Job Search 2017

I’m looking for a VP/Creative Director/Product Design Lead/Head of Product role that lets me do what I enjoy and do very well: lead teams to design and launch products. Ideally, this role would be in San Francisco or Peninsula (no relocation) and involves either an interesting digital challenge or else consumer hardware, such as connected devices for the home (or office) or robotics. Financial stability (no early-stage startups) a must. This role should report to the CEO, other members of the C suite, or a VP. Dog-friendly workplace and San Francisco proper location are bonuses.

Here’s my

Contact me at dan [at] odannyboy [dot] com if you might have or know of suitable work. Thanks!

Job Search 2015

My role as Creative Director for New Products at Jawbone has been eliminated, so I’m once again searching for a new professional home.

I’m looking for a VP/Creative Director/Product Design Lead/Head of Product role that lets me do the thing I do very well: lead teams to design and launch products. Ideally, this role would be in San Francisco proper (no relocation) and involves consumer hardware and software. I’m particularly interested in connected devices for the home (or office) or wearables. Financial stability (no early-stage startups) a must. Dog-friendly workplace is a plus.

Here’s my resume as a PDF or on LinkedIn. Thanks to many NDAs, my online portfolio basically ends four years ago, but I can walk through some work in person, although all of my most recent work is unfortunately off-limits.

Contact me at dan [at] odannyboy [dot] com if you might have or know of suitable work. Thanks!

Job Search 2014-2015

In October came the news that Smart Design, the place I’ve called my professional home for nearly three years, was closing its San Francisco office. It’s a bit heartbreaking as the team I’ve built is now disassembled, and, well, I’m also now without a job.

I’m looking for a role as VP/Creative Director/Product Design Lead that lets me do the two things I do very well: lead designers and design products. Ideally, this role would be in San Francisco proper (I’m definitely not moving and dislike commuting) and involves designing hardware and software. I’m particularly interested in connected consumer devices for the home or office. Dog-friendly workplace is a plus. Financial stability (no early-stage startups) also a plus.

Here’s my resume as a PDF or on LinkedIn. Thanks to many NDAs, my online portfolio basically ends three years ago when I got the Smart Design job, but I can walk through more recent work in person.

Contact me at dan [at] odannyboy [dot] com if you might have or know of suitable work. Thanks!

New Talk for 2015: Practical Creativity

When we think about creativity, it’s usually the creativity of artists and musicians, novelists and poets. That is, people who create to express. But there’s another kind of creativity: that of designers and craftsmen, scientists and engineers. Those who create to solve problems or to invent. While these two modes of creativity aren’t exclusive, this second type of creativity, what I’m calling Practical Creativity, is defined by constraints that aren’t of one’s own making and are usually solved by putting together disparate pieces into a new, unique whole. This talk focuses on what you can do to increase your practical creativity through the deliberate practice of finding and gathering those pieces and the methods for fitting them together. We’ll look at everyday practices and methods to boost creativity, as well as how to overcome the (infinite) number of things that seem to inhibit creativity.

If you’re interested in having me speak at your conference or event, please contact me.

Louis CK and The Creative Process

I’ve watched a lot of Louis CK over the last five years and most recently his 2013 comedy special Oh My God and the first four episodes of the fourth season of Louis, his brilliant TV series. As I’ve watched, I’ve caught onto one of his tricks, which is completely illustrated here in this 90 second clip from the first episode this season:

So let’s try to deconstruct what he did here. He started with an observation, which in this case is pretty banal: Garbagemen early in the morning are noisy. A lesser comedian might have stopped there. “Didja ever notice how garbagemen always come by when you’re sleeping? Doncha just hate that?” Observational comedy, ladies and gentlemen.

But here’s what I think he did next. He took a quality of that noise—it sounds like they’re right in the room with you—and imagined what would happen if that were really true, that they were in the room with you. How would they get into the room? What would happen once they were there? What would be the most funny reaction to that situation? In this case, it’s acting as though it was a normal, everyday occurrence.

Bill Buxton has a term for this kind of creative thinking: Order of Magnitude (OOM). He says to take a characteristic and stretch it as a conceptual thinking trick. “If something changes by an order of magnitude along any meaningful dimension, it is no longer the same thing.”

Louis CK uses this trick all the time, whether it’s garbagemen in his bedroom or in Oh My God in a bit about stepping over dead children in the mall in a world where murder is legal. The mastery, though, is in how he stretches the audience, most of whom certainly wouldn’t normally make such conceptual leaps on their own, with him. And how he does it is by building on small moments of detail. Look at how the garbage scene above grows, cut by cut. At first, you are empathizing with him asleep. But then, without your realizing it, you’re standing outside the scene laughing, because we’re first startled by the men crashing through the window, pushing the scene clearly into fantasy, but mostly because his reaction is not what ours would be. He remains asleep, then groggily wakes up.

Like the best comedians, he does this to show us an insight from that observation. What does this mean? In this case, it’s that the world isn’t outside our window; it’s right here in our bedrooms, in our dreams. His blasé reaction is the acceptance of the noise of the world. I’m certainly over-analyzing it because this bit is a trifle, but it’s an amusing one. And one that can teach us a lot about how to take an observation, no matter how minor, and using Order of Magnitude thinking, turn it into something new, something with meaning.

Designing a Creative Practice

Growth doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of intentional effort and consistent progress. You must define how you want to grow, then establish a plan to help you get there. —Todd Henry

For much of my life, I’ve taken a pretty haphazard attitude towards my own creativity. And while I’ve been mostly successful, I have long periods of creative block, as well as professional goals that have idled. I look back at envy at some of the most creatively-fertile periods of my life (2007-8 in particular) and I’ve realized there were activities I did every day that I should probably resume.

At the same time, for the last few months, I’ve been reading a number of books on creativity and forming creative habits. While many of these books have different, specific pieces of advice, I’ve collected the themes into a course of action for myself.

Block off time for creativity. This is obvious. You can’t expect projects to just happen; you have to make time for them. And it’s better to have a consistent small block of time every day than to expect large chunks of time at some future date (which almost never seems to happen). This is how I wrote my books: small bits every day, early in the morning. It’s how I should structure my other projects as well. From now on, every morning from 6-7:30 is creativity time. I’ve also blocked out one morning a week—on my work calendar!—for work-related (article) writing.

Start with a ritual. You need to get yourself into a creative state—even when you don’t feel like being in one. This is where ritual comes in. “It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive patterns of behavior—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way,” writes Twyla Tharp. For me, the ritual is a cup of tea and Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.

Work space. When I’ve written books in the past, it always has to be at particular place, which has (oddly) moved around my house with each book. I’m going to attempt to reclaim my (disused) desk and make it not just a place for dropping bills and other semi-garbage. It should be a place to summon ideas—and act on them.

Keep a list of Big Questions. It’s easy to lose track of what you’re supposed to be thinking about and working on, especially since my working days as a creative director are often chaotic and fragmented. Having a list of the top three things my subconscious should be mulling on is important as a centering tool. And phrasing them in the form of a question helps the mind work on answering them in the background. “When we phrase our objectives simply and in the form of a question, we lead our minds directly to solving the problem,” writes Todd Henry. I have a small whiteboard at home (it used to be my daughter’s toy) next to my desk where these questions can go.

Take walks.* Movement helps the body relax and the subconscious work. Too often I stare at my computer screen or flip through social media when I should just get up and walk around the block. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman noted, “Almost every dimension of cognition improves from thirty minutes of aerobic exercise, and creativity is no exception.”

Fill the well. Advises Austin Kleon, “Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.” I’m going to make an effort to see more art, starting with buying a membership to my local museum, the De Young. I’m also going to expand my non-fiction reading to more general interest, biography, and other topics removed from design. I’m also going to increase my fiction reading. I used to walk down Haight Street in the early mornings, before the crowds came, and just look in the windows. Seeing new things can trigger new connections.

Record what you observe, then review it. I’ll be keeping two notebooks: one physical, one digital. The digital one (in Evernote) is for capturing anything I read online. The physical one will be for writing/sketching fragments of ideas, what Twyla Tharp calls “scratching.”

Without the little ideas, there are no big ideas. Scratching is what you do when you can’t wait for the thunderbolt to hit you…Remember this when you’re struggling for a big idea. You’re much better off scratching for a small one.

When you’re in scratching mode, the tiniest microcell of an idea will get you going. Musicians know this because compositions rarely come to them whole and complete. They call their morsels of inspiration lines or riffs or hooks or licks. That’s what they look for when they scratch for an idea.

The physical notebook (dotted paper from Muji, if you’re interested in that sort of detail) is for scratching.

Because it’s not enough just to gather, on Saturday mornings (usually my longest working period), I’ll review and reflect on what I’ve read/seen/gathered that week.

Turn off the stream. Your mind needs time to work and process. I often find myself aimlessly going from Facebook to email to Twitter to RSS and repeat. When I catch myself doing that, I know it’s time to unplug (and maybe take a walk). Being bored and staring off into space is fine. Allowing your mind to wander allows ideas to enter. I’m not going to pull out my phone immediately while waiting in line either. “As we tune in to our devices during every moment of transition, we are letting the incredible potential of serendipity pass us by,” says Scott Belsky.

Rest. Related to turning off the stream is just switching off for longer periods. In addition to my (hopefully now) annual Screens Sabbatical on the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I’ll be doing a weekly Screens Shabbat from noon on Saturday until sunrise on Sunday. “The idea is that one day a week, you need to get your mind in a different mode, you need to not work. Every week, your brain—and your soul—needs to be reset,” writes Tiffany Shlain.

Meditate.* I hate even using the word meditate. It sounds so San Francisco. For me, this is simply sitting quietly for a few minutes, not doing anything. This is very difficult for me.

Have a hobby.* I haven’t seriously played the cello in almost five years now. That needs to change. I miss it. Kleon: “It’s so important to have a hobby. A hobby is something creative that’s just for you. You don’t try to make money or get famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy. A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take.”

If you want your life to be different, you have to try something different. I hope that by taking these steps, I’ll move outside my comfort zone into a more fulfilling, productive, creative space. I’ll let you know how it goes. Although hopefully, the fruits will be self-evident.

* It’s very easy to find good advice, but very hard to take it. For some of these activities, I’m going to be using Stephen Guise’s “mini habits” to help me out. Mini habits are those that are designed to be too easy not to do, and lead to making it easy to form a habit. For me, this is doing (daily) one minute of walking, one minute of sitting quietly, and tuning my cello.

I recommend all the books on this list, but especially The Creative Habit, The Accidental Creative, and Steal Like an Artist.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, Twyla Tharp
The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry
Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon
Manage Your Day-to-Day, Jocelyn Glei (ed.)
Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, Todd Henry
Maximize Your Potential, Jocelyn Glei (ed.)
Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, Stephen Guise
Do the Work, Steven Pressfield
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey
Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson
Creative Something blog

FOO Camp 2012 Report

After many years of enviously watching friends attend, I was thrilled to be invited to FOO Camp this year. In case you don’t know what that is: FOO stands for Friends Of O’Reilly, and it’s an annual, invite-only “unconference” of ~300 technologists, designers, scientists, journalists, writers, and others at the O’Reilly Media compound in Sebastopol, California. The list of attendees every year is impressive and intimidating, and as soon as I was invited I began stressing about what I would talk about and whether I’d be in completely over my head. (Talking to other first-time attendees, which make up about 50% of every FOO Camp, this is a very common experience.)

FOO Camp is also about camping: you bring a tent or a sleeping bag and camp on the lawn or inside the O’Reilly offices (!). I brought my gear and camped on the lawn. The camping also made it all have an air of informality, which helped lower the intimidation factor.

The “un-” part of the conference means that none of the content is programmed before people arrive. You show up and sign up for a slot to speak about something that interests you or to demo something you’re working on. I came with one idea, but abandoned it to do another (How To Get Your Project Mojo Back, which I’ll detail in another post). The unconference format also means Powerpoints are discouraged, so you are leading or participating in a conversation, often with very brilliant, opinionated people. Getting a point in can be a challenge, as can getting people who are used to being the Smartest Person in The Room to keep quiet and let others talk. The loose, unconference-style made for some failed sessions, but also some great ones. I’d love to see one of the big design conferences try it.

At any given point, twelve (maybe more?) sessions can be going on, so it can be hard to choose among them. (It’s pretty unlikely anyone’s schedule looked the same.) Here’s what I ended up going to, and this was I’m sure in no way typical, although it does hint at the breadth of sessions:

  • Medieval Manuscripts
  • The Future of Memory
  • Cloud Robotics
  • Toys as Tools for Empathy
  • Massive Sensor Data
  • Physical Artifacts in Digital Media
  • New UIs for Making Things
  • What Are You Reading?
  • Stop Drawing Dead Fish

A lot of the conference takes place outside the sessions, with discussions going on until late at night. (I got about 4 hours of sleep each night.) It’s not unusual to find yourself (as I did) at breakfast with a tech titan or to meet your childhood hero (in my case this was Steven Levy, author of Hackers, one of the books that got me interested in computers in 1984.)

There were a few major themes that kept emerging for me. The importance of thresholds was one, especially understanding when there are hidden thresholds that cause something (data, feedback, understanding, emotion, technology) to act unlike it did previously. A return to physicality was a third: how can we make objects reflect the content/data they contain? And objects helping other objects was another. What data can other objects via an Industrial Internet pass along to other objects to make them work better?

I returned with a head-full of ideas. I likened my brain to the Big Dog robot that had been kicked but was trying to right itself and keep moving. But it was an amazing experience, one I hope to have again another year. Thanks to O’Reilly for having me!

9/11 Year 10: My 9/11 Experience

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was on a train bound towards Manhattan as terrorist-piloted planes struck the towers of the World Trade Center—my destination. I somehow (foolishly) managed to get to lower Manhattan where I became tangled up in the events of that horrible day. It took me more than 24 hours to get home. This is the (mostly-unaltered) account I wrote in a notebook the following day.

September 12, 2001, 11:55 am.

I should probably write down as much of this as I can before I forget it or my recollection of my day becomes mixed up with the media coverage. It’s probably too late for that last thing…

It’s a beautiful Wednesday. It’s Fiona’s [my daughter’s] first birthday. My father had surgery yesterday. And yesterday, the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan were destroyed. I watched from a rooftop as the North Tower fell. I don’t think I have ever seen anything so awful.

I’m writing this on a train in the Hoboken Terminal, after 24 hours of trying to get home. But I’ll start from the beginning.

Yesterday started out the same as any other day. I got up early with Fiona, who had had a restless night because of her teeth coming in. She’d woken up several times, so Rachael [my wife] and I were both tired.

I made the worst mistake I would make all day that morning. I had started work at a new job the day before and had had to wear a suit for a client meeting. Since the company, Funny Garbage, was hip and funky (if you couldn’t tell from the name), I was determined to wear hip, funky, casual clothes: jeans, a patterned shirt, and my blue shoes. These shoes were not made for walking, just for style. I would end up walking over six miles in them. My feet are killing me now—they are blistered and swollen.

That morning, I also packed up [in a paper bag] a number of personal things to take to work—books, mainly, but also some photos and desk junk. Running to make the 9:00 train, the handle on the bag broke, so I just had to carry it.

The train ride was normal at first until Rachael called me on my cellular phone. “Don’t go to the World Trade Center,” she told me. “Heather [her sister] called from Spain and said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.” “Seriously?” I said. I really didn’t believe it. I said I would go uptown instead. I had been planning to go to the WTC [via PATH], then change to the N/R train to get to Funny Garbage, on Spring Street in SoHo. I had too much stuff to carry, I figured.

But then other [passengers’] cell phones kept ringing, and people getting on at other stations were talking about it. We didn’t really know how bad it was until we saw it out the train window. The two towers spewing smoke like two cigarettes. “It’s like a movie,” everyone kept saying. “Jesus Christ,” was what I said when I saw them. [From our vantage point] you could clearly see a giant gaping black hole in the side of the north tower.

We got off the train to panic at the [Hoboken] train station. People were already getting on trains to go home. [Which is exactly what I should have done.] Undeterred and, I guess naively, I walked down to the PATH trains, even though someone said no one could get into Manhattan. I got on a waiting PATH train and amazingly, it went into the city. One Japanese woman, a tourist, asked a man how to get to the World Trade Center. He gently told her that she probably didn’t want to go down there today.

I got off at 9th Street [at 6th Avenue] and immediately saw crowds of people in the street, looking at the towers. Or rather, tower. Only one was standing [the north tower] but I didn’t know that. There was so much smoke you couldn’t see the south tower from my vantage point. It wasn’t there to be seen.

I started the over a mile walk to Spring Street [and Broadway]. People stood in the streets, staring. Some gathered around TVs in street-level apartments or around cars that had their radios on. People were streaming up from downtown [TriBeCa and Wall Street] on foot. I tried calling Rachael, but cell phone service didn’t work. My battery was soon low, so I was forced to turn my phone off.

I made it to my office. Because it was only my second day, I didn’t have any keys. Someone gave me a set, so I was able to unlock the door and get to my desk.

I left my personal stuff at my desk and, finding some stairs, went up onto the roof. There, a few minutes later, I watched the north tower collapse.

I don’t think it’s a sight I will ever forget. The top of the tower started flaking away, chunks of the grid-like outside of the building, then the huge antenna [on the top] tilted then sank, as did the whole top of the structure, into smoke. The sound was like a huge groan and a whoosh as the building vanished. Then there was a moment of absolute silence and all I could see was a stripe of blue sky where the building once was.

Then the gasps and the cries. I was silent, stunned. I was simply dumbstruck. I could not believe what I saw. It seemed like a dream—a horrible dream.

[One thing I’ve remembered since then: I heard someone screaming as the tower collapsed, and it took me a second to realize that it was me.]

The next few hours were spent watching a television that was in the office and trying to figure out how I was going to get home. With the office closing, the bridges and tunnels closed, and no mass transit, I was stuck.

After several phone calls and waiting, I decided to make my way to my friend Sylvia’s apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

[One other memory that has stayed with me from this point in time is the roar of fighter jets flying overhead. To this day, I can’t stand that sound.]

The walk from my office to Sylvia’s was four miles. It was another scene that would have been unimaginable the day before. Thousands of people streaming out of Manhattan on foot over the bridges. I walked over the Manhattan Bridge, one of a sea of humanity. The bridge was closed to traffic, so we walked in the street. The Red Cross was there, handing us water before we got on the bridge.

Where the World Trade Center had been now was only a twisted ruin of metal and stone, throwing up a huge plume of grey and black smoke that curled up over the city and stretched deep into Brooklyn. The cloud of smoke sometimes changed the sun into a burnt orange disk.

As I was midway across the bridge, a loud rumble shook the street and everyone stopped, scared. But it was only a subway passing below us. Fear was like another particle in the air. We were like refugees fleeing from a war-ravaged city. Which, I suppose, we were.

I made it to Sylvia’s and spent the night there along with her brother and sister-in-law who were visiting her from Iowa and had gotten stuck due to the grounding of all airplanes.

This morning, I was able to take a subway, then PATH, then the train home. The faces of my wife and one-year-old daughter were the best things I had ever seen.

[There ends my account of the day.]

One final anecdote I want to share. I’d been laid off in May 2001 (from my job across the street from the WTC), so that summer, I was interviewing for jobs (including the one I eventually got). One of the jobs I interviewed for was at a company (unfortunately named) Soft and GUI, which did work almost exclusively for Morgan Stanley. Their office was embedded with Morgan Stanley—in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, floor 72 if I remember correctly. Which was directly below where United Airlines Flight 175 struck (floors 77-85). I interviewed there on August 30, and, had I gotten the job, September 10 likely would have been my first day at work. I was even joking about a terrorist attack as I was going through security on August 30, where they snapped this photo. I found this card about three years ago in the bottom of a box:

I carry this card in my wallet now to remind me that life is short and we don’t know when it will end. As much as we all like to imagine ourselves dying at a ripe old age, the truth is you can die today, just doing your usual routine, going to work. That’s the real lesson of 9/11 for me. Things you can see as a disappointment (like not getting that job you interviewed for), can actually save your life. We don’t—can’t—see the Big Picture, but we have to pretend that we do to get through the day. The Big Picture doesn’t care about you or your needs, hopes, and dreams. Occasionally something happens, a 9/11, to remind us of this. But we have to carry on; there’s only one alternative, and that’s not pretty either. After all, the only thing that actually kills us is what kills us. But that could happen today, right now, so make what you’re doing with your life matter. You can’t stop The Big Picture. It keeps moving, drawing an incalculable number of variables together. The only thing to do—the only thing worth doing—is to try to live with meaning, so that if today is the last day of your life, as it was for thousands on September 11, 2001, those who knew you will mourn.

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Help Me Find My Next Adventure

I’m looking for a new professional home. I’ve been talking to some interesting companies, but I thought it might be good to spread the net wide.

I’m looking for a position leading a team of designers as a creative director, director of design/UX, or VP of design in San Francisco or nearby. (Or one that would allow me to work in SF remotely.) I enjoy the pace of agency life, but would equally like a really interesting product. Dog-friendly office a plus!

My preference is to working on consumer projects that go beyond web or a single app, preferably in the hardware/software space: devices, robots, consumer electronics, appliances, etc. I’m an expert in touchscreen and gestural interfaces, as well as web, mobile, and desktop apps.

Here’s my resume (pdf) and my portfolio. Contact me if you have or know of a good fit for my experience and interests. Thanks!

2011 Personal Goals

Exercise. Thirty minutes of exercise every day. No exceptions. Can be Wii Fit, walking, pushups/situps, whatever. Just move. Hard.

Resume cello. Practice cello three times a week. At least a half hour each time. Resume serious lessons once back up to speed.

More off-line time. Three hours of off-line time on weekdays, six hours per day on weekends. Spending too much time online, not enough engaging with the world around me. It leads to caring about stupid stuff like how many Twitter followers I have or whether people have voted up my answers on Quora. In the end, who gives a shit?

See friends more. I’m so much happier when I do social activities and/or meet friends for drinks at least once a week. I don’t do it enough. Friends reading this: consider yourself on notice.

Pause before snapping. Before lashing out, try to figure out why I’m angry or frustrated. Is it something the other person said or did, or am I overreacting? Focus on the feeling first, then articulate it (if appropriate). Sit on angry emails for a long while.

Read more fiction. My 2010 books were heavily weighed towards non-fiction. I should add more fiction to the mix.

More live music. Really any live music. I don’t think I saw a single show in 2010.

Daily pause. Fifteen minutes a day of doing nothing but sitting quietly. Call it prayer, meditation, whatever. Focus.

Fight envy. It’s a poison, and leads to thinking badly about myself. I can only live my life as best as I can. My only true competition is myself.