anyway!

I've grown up as a jack of all trades. There are few times when I would say this is not part of my job description. Whatever needs to be fixed, I fix it. If I can fix a hardware problem, I just do it. If I can help set up an online payment flow, I will do it. If I can help designing an app, I will do this too.

I always love to work with people who know how to handle any situation that comes at them. And I'm not saying you should get lost in tiny tasks, but you should never be afraid doing things that are not part of your "official job description." It always annoys me when I work with people who clearly found a problem, but haven't even tried to solve it because it's "not their job."

I think being useful is a highly underestimated value that we rarely talk about. I love working with useful people because they ask the right questions rather than just trying to find the answers.

Useful people add value where there was no value before.

Useful people are interested in being useful and helping you the best way possible. Getting the job done or doing a task that you were assigned is one thing, but being useful is a completely different way of living and working.

Even if my to-do list is completely packed tomorrow, I try to focus on the tasks where I can be most useful to others. It makes me happy and allows me to sleep well at night.

And to be a little useful to you today, I'd like to share some book recommendations:

1. The Blue Zones Solution**

There is something called the "Blue Zones," and people who live in these blue zones seem to be the world's healthiest and long-living people on earth. The author tries to explore the secret behind these blue zones and how we can replicate their effect in other places around the world. It's an interesting concept & I enjoyed reading it.

2. Total Recall**

I mentioned this one already in my list of favorite books. It's the unbelievable story & autobiography of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold has always been inspiring to me for what he's achieved in such a short life so far. Being on top of three different industries is what really stands out to me. He went from being an athlete (bodybuilding) to one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood before becoming Governor of California.

3. Delivering Happiness**

This book is by Tony Hsieh, one of the founders of Zappos. The founding story of Zappos is a little less exciting as Tony came from a background of wealth, but I still appreciated this book for the way Tony & Zappos build a company completely focused on customer experience.

I'd say it's the Nr.1 book I would recommend to everyone building a company. And if you are looking for more reading recommendations, I have a whole page dedicated to just that!

And with that, I wish you a fantastic week. Be Useful.

Yours truly,

**In the spirit of full disclosure, this article contains one or more affiliate links, which means that I may get a small commissions if you decide to purchase any of these books from Amazon. Of course, I only recommend products & services that I use and love myself, so I know you’ll be in good hands.

April 12, 2016No Comments

Why I Try to Avoid a Daily Schedule

Let me tell you why.

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January 11, 2016No Comments

100 Years Ago

For some reason, every time a year ends I get a little emotional and enter a reflective stage. I try to zoom out, look at the bigger picture and analyze all the things that happened.

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December 28, 2015No Comments

2015 – The Year of Change

2015 has been a crazy year. It’s hard to look back and reflect on everything that has happened, but below are some of my personal highlights. I mostly write this for myself, so I can look back at it next year again — You might do the same.

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December 8, 2015No Comments

Be Stupid

In the last few weeks I shared four of my five work principles with you. These principles are important for me as they guide me trough new side projects. They also ensure personal growth.

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December 1, 2015No Comments

The Secret Is the Beginning

We humans love to celebrate success stories. We get inspired by great companies, successful people and big achievements.

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November 9, 2015No Comments

To Stay Productive, Stay Busy

Part of my principles series when approaching new side projects.

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October 12, 2015No Comments

Ignore Everybody

In general, I’m not a big fan of random ideas. Ideas are cheap, because everyone has them. Getting shit done is what counts in the end.

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May 16, 2015No Comments

A Jack of All Trades, a Master of Some

“A jack of all trades, master of none” is the famous saying. From early on in school we are trained to specialize. You should be a master in one field, they say.

This is becoming more and more untrue. Companies are looking for the "rockstar" designer who can design, code, animate and so on. While specialization has its own benefits and has long been seen as the ultimate path to success, there is a new unique wave of generalists who challenge the status quo.

In my own approach to work, I've flipped the saying. For me, it's "a jack of all trades, a master of some."

I believe in personal growth by doing something I haven’t done before. I am constantly motivated to learn and create something new, to gain new experiences and knowledge in many different fields. This applies to not only my professional projects but also to how I live my life in general.

For me, diversity means strength. Gaining new skills and trying new things sharpens my mind and broadens my horizon, rather than narrowing it. Being a jack of all trades allows me to stay fresh and flexible. This approach serves as some sort of life insurance, allowing me to adapt and move forward. Plus, it’s just a ton of fun.

"Mastering a field does not require your entire lifetime as some might think."

Of course, there are a few fields I do like to focus on more than others. But mastering a field does not require your entire lifetime as some might think. We often believe that to become a true master in one field we have to know 100% of it. Often this 100% can be so overwhelming that we don’t even try. In reality, you will never know 100% anyway (unless it's memorizing history).

I like to approach it with the famous Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. The Pareto principle states that for most events, roughly 80% of the desired effect comes from 20% of the causes. The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered this principle by observing that 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. Pareto followed this further to find that 80% of global wealth is possessed by 20% of the population. The principle itself can be found in many fields, not just economics, and is often even closer to 90/10.

"I can completely demoralize myself by looking at the 1,000 things I need to learn. Or I look at the 20% that will power 80% of the desired outcome."

But let's talk about how I can apply this to learning. I can completely demoralize myself by looking at the 1,000 things I need to learn. Or I look at the 20% that will power 80% of the desired outcome, which will get me fairly close for being a master.

Tim Ferris highlights an interesting example in his book, “The 4 Hour Body."

Let's assume we want to learn a new language, Spanish. The Spanish language has an estimated 100,000 words. It would take you many years to learn them all. But to have a fluent conversation in Spanish, you only need a vocabulary of approximately 2,500 words. This will allow you to observe and take part in more than 95% of all conversations.

In this case, 2.5%  powers 95% of the result. The closer you get to the full 100% the more time it will take and the less return on investment you will experience. Often the last percent is the hardest, and sometimes the most rewarding. But that last percent is not required unless your goal is to know 100% (and there is nothing wrong with that).

Looking at this through the lens of the Pareto principle, “a jack of all trades and master of some” works. It’s proof for me that “specialization” as we know it today does not exist anymore. Especially knowing that we have every bit of information at our fingertips, everywhere, at any time we want.

I love learning new things, and I hope it will never stop.

May 14, 2015No Comments

And Then? A Story about Perspective

Nowadays it’s all about growth, scale and about being successful. At least that’s what we get from social media and everyone around us.

There is this little classic story about a fisherman and a businessman I would like to share with you. You might know it already, but I highly recommend reading it at least once a year. Reminding yourself what’s essential to you personally and simply asking the question “And then?” helps me put things into perspective.

The fisherman & the businessman

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while.”

The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you.

You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution.

You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15–20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions — then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”


Thank you for reading,

October 24, 2014No Comments

Why Side Projects Should Be Stupid

The article below is an interview interview I did with FirstRound Capital back in 2014 but remains one of my favorite interviews today. If you're interested in getting some insight in how I approach my side projects (or even main projects) this article might give you the behind the scenes you were looking for.


Tobias van Schneider lives his life like one big side project. Today, he designs and builds new products for Spotify in New York, but he couldn’t have predicted that when he dropped out of school at age 15 to work as an apprentice in a computer shop in Austria. He couldn’t have predicted that when he applied to graduate schools and design schools and was told repeatedly that he didn’t have enough training or talent to build a career.He couldn’t have predicted that even when he turned his side passion for visual and product design into a full-time job by opening up his own studio. He didn’t know what to expect. But from that point on, side projects have marked his path like breadcrumbs, leading him to where he is today.

As van Schneider was growing up, teaching himself new skills after work and on weekends, the idea of “side projects” became a foundational my thin the tech world. Products like Gmail, Craigslist, and even Post-Its can trace their roots back to work discovered and developed on the side. As a result, hackathons and other strategies have become standard practice at large companies and even startups to bottle this spirit and keep technical talent engaged.

This is great, van Schneider says, but not if it becomes a cliche. His argument: In order for side projects to truly succeed, they have to be stupid. Here’s what he means, and how it can help your company stay creative and competitive:

Let Yourself be Stupid

“The only way a side project will work is if people give themselves permission to think simple, to change their minds, to fail — basically, to not take them too seriously,” says van Schneider. “When you treat something like it’s stupid, you have fun with it, you don’t put too much structure around it. You can enjoy different types of success.”

When you think about it, most of the side projects we point to as huge successes were never intended to be anything more than experiments.Side projects include everything employees do outside the bounds of normal work hours or within bounds if they work at a company that puts time aside for employees to explore independently (think Google’s famous20% time rule). At a certain point, about 50% of Google’s new projects were born out of this time. New companies have emerged too, with first-time entrepreneurs like Artillery CTO Ian Langworth turning weekend experiments with friends into full-time jobs. At the start of any and all of these projects, no one had a grand plan for turning them into massive,profitable ventures. As van Schneider puts it, “If you think that way, you lose the magic.”

“Side projects are great because you don’t need to know anything. You get to be a beginner because no one is watching you and there are no expectations,” he says. “If you don’t have an idea, don’t stress about it, just go do something else. It’s this attitude that it doesn’t matter that allows us to be inspired and to work on only the things we truly want to work on.”

Sounds great, but as van Schneider points out, keeping side projects stupid can be really, really hard — especially in an industry where everyone talks about funding, scale, and data-driven decision-making. If you’re not careful, you can forget why you ever wanted to work on something in the first place. Below is a list of valuable lessons both companies and individuals can learn from stupid side projects.

Take It One Step at a Time

Side projects are simple.

Immersed in the New York startup scene, van Schneider is surrounded by people working on countless side projects, and he too is constantly drawn to new ideas. The advice he gives to himself and others is to keep things as basic as possible for as long as possible.

“Think of the very, very first step you would take to realize your idea,” he says. “I think when people work on ‘stupid’ side projects, they spend more time thinking this way. You have to chunk out your time to work around your day job, so you’re constantly thinking about the minimum thing you can do to push the project forward. You think in terms of very small next steps.”

The benefit here is that you’re prevented from overthinking and killing your buzz. When you work on something because you feel like you have to, not just because you want to, there’s a tendency to overreach.

“A lot of people ask themselves questions until they’re so scared of the future they’ll never do anything new.”

These questions probably sound familiar:

  • How do I scale this thing?
  • Can I really find financing for this?
  • Do I have a decent chance of being successful?
  • “Oh my god, someone else out there is doing exactly the same thing! What now?”
  • Who has already done this better, faster, smarter than me?

“All of these doubts kick in, overcomplicate things, and kill projects that could have become something,” says van Schneider. “When you’re focused on just taking that first step, or that next right step to keep things in motion, you won’t ask yourself all these questions.”

My first piece of advice is to just fucking do it.

There’s a famous Steve Jobs interview where he talks about the moment he realized that the world was defined and built by people who were no smarter than him. It was the same moment he knew that he was free to make anything possible.

“I love that interview because that’s not how most people learned things in school,” says van Schneider. “We’re taught from the beginning that we have to sit there and learn from people who are smarter than us. Sure, there might be people who are more experienced, but they also had to learn and fail to get there, and we often don’t get to see that part. I think once you embrace this reality, so many doors open and failure doesn’t matter anymore.”

Being immune to failure is another hallmark of successful side projects. Because you’re not depending on them for your livelihood, you have the luxury of failing, of calling ‘Do over!’ when things aren’t going so well, and nothing bad will happen to you.

“If you can remove all fears and go one step at a time, you will find things that will guide you along the way,” says van Schneider. “You will learn new things, absorb new information, meet people, get feedback, see demand in different areas — new doors will open up for you.”

When he’s talked to people who have built successful side projects, he says they mostly tell him the same thing: “I was just living life and doing what I loved. When I saw something happening, I reacted, but I didn’t force it.”

Ditch Your Obsession with Growth

Side projects aren’t about rapid scale.

Van Schneider is a fan of another entrepreneur: Sophia Amoruso, founder of online fashion store Nasty Gal. Today, the company employs hundreds of people and brings in over $100 million a year — and it began as a hobby. Amoruso loved collecting vintage clothes and selling them on eBay. It was fun. A personal challenge. When she realized people were willing to pay quite a bit for some of her products, she gradually amped up her inventory and re-prioritized her life until she was running the company full-time. But none of this describes why she got started in the first place.

A lot of people talk about the importance of “doing what you love,” but what’s important is all the meaning packed into the word “love,” van Schneider says. Love is not just talk or professed passion. It’s hard work. It’s focused dedication at odd hours, trying new things, knowing every step of the way that chances of traditional success are slim. It’s being fine with staying small. “You do it because you’re enjoying yourself. When this is the case, you don’t give up when you don’t see growth; and when you don’t give up, anything can happen.”

Remember, success also comes in the form of learning new things, meeting the right people, feeling personally fulfilled, he says. You don’t know what will happen next. Perhaps your side project will lead you to your next job,your spouse, or a sustainable living that gives you the freedom to keep exploring.

There are so many startup success stories out there now that people think there must be a recipe for how to build toward a multi-million dollar exit. In fact, a lot of blog posts, books and speakers espouse formulas that they swear will work. But van Schneider disagrees. “When I look at examples like Sophia and Nasty Gal, I couldn’t write down a plan, give it to someone else and have them repeat it,” he says. “With the biggest successes, that is never the case.”

Side projects only get bigger when you want them to.

“Sometimes your project might grow so that you have more work than you can handle by yourself, especially if you still have a full-time job,” says van Schneider. “When this is the case, you have the chance to think about success looks like to you. You can bring people on to work with you only if you want to.”

As a byproduct, you also get to be more thoughtful about who you bring into your fold. When you love what you’re doing, you want to work with people who operate on the same wavelength and who believe in the project and its potential as much as you.

Trust Yourself More

Side projects make you the boss.

“When you feel real ownership for a project, you become more confident in your decisions,” says van Schneider. “You might change your plan and that’s okay. You are always right when it’s your project.”

When you adopt this attitude and start trusting in yourself and your skills, you are much more likely to succeed at what you’re doing. Promising projects die when you sidestep risk and doubt your abilities. Van Schneider — who is 100% self-trained in design — has experienced this firsthand. Despite all the rejection letters he racked up from graduate programs, he didn’t allow himself to get discouraged. He opened his own studio anyway.


“When someone tells me I can’t do something, I say, ‘Thank you, now I’m definitely going to do it.’”

“When you’re working on a side project, you have the time and the choice to invest in learning new things,” he says. “You can also be choosier about the feedback you take. When you do take it, it’s because you truly want to get better at something.”

A lot of people face negative feedback in their jobs, whether it’s judgment from managers or co-workers or the anxiety of running out of time. “If you adopt a ‘side project’ mindset, you can turn this into constructive energy,” van Schneider says. “Think about it. If you love your side project, even if someone says that it’s shit, you still love it. So take the feedback, figure out how it can make you stronger, and go with that.”

Two years after he opened his own studio, he started working with three other designers, and got hired to do a job by one of the universities that had rejected him not so long before. “There was this moment where I realized how important it was that I trusted myself all that time.”

How Companies Can Support Stupid Side Projects

The best thing a startup can do to maintain its creative edge and keep its most talented employees invested in the company is make time and space for stupid side projects, van Schneider says. While larger companies like Google and Apple can build this into people’s jobs on a regular basis,more and more startups are providing time in the form of hack weeks and hack days.

“At Spotify, we host week-long hackathons which are basically paid vacations during which people can hack on anything they want,” says van Schneider. “A lot of what gets made comes out of frustrations — things people want the product to do or things they have always wanted to make possible.”

This is a fairly classic narrative. He cites the example of Tina Roth Eisenberg, creator of design blog and studio Swiss Miss, who created the site Tattly to sell tasteful, well-crafted temporary tattoos after her young daughter came home from school with a poor facsimile on her arm. “At no point was she thinking, I’m going to scale this like crazy and get rich,” says van Schneider. As a company, you want to appeal to the people who simply want to do something cool and fill a gap.

“Companies underestimate how important it is to give employees the time and space to listen to their hearts and explore the things they are interested in,” he says. “This is something that is impossible to measure — which turns a lot of people off in this very data-driven business. But when you look at people like Sophia from Nasty Gal, you can just see how much heart is involved.”

“Humanity is trying so hard to measure everything. We have to resist this attitude.”

“At Spotify, we’ve tried really hard to establish this philosophy. With our Hackathons, we do our best to tell people to trust themselves, go crazy — we absolutely don’t care if what they produce turns into anything. We try to make this very clear.”

The corollary to this is that a company needs to have a system to take the ideas produced by Hackathons and do something productive with them.In general, Spotify chooses the top three ideas, and entrust the teams who create them with making them a reality. “There’s nothing more discouraging than saying, ‘Oh, you worked hard on that for a week? That’s nice, now go back to work.’ Even if you tell them you’re going to archive it and come back to it later, that’s something.”

Most importantly, companies need to thank hackathon participants for their effort, and for pouring their passion into these projects. Gratitude goes along way toward keeping people fulfilled and investing their full hearts in their work. You’d be surprised how many people come up with ideas at hack events and then decide to pursue them on their own when they don’t get support, van Schneider says.

Right now, Spotify is working to develop one of the projects that came out of a recent hackathon. The three people responsible for the idea were given a full year to flesh it out and implement it — they own it end-to-end.

“This is the best case scenario because you know these people are super passionate about what they are working on,” says van Schneider. “We made room in the product roadmap for these ideas. We take the risk that we might fail, but we make it clear that it’s okay if we do. It’s worth it to us as a company. We will pay three people to explore something risky for a year because this culture and attitude is so important to us. When you do this, people stay at your company and their motivation becomes contagious.”

He sees it happen all the time. Employees see that Spotify has invested in developing employee ideas and they suddenly can’t wait for the next hackathon to roll around. “When you have this kind of energy, you want to tell people that they don’t have to wait for the next hack day opportunity. Give them permission to take one or two hours out of every day where you’re paying them to innovate and pursue things they want to do. Build in ways for people to share this kind of work with their peers and their managers. Make them feel rewarded or you risk losing them.”

“If people find the time and have great ideas, they will do it anyway. They will be gone.”

Extremely talented people are the first to resist being locked into any environment. Van Schneider points to the team that created startup FiftyThree, makers of the Pencil stylus and Paper iPad app. “Many of them came out of Microsoft, tired of what they were working on, and they didn’t have the freedom to take their products to the next level. Most of their work was shelved,” he says. “You have to tell people so that they will believe you: ‘You know what, you can do this thing exactly the way you want to at our company. Give them the trust and responsibility and remove their fears. Those are the main ingredients for great projects.”

Facebook is a good counter example. They also had a talented team that wanted to try out something different. The result was Facebook Paper, a new app that experimented with new concepts but was not intended to replace the current mobile app. The company gave the team the resources to turn it into something real. “When people at Facebook see things like this happen they get inspired and motivated to pursue something new too. Their projects don’t have to be standalone products or financial successes,and the company will stand behind them. Just having creative people at your company is rewarding and high-impact.”

Creating a ‘Side Projects’ Culture

As with everything related to culture, this starts with hiring the right people.As van Schneider puts it, there are two categories of hires: 1) People who you could put in a room, get out of their way, and they will create remarkable things with little oversight; and 2) people who get stressed out when they don’t know what the next step is or what deliverables are expected of them.

“Some people completely freeze when you tell them that they can do anything,” he says. “It’s something good to ask in an interview to determine where people lie on this spectrum. It’s the difference between hiring someone who needs to be given targets to hit and someone who wants to create their own targets.” The latter category is usually more ambitious.

The key is to figure out what candidates’ primary drivers are. “What is the main reason they want to work with you? Is it the money? Is it their long-term goals and how your company fits into their career? Is their plan coming from somewhere else? Are they living someone else’s life? Their parents’ life? Their friends’ life? A lot of people are. These things are so easily buried under data and titles and equity.” A lot of this information can be mined by asking more personal questions in interviews, taking an interest in how people live their lives outside of work, and observing what kind of compensation package they would choose.

“In the end, people’s greatest side projects are themselves and their careers.”

The most successful companies in the future will be the ones that respect this. Van Schneider counts Spotify among their ranks.

Case in point: He landed his current job through connections stemming from a side project that he was deeply passionate about. He reimagined and wrote extensively about a new type of Mac email client that he named .Mail (dot Mail), completely rethinking how a mail application could handle attachments, calendar invites, and more.

“I just put these ideas out there and it got featured everywhere. FastCompany was writing about it and they called it email reinvented. It just went viral,” he says. “It’s fascinating to me, because before I published it, I showed it to so many friends who said they didn’t think it was anything special, and I just decided, you know what I’m going to do it anyway.”

Suddenly he was getting picked up by the likes of Wired and other major publications. People who ran large email clients at Google, Yahoo and Microsoft reached out to him asking if he wanted a job. He forged relationships with many of them that he still maintains today. In the end, it led him to Spotify, and the opportunity to reinvent how people interact with music on web and mobile interfaces, a challenge that compelled him.

The irony of .Mail is that so many people asked, even implored him or someone else to build the model he described in the article he published,and while he hacked on it for a while he ultimately gave it up. “I realized I was passionate about thinking about the problem, but not actually fixing it,” he says.

“I didn’t build it because it stopped being fun. It stopped being stupid.”


I hope you enjoyed this article. Thank you for reading,