Reess Kennedy

Ideas, sharings, projections

Category: Business (Page 1 of 2)

The Over-Engineering of Bagels and Life

Recently I decided to do something really crazy: Order a plain bagel with plain cream cheese. The result: one of the great bagel experiences of my life and a major EUREKA moment.

Why was this so crazy for me? For many years I’d ordered everything bagels. Occasionally I’d experiment with flavored cream cheeses too.

After biting this plain-on-plain after so long out at sea with different add-ons I thought, “Why have I been straying form the basic thing for so long?” It’s hard to beat just a perfectly fresh bagel with the right amount of plain cream cheese on it.

I think there’s a lesson of general value in life form this. Humans have a propensity to want to add more to everything. We’re tinkerers and experimenters and, in many ways, this curiosity has resulted in the incredible innovations that continue to improve our world.

It also, however, can lead us down dead end roads, always seeking more when what we had in the beginning didn’t need anything more. What we had in the beginning worked great!

I think this applies to food, relationships and business.

How do we find that really simple, basic thing that just works great? How do we find that perfect plain bagel with plain cream cheese that everyone lines up for in our business? And then how do we prevent ourselves from feeling the need to monkey with it too much once it works!

Software engineers talk about “the plague of over-engineering” sometimes.

When you’re dealing with bits and bites that can be moved around in an infinite combination, dissatisfaction and a desire to add on more can become an even bigger valueless time drain.

I saw this quote about it recently I liked:

This guys basically communicates what I’m trying to say in this article in 140 characters. Maybe this whole post is over-engineered.

Being the “Picture Painter-in-Chief”

Picture Painter-in-Chief is basically Elon Musk’s job title.

Yes, technically I am sure he is brilliant and just as capable as the senior engineers he employes. But the guy is doing so much, he can’t be in the weeds doing the research and math and all the nitty-gritty.

He’s really more like the storyteller or picture painter. This is his main role. The latest video for his latest endeavor, The Boring Company, is the best example of this. (Embedded at the end of this post.)

Normally, you’d watch something like this and think, “This is science fiction, never going to happen.” But Elon has the defied the odds so much and in is such an influential place of power and has gained so much good will he has absolutely reignited the 60s era space race imagination of the country.

Because of this, he now releases a video like this and instead of being dismissive about it we think, “Yeah, I can see that. Why not? He could probably do it.”

And maybe even more importantly we think: “If he can do it, what else can I do?”

It’s an awesome world to live in when we have these storytellers able to dream a dream and have enough of a track record of success and goodwill behind them that the world believes that dream!

And it’s awesome to live in a world where we have brave men doing hard things and inspiring everyone else to imagine and paint beautiful pictures of an improved tomorrow.

The freedom of constraints

It’s a paradox but it’s true. Constraints help boost productivity.

Setting time constraints is clearly a way to focus the mind. I wrote a quick post on this. There are, however, also constraints on the form of your creative product that can help as well.

Somewhat related is the common quote that “discipline will set your free.”

The older I get and the more experience I have the more I realize it.


  • Twitter: Having only 140 characters eliminates creative hesitation. People who might never create a blog post are prolific tweeters. And there’s real value, in the aggregate, of the creative output this 140 character limitation has caused.
  • Haiku: These are poems with a small constraint just like on twitter. It’s really fun to debate and wrestle with only 17 syllables. If you’re trying to write a book and you want to make sure every word is perfect, you’ll be working on it for eternity and still not finish. With 17 syllables you feel like with a little bit of thought you can get close to the perfect words to say something in a short time.
  • Bootstrap or any frontend, grid-based design framework: You can still basically do anything within a design grid but having a grid system to design within boosts confidence in the reliability of the final product and that makes creating more fun.

The hardest thing I do might be to write a post on this blog because there is no set format.

I like M.G. Seigler’s idea of trying to restrict his blog posts to 500 words with his blog I should have thought of that.

2009 was, apparently, the year I invented Uber and Pinterest

2009 was, apparently, the year I invented Uber and Uber Pool and Pinterest.

Except, I didn’t.

Cleaning my GDrive today & find this stray note in doc called “2009 – Notes.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 1.56.14 PM

Then I find this:


This was many something like what Pinterest now is.

Common, oft-repeated takeaway is: Ideas are freeeeee, free, free and abundant and thousands of people have the same or similar idea at the same time. There were dozens of people working on the invention of flight around the same time but only the Wright Bros get credit. Same thing with the telephone. Similar thing with this Facebook thing I use right now to distribute this message.

The great book The Master Switch talks about this a bit too.

Relaxation at tension

Forcing the body to relax under pressure is really powerful. But it takes practice. And focus.

The five mile road race I ran this morning had me thinking about this. At mile three my muscles start to tighten and I began, as people often say, “grinding.” But today I focused on using my mind to fight against this muscular tension as I carried my pace over the final miles.

it seems like impulse pushes us to meet pressure with pressure but experience tells me to, at times, resist this.

In today’s race I maintained and accelerated my pace over the last few miles while working hard to override this impulse to tighten– and to relax my muscles instead. It was a transfer of pressure from my muscles to my mind. My mind now had to work harder to improve the performance of my body by calming it down.

In this way, tense running becomes mindless, lazy running. Coaches tell you not to “fall asleep” during a race and this essentially means turning off your mind’s power as force to keep your body relaxed as you push forward towards the finish.

Martial arts disciplines try to teach these principles of relaxation under pressure as well and Yogis likely become accustomed to forcing relaxation under the tension of a stretch.

But I also think this relaxation under pressure can be generalized to produce benefit outside of running and athletics–and that’s the purpose of this post.

Business dealings and relationships can benefit as well. I remember listening to a tense Senate inquiry of Apple CEO Tim Cook a few years ago that highlights this. The senators were, at the beginning, grilling Cook and, amazingly,  it seemed that the more pressure they put on him the softer and more calmly he spoke. It was masterful. After a few minutes his relaxed but professional demeanor diffused their tension completely. He knew he could not meet fire with fire. He had to meet all levels of increased pressure with increased focus on relaxation.

I’m sure it was hard for Cook to do this. Just like my legs started to tighten today at mile three, I’m sure Cook’s temper started boil a bit when Senator’s really started to dig into him. He figured out a way to override his default and created a better personal outcome as a result.

Cook was such a master of this it seemed he’d had a lot of practice with being “calm in the storm.” This ends up being the mark of a great leader and it’s something you can learn with practice and study. Engagement in challenging physical activities can be instructive and merely the general awareness and acceptance that relaxation under pressure can help one achieve better performance goes a long way towards moving one closer to a Tim Cook-like mastery of this art.








Trump: Magician for the unwitting

Magic only fools you when you don’t know how it’s done–the technical aspects of the trick.

A magician watches another magician and he might be impressed by the delivery but he’s not fooled by the method. He knows how it’s done.

Trump is a magician, like David Blaine. Instead of using sleight of hand to con his observers, Trump uses “sleight of words.”

People fall for it because they haven’t studied his method–the technical aspects of his use of language.

The good news: We can learn all the “magic tricks” Trump uses to fool people by studying the attached cheat sheet which defines all of the logical fallacies.

These logical fallacies aren’t new, they’ve been around since the beginning of time. They’re just hard to memorize so very few of us do.

Without a solid understanding of these, however, we might be prone to grant credence to dubious and false statements.

But with an understanding of these tricks we see the method.

So use the download below to arm yourself against trickery.

(Or trick others who haven’t studied it just like Trump. Your choice. Free country. Love to all.)


These were modified and simplified for this post from

7 Trader Joes-inspired business success strategies I use

People in NYC love Trader Joes.

I’ve found that TJs operates by some simple principles that can be applied to any business which I outline below.

1. Don’t try to do everything for everyone
Trader Joes stays nimble by only offering a few items but making sure people really like those items. They’re okay knowing that you’ll have to go elsewhere for some things because they know you’ll still buy from them the things they do better than others. Trying to create a store that would be a “one stop shop” would hurt their ability to do all the other things they do well. “Put more force behind one arrow” is a powerful mantra for any business and the way a David can take down a “Goliath” — the focused slingshot rock right at the blind spot inevitably created by the Goliath’s size.

2. Set reasonable prices, make money on volume
TJs keeps things simple and wants to offer value. People recognize this and customer loyalty is created. People also recognize that the lack of frills is a part TJ’s charm and what allows them to offer affordable quality.

3. Experiment and discard what doesn’t sell
TJs is constantly introducing new stuff and removing old stuff that isn’t selling. Inventory or product or feature pruning and focus is important with any business.

4. Invest your profits into your staff
Staff members at TJs are generally happy and friendly. Maybe this is because they make more money and are given better benefits than those working elsewhere. The customer experience is far more enjoyable as a result. It sounds corny but it does seem like somewhat of a family when you shop there. Consider how much more confident you’d be in retaining customers at your own business if they also felt like they were a part of a family as a customer of your business.

5. Give free samples
Free samples just make people happy and show you’re confident with your products. At TJs this means literally giving out food samples but in other service of product businesses it may sometimes mean providing your services or products at a discounted, below market price at the beginning to make it easy for new customers to see how good you are and win trust.

6. Offer sustainability
Having an advertised mission beyond profit shows customers you have a higher purpose and are working to also make a larger difference.

7. Keep location overhead low
People care about the value of the products and not the office space. Good employees will care more about whether they are making a good living working on something they care about than the grandeur of their office.



The paradox of technology time-saving devices

Technological tools are often marketed to be time-saving but we seem to all be time-starved.

I think we’re in a weird adjustment phase, still, nine years post-iPhone launch where we’re still figuring out how to make our “smart” devices actually work for us and towards giving us more time to focus on the meaningful and less on the meaningless.

The challenge is this: With all this great and rapid innovation we are, indeed, creating efficiencies but we’re also creating new options. Options end up giving us new ways to spend our time and seem to drain it and not always in a way that actually contributes to growth in personal physical, mental or spiritual health and happiness.

Software engineers or anyone involved in building technology products or providing tech services knows this. The late, great Alex King wrote a great post about how “We’ve Made Web Development Complicated.” And this is true.

Increasingly complexity is inherently bad. Complex problems sometimes require complex solutions. We aim for simple and elegant but won’t always achieve it. Not every solution is a single-button iPhone. So we have all these options and now technology builders have all these choices to make. Often people waste a lot of time making these decisions and planning for problems they don’t have yet, and may never have, and this does the opposite of what the new tech solutions promises: It stifles innovation, creative productivity and generally allows our sometimes unfocused human minds to wander, feeling less confident in the decisions we’re making and spending our time less effectively.

It reminds me of the issues around getting a massive diner menu: you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you’re in the mood for and then feel less content with your choices after making them. Studies show people generally feel more satisfied with their selections when they’re choosing from fewer options.

So we need to constrain ourselves. We need to understand that across the board, there is power in constraint.

We need to understand that the reason tweets abound on twitter is because of the tight, 140 character limit placed on creative outbursts.


The impact of doing less (recommended by many “doers”)

I was messing with Facebook live last night (it’s mesmerizing) and caught up with a broadcast by this woman who I’d never heard of and mostly has a female fan base, apparently.

During the bit I caught she talked about how she worked to do less when she had some big, important thing coming up.

She said instead of being busy, and worrying about the millions of things she needed to do and how much more she could cram into one day, she thought more about how she could rest and meditate more.

(She went on to speak about how this gave God more time to do his work but this is a post about the counter intuitive idea of doing more by doing less so I am leaving the God part out.)

Her talk reminded me of the espoused philosophies of so many other prominent thinkers and achievers.

Hedge fund king Ray Dalio said that he meditates for 20 minutes every morning … “unless I have a really busy day, then I meditate for 40 minutes.”

LIfe hack guru Tim Ferriss has based much of his career and educational content on how to do more with less.

Over 100 years ago one of the first and most influential contemporary “self-help gurus” was author Wallace Wattles who advocated for more time spent in meditative thought and an understanding of the difference between effectiveness and efficiency of action on the road to wealth creation, an idea Ferriss would also “use” in his bestselling book The Four Work Week.

The list goes on. And the point is: this idea isn’t new.

It’s quite easy to get swept away in the busy trap and to feel guilt if you didn’t do a sufficient number of things today and then think, “tomorrow I’ll wake up even earlier and fit even more in!”

But it’s harder to feel this pressure if your goals change and your success is measured entirely on impact.

The highly impactful chess player can win in only a few, highly pre-meditated moves. It’s not chance. To be this effective the player needs to spend more time in study and meditation on technique.

So this should be the aim, always: “what is the straightest line to my goal?What are the smallest number of moves to get me there?”

Rest for as long as it takes for you to answer that question.

Then follow that path.

My “mule strategy” for work and life simplification

I strive for minimalism but do seem to be predisposed to, or have developed a habit of, being an archivist.

“Archivist” is the more distinguished word I use for “saver.”  In my case,  it’s warranted too. I’m highly organized in my saving of family and personal artifacts, usually spending a lot time labeling and chronologically sorting old family picture albums and slides. My feeling is that if you’re going to keep this stuff, it should be in order and easy to access.

That said, I’m always pushing myself towards great levels of simplification in everything too. Part of this mission is having less stuff. Throwing away is hard, but it becomes easier with practice.

In short: I think simplification is a muscle. And you should exercise that muscle each day.

I started out by using what I self call the “mule strategy” — It involves taking small boxes of stuff you know you aren’t using to the Goodwill. I think I call it this because I picture myself taking these trips with just enough stuff to put on a the back of a mule. It’s not clear these trips are efficient when your goal may be to cut down on your possessions by 40% and you feel ridiculous handing a small box to someone at the Goodwill but often larger, more drastic amounts of personal simplification are improbable or too jarring if you haven’t been working out at the “Simplification Gymnasium” at all for the pasty 20 years.

Other online gurus write about similar strategies, like moving everything that is cluttering up a room into your house to the garage — or another room — so you can feel the reward of how nice that space is without any clutter in it before you throw the stuff out.

The thing I have been thinking about recently is how simplification and the use of the “mule strategy” is about more than just your possession count, it’s about the way you operate in business as well.

If you’re a creative person your brain is likely something like a cluttered home. You’re constantly making new connections and taking new notes and thinking about new businesses and new products and new articles. You keep on bringing in new items to your home everyday and it gets overwhelming.

As a result: You need a system of simplification and prioritization in place in order to be an effect executer on your best ideas.

This is why it’s important to constantly review and purge useless debris from your notes and review your system of capturing your most valuable ideas and priorities.

I want my the ideas in my mind and tasks I’m working on to meet the same criteria set for possessions in my home: Just stuff that makes me happy and will continue to make me happy for a long time.

So keep pruning.

Basecamp founder Jason Fried has even recommended to note take down as many notes when it comes to the development of products because the best ideas will just continue to float the to the top and the other ideas you have will naturally die and writing them down may distract you needlessly.

If you’re having a tough time and it feels overwhelming on the home front or in your mind, get a shoebox today, fill it with some worthless crap in your house or apartment and take that sucker to the Goodwill. It will feel good to workout that muscle for the first time.

Next week, after you realize how good it feels to be slightly lighter, take a slightly larger box.

Do the same thing with your business notes and organization system: Slowly but regularly deleting.

One final pro tip: Consider getting a Fujitsu Scansnap, or something similar. I was able to throw away a couple boxes of old tax returns and other files after digitizing them.



Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén