Reess Kennedy

Ideas, sharings, projections

Category: General

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.

Eternal execution for the creative mind

If you’re creative, you have a billion ideas. You have ideas that sprout from ideas. It can become this wild tree of ideas that becomes so heavy it starts to jeopardize the strength of the root structure!

You’ll begin executing on a task and find a new idea emerges about how to create some new system or product or spreadsheet or article idea that will help with X.

Not allowing new idea branches to distract you from your primary, current objectives requires focus.

For me, I have to constantly ask myself, “What are the three things I can do today, right now, to move me closer towards my specific daily and weekly goals?”

And then to avoid my creative mind from distracting me from the execution of these tasks I have to set specific time goals to complete them.

That’s it.

Execution for creative people is all about asking the following two questions constantly:

1. What are the are the three things I can do today that will help strengthen the existence of my idea in the world?

2. What is my specific time goal for how long getting this task done will take?

I literally “gameify” all tasks this way. I set a timer on my computer write the task out on my to do like like, “Get the email introduction to John written by 1p.”

And then I race to hit that.

It’s tiring but effective. And can be fun too. Because getting way more done is fun.

Goalie training: Blocking bad inputs

When you get older you realize how important it is to be careful about all your inputs.

If you care about maximizing your output, you need the best input of food and information and people.

“Garbage in, garbage out” is a familiar refrain from Computer Science and database management.

It’s true.

Inputs need to be thought of as everything:

People and the relationships in our lives we let in.

Media and the books and music and film and advertising we choose to let in.

Chemicals or the food we let in.

The more I think of my body as a machine the more I am able to program it to get more of what I want out of it.

But this starts with understanding crumby inputs and blocking them know they will just bring you down and stop you from seeing the good stuff coming.

Blocking requires persistent discipline. It’s like being a soccer goalie and a lot people are punting these rockets at you and you have to protect the goal. At first, you fail and let some in the net. Over time, making amazing saves becomes easier for you and requires less effort.

Your motivation to keep blocking increases as you see the reward that comes from the increase you feel from only allowing the best things in.

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

Thoughts on branded content after watching Tom Hanks in Cast Away for the 8th time

Branded content is everywhere now.

I was watching a normal video on the New York Times website the other day, it finished and another video came on. I assumed this video was the next New York Times-produced video in the same category and I was viewing a playlist. And it was exactly that: a New York Times report on some Wall Street Banker who quit his job to become a triathlete. Oh yeah, side note, he also drives a beautiful new Lexus that they spent a lot of time talking about and the entire production of this video was actually paid for, and served as an ad for, Lexus.

Nothing too egregious here. Most major news organizations now have branded content divisions. And I think news needs to explore new ways to make money.

But in the year 2000, one of my favorite movies of all time came out: Cast Away, directed by the the remarkable Robert Zemeckis.

Watching it again for maybe the 8th time recently, I was struck by how the whole movie is a love story. It’s a love story between a man and woman, a man and an inanimate object (Wilson, the volleyball) and, I’d argue, a man and an employer.

Yes, this man’s priorities change during the film–likely away from the prioritization of employer / work over family. But FedEx is always there and cast as this global private enterprise of incredible efficiency and professionalism. Granted one of their planes goes down and packages are lost but the protagonist writes at the end that a FedEx package “saved my life,” as he delivers it to a sculptor in Texas.

“The World on Time,” FedEx’s motto at the time is seen a number of times during the movie as well. And when Hanks is finally “recalled to life,” it seems FedEx is there for him in a significant way.

There’s even a joke at one point between Hank’s character and one of his co-worker chums about how if they didn’t hold themselves to this high standard of package delivery expedience they’d be just like the U.S. Post Office.

Given the current 2016 climate where brands are paying a lot of money I was willing to bet FedEx sponsored this whole thing so it was interesting to discover that according to this reporting from the Chicago Tribune back in 2001, FedEx didn’t pay a cent for any of this.

Takeaways: I don’t think branded content is going anywhere. As a result, the contemporary content consumer has to be more discerning and aware than ever before. That said, I also think publications need to hold themselves to some disclaimer standard. Nobody likes to feel they’ve been duped. I felt close to this on the New York Times website while watching the Lexus-sponsored content.

Perhaps disclaimers can be standardized in some way just like cigarette box warning labels–similar fonts and visibility standards so consumers know what to look for to clearly understand the origin and intention of a piece of content.

The holy grail for a brand is really what happened with FedEx in Cast Away back in 2000 but this is so uncommon. Still, maybe there are lessons here for brands: like that it’s okay to tell a story involving a brand that isn’t 100% positive and promotional. The authenticity this creates leaves a lasting, positive impression.

Side commentary on Cast Away: The Tom Hanks/Helen Hunt love story and chemistry in this movie is one of the best I’ve ever seen and I get very emotional watching it–even though I’ve seen it multiple times. Hunt is so authentic in her short presence in the movie and the whole thought of unintended distance and the very harsh imperfections of reality resonate. Probably no other movie in history has created a connection so strong in such a limited amount of screen time.

Then again, I also get emotional when Wilson floats off to sea, so …

It’s just a heroic story well told.



Foundational knowledge > current events

Learning how to learn isn’t taught enough. I think it’s a major problem.

I’m a proud autodidact.

Actually, I think that word is odd because fundamentally we’re all self-taught because at some level learning is a self-made decision. We all have to choose to open ourselves up to new concepts even when we’re in school. Anyway, that’s another topic.

My motivation for this post is merely to publish my firmly help belief that foundational knowledge is far more important than current events.

In high school, it’s easy to get swept up in memorization. It’s easy to understand learning as textbooks made up of chapters. So much is thrown at you and little is done to teach you what to really focus on.

Maybe there should be a class you take called “Learning 101.”

In it, you’d learn more about the relationship between all the subjects in the world and how these fields of study were born.

You’d also learn to ALWAYS look for the foundational truths that bind a subject together — in addition to the ways this subject is a parent, cousin or child of other subjects.

Learning is about cracking this code of foundational knowledge behind a subject. And understanding subject-matter relationships.

I wish more time was spent on this when I was a teenager, a time to say, “Okay, let’s just ignore the textbook for a second and look at the history of mathematics and why numbers are the world’s universal language and bind together everything and give you a framework to understand the world.”

To be fair, I had some great teachers and some probably did say something like this at some point but, if this is the case, I am talking about and advocating for much more time spent on it.

Or: “Before we start any specific history let’s spend a good amount of time really understanding evolution and time scales of the universe so you always know that the all the info we’re about to throw at you and all the people and wars all actually took place in the past 10,000 years and that’s actually an insignificant amount of time, cosmically!”

This foundational understanding makes learning easier and more exciting, always.

It’s like writing software: If you understanding some core concepts you can apply them to everything and learn new languages and techniques quickly. Without this foundational understanding, however, you’re in trouble.

As a parent one day, hopefully, I’ll be sure to focus more on helping my children understand it’s okay to ignore the news and current events if it gives them more time to understand the foundational truths.

We can’t make decisions about the importance of the news and current events without these things.

Powerful understanding comes not from rote memorization but from the ability to always look for the core foundational element to anything — and then better understand its relationship to other things.

The amazing legacy of Robert Gould Shaw

Yesterday, 153 years ago, this white man was killed in South Carolina fighting for the truth.

He came from a prominent family in Boston. He didn’t have to accept leadership of the first all-black regiment in the Northeast in their fight against oppression, he volunteered. He was only 25 and had just been married a few weeks prior to leaving.

1.5 centuries later his bravery astounds me and, unfortunately, seems important to highlight.

Robert Gould Shaw’s legacy inspires me to be braver and work harder to prioritize purpose over ease.

English simplicty vs. ornateness from Mike Rowe

I’m blown away by Mike Rowe. Just because the content of his show didn’t focus on the grandiose or heady-white-collar concerns doesn’t mean this guy isn’t amazingly sharp, well-spoken and sophisticated in thought.

There are so many interesting topics discussed in his recent talk with Tim Ferriss. Check the full episode out here.

Specifically, I love words and Mike is a master wordsmith and challenges the commandment of many writers and writing teachers to keep things simple.

Here’s a great, funny, exchange I wanted to highlight for myself that speaks to this thing I too wrestle with:

Tim: “You have a very impressive vocabulary, where did that come from?”

Mike: “… I think there is something really elegant, and maybe indulgent, about finding a different way to say a thing. And so I think I often, in an attempt to turn a phrase, I’ll play with the language a lot and stumble across words that I wouldn’t otherwise use.

Look: I’ve read Elmore Leonard and Hemingway and I understand how important it is to be simple and brief. I really do. In fact, that’s probably the most important thing — which is why I think it’s a little indulgent to go the other way … but I do, just because it pleases me.

I think the lexicon is extraordinary. And sometimes pass the salt is the  simplest thing you can say if you would like someone to ‘pass you the salt’ but it’s also fun to ask them to ‘slide the white crystals in your general direction with all due speed.'”

(Laughter ensues.)

He also mentions before this about how a lot of his loves for usage and the development of his vocabulary came from reading a lot of plays when he was younger.

Mike is hilarious and brilliant. He has a new fan.


A goodbye to F.A.O. Schwartz & the persistence of Mike Stone’s “Amazing Dip-er-do-II”

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F.A.O Schwartz closed last Wednesday here in Manhattan. I hadn’t been inside in ~23+ years. The last time I went as a boy with my great childhood friend Alexander. As kids, Alexander had all the coolest toys and “stuff” at his house — a pool with a waterslide, a trampoline, a pool table, a refrigerator stocked with Cokes (and you could drink the whole can if you wanted) and and the movie Willow on VHS, which I made him watch which me each time I visited.  So when his Mom took us to the greatest toy store in the world on a trip into NYC it made sense.

The key thing I remember about that visit is that we both bought these really simple-looking, small, styrofoam airplane things. But despite their humble construction these guys were special. Though decades have past the thing I remember most about the first visit was some guy casually tossing these little planes up in the air and seeing them loop around and come right back to him perfectly every time. It was magical. I remember he was looping them around this large pillar in the store perfectly. He let Alexander and me try ’em out. It was easy. It looped back on my first throw and I was mesmerized by these things. We both bought a small envelope containing a few of the planes and had great fun with them when we got back to the ‘burbs.

Fast forward to two Sundays ago: I am enjoying a beautiful walk around Central Park and somehow end up being pulled towards F.A.O. Schwatrz with this faint idea that I had heard or read it was closing soon. I walk in and pass the $1200 stuffed animals — massive lions and tiger and bears — and see the iconic man-sized piano on the floor made famous by Tommy Hanks in Big, almost break my neck tripping over some kid going wild in one of the hallways with a remote controlled car. Then I turn a corner and there it is: The Dip-er-do-II.” An oldish gentleman is tossing it in the air in the same casual fashion and kids and their parents have gathered around to watch.

I approach. “Amazing it’s still here,” I thought. After watching the demos for a few minutes and trying it out again myself I tell the guy demoing it, “You know, this is great because I was here probably 23+ years ago and some guy was demoing these that day and I thought they were the coolest and bought a set.” This man replied: “That man who sold you that set was me.”


“What?!” That absolutely blew my mind. Apparently this guy has been at this store looping these airplanes around pillars since 1985. He’s Howard Stone, the son of the founder of the Dip-er-do, Mike Stone. “I may have had more hair back then, but that was me,” he said.

A few things:

1) I found it amazing that this guy has been throwing airplanes around F.A.O. Schwartz full time for decades. That said, when you see how every kid (and adult, for that matter) is taken by this simple toy in the same way that I was all those years ago, you think about  how it must be nice to be able to produce that reaction in people every minute of every day that you’re “on the job.” It’s hard to imagine that creating a little magic in the lives of little kids gets old even if the vehicle for it remains the unchanged.

2) What a great son to carry on his father’s invention, business and legacy in this way.

3) Speaking of business: My adult mind started thinking — like it does — about what the business of this product is like. Do these sell a lot online? Do they have distribution outside F.A.O. and what will happen when the store closes in a few days? The answers from Howard: Apparently F.A.O. is a big account. They want to sell more online and he said he did hire some people to go to trade shows but they didn’t demo them. “They don’t sell if you don’t demo them,” he said. And that’s probably true. They’re only $11.95 or something so it’s an easy buy in a store where the alternative is a $1100, 70 pound stuffed giraffe. But you do have to be there showing people how cool they other to make the sale. It’s an important point for all entrepreneurs. He said he’s looking for some young people to help him with social media if you want to send him a note!

Anyway, I bought a new set of planes from Howard and went on my way. But I wanted to share this story. You can buy a plane at and see video instructions. (That’s a cool domain name too.)

Howard was proud to note that they are made in the United States, right in their production facility in New Jersey. They make great gifts. But be prepared to demo the product if you really want to sell the gift recipient on how special this simple toy is!

Here’s Howard Stone demoing “The Amazing Dip-er-do II”:

All pizza is good pizza (important personal conviction proven by data)

For years I’ve held that pretty much all pizza is delicious.

Chicago deep dish is delicious. Fancy thin crust is delicious. NYC $1 pizza is delicious and NYC $3.50 Joe’s is delicious. Even frozen supermarket Celeste pizza is delicious.

Basically, if what you’re eating is made up of bread, cheese and tomato sauce, it’s probably delicious. It’s a magical ingredient formula in that way.

“So what?” you’re likely asking.

Well, I sometimes find myself having to defend this position when I am with pizza snobs. Or I find myself rolling my eyes when I read a restaurant’s menu that touts the “fame” or superiority of its pies.

Coincidentally, I found some data today to support my belief. This data shows that despite some pizza snobs the overwhelming majority of people basically feel the same way I do: that all pizza is good pizza.

Christian Rudder’s book Dataclysm includes a graph taken from Foursquare data about people’s ratings of NYC pizza places and the graph pretty much speaks for itself. Most ratings for pizza places fall between at 7-10. In other words: if some place is throwing together some bread, cheese and tomato sauce then people are almost always going to like it and rate it highly. It’s hard to mess up. See graph below.

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Rudder’s main topic of data exploration is based on OkCupid data and he uses this graph to illustrate that human preferences don’t always fall into a bell curve like they do when men or women are asked to grade the attractiveness of the opposite sex based solely on headshots.

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It’s an interesting book. And interesting that we are only at the beginning of analyzing the huge amount information we submit online about our preferences everyday as we live on our devices and become more and more comfortable with sharing information with machines.

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