The Eight Limbs of Yoga

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As I continue to write about how yoga philosophy is impacting my life, I find myself repeating the same few sentence explanation of the eight limbs of yoga at the top of each post.  The summaries are starting to feel redundant, but they also don’t do much justice to the topic.  I realized it would be easier to outline them in a single post and link to it, so here we go.

When you hear the word yoga the image that pops to mind is probably similar to the one above (Google thinks so too, this is a top image search result for “yoga”).  Asana, as the familiar poses are referred to in the yoga texts, is just one of eight limbs of yoga.  The limbs are ordered with increasing proximity to our innermost self: the yamas (five moral commandments of restraint towards others), the niyamas (five disciplines directed towards oneself), asana (literally meaning seat, asana is the physical poses), pranayama (control of prana / breath work), pratyahara (turning inwards), dharana (focused concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (oneness).  Here are the basics of each, future posts will explore them in more depth.

 

Yamas: behaviors towards others

The yamas are yoga’s five moral commandments, which guide us in our interactions towards others.  It’s believed that if we practice the first one, ahimsa, perfectly, the rest of the yamas, as well as the niyamas, naturally fall into place.  What I’m becoming to love about the yamas is how much inner peace comes from practicing them.  

  • Ahimsa: nonviolence (more on Ahimsa here)
  • Satya: truthfulness
  • Asteya: non stealing (more on Asteya here)
  • Brahmacharya: abstinence
  • Aparigraha: non hoarding

 

Niyamas: behaviors towards yourself

The niyamas are five disciplines that pertain to our interactions with ourselves.

  • Saucha: cleanliness
  • Santosha: contentment
  • Tapas: effort required to create positive change
  • Svadhyaya: study of self, sacred texts, and self observation
  • Isvara Pranidhana: surrender to God

Santosha, tapas, and svadhyaya are the bomb, which I wrote about in this post.  The last three: tapas, svadhyaya, and isvara pranidhana encompass kriya yoga.  Saucha hasn’t been transformative, but I appreciate an extra little push to keep my environment clean.  When I lived in Mysore we used to shower before practice and I enjoyed the ritual as preparation for asana.  I’m still trying to figure out what isvara pranidhana means to me.

Asana: seat / physical postures.

We all know asana, the practice of putting our bodies into various configurations on a yoga mat.  We’re fortunate that asana also gives us a great workout, providing a gateway to yoga for Westerners.  For the vast majority of us asana is the extent of our exposure to yoga, but it gives people value far beyond the immediate physical benefits, even if they aren’t directly aware of it.  This could come from your yoga teacher integrating the philosophy into the class, or in much subtler ways by giving you an opportunity to quiet the chatter of daily life for awhile.

 

Pranayama: control of prana / breath.

Broadly speaking pranayama is the control of prana, energy throughout the body.  When we are in certain asanas, our alignment affects prana.  Mostly though, when we hear the term pranayama it is referring to practices that help us regulate the breath, and in doing directly affect our nervous system.  We practice ujjayi breathing in most yoga classes, deep breathing through the nose with a slight constriction in the throat.  This breath retains heat in the body and gives us a point of focus.  There are many other forms of pranayama.  A few are taught in public yoga classes, many are considered too dangerous to teach except to very advanced practitioners.

 

Pratyahara: turning inwards.

Pratyahara is essentially a transition limb, shifting us from our external body to our internal selves.  We turn away from our senses that tell us about external stimuli, which allows us to connect to what’s going on inside.  I think of the beginning of an asana practice as an important moment of pratyahara as well.  We spend the vast majority of our time and attention “out there” — getting through our to do list, socializing, serving others, etc.  Our asana practice gives us a powerful moment to let all of that go and check in with ourselves, observing where our mind, body, and spirit are at that particular moment.

 

Dharana: focused concentration.

Dharana is the first of the final three limbs of yoga, the inner limbs which make up Samyama (state of deep concentration).  Dharana is a relatively easy one: retaining focus on one thing.  It could be a mantra, or your breath.  We practice dharana inadvertently in many activities such as playing music, dancing, painting or drawing, and coloring, it turns out.

 

Dhyana: meditation.

When we retain focus on one thing uninterrupted by thoughts, we enter an altered state.  This is dhyana, or meditation.  I’ve definitely noticed this happen a few times, usually followed by me thinking “Oh my god!  I’m doing it!”  Which of course, takes me out of that state.    

 

Samadhi: Oneness.

Apparently if you go deep enough into meditation, you reach a state of complete oneness, where there is no longer a sense of self.  I’ll let you know if I ever get there.  

Holiday Shopping With a Conscience

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of business in society broadly, thanks to the awesome nonprofit I’ve been working on with Justin Rosenstein, The One Project http://www.oneproject.org/.  Capitalism has found itself in an equilibrium where business leaders and investors are incented to maximize short term profit at the expense of people and the planet.  We can do better.  There are great orgs like the B Lab and the B Team leading the charge here and we are excited to wade into the waters with them.

But, there’s one piece of the puzzle I find myself returning to again and again: our consumption behaviors.  My recent study of yoga philosophy has also led me to this topic, which I wrote about in more detail in a recent post, “Ahimsa and that Bottled Water You Just Drank.” As consumers, we are the drivers of this system.  These businesses couldn’t exist if we didn’t purchase the products and services they sell.  So in effect, we are condoning this equilibrium by not making more careful economic decisions.  But doing so isn’t easy, and we’re all so busy, right?  It’s not like you’re going to sit in aisle seven and Google which laundry detergent to buy.

With the holidays upon us, we’re all embarking on a month of binging not just on holiday cookies, but also on consumer spending.  So I decided to do a little legwork for everyone, and put together a list of holiday gift giving opportunities that will help you and your loved ones align with the world we want to become.   

Note: what I haven’t included here are the many, many, many, MANY opportunities to buy products where the company in turn donates x% of proceeds or profits to some charity.  Those are nice, but I think we can do better.  We need to change the system not put a pretty little bow on it that detracts us from the real issue.  The opportunities below reflect organization which directly tackle a big problem in the world, or significant opportunities to shift behavior.   

For her:

  • Laxmi.  Luxury skincare products, impact sourced in Africa.  They’re not just nontoxic, you can actually eat them.  Pretty much every iota of what Laxmi does orients towards making the world a better place.
  • Maiyet.  Luxury fashion that meets Barney’s bar, designed not just to make you look hot but for impact.  Maiyet partners with Nest, a nonprofit dedicated to training and developing artisanal businesses.  
  • Mercado Global.  There is a lot of research in development indicating significant returns to empowering women.  Mercado Global works with indigenous, impoverished women in Guatemala, training them to become artisans and acting as a channel to the global marketplace.  You can find cool clutches, totes, pouches, and pillows on their website.
  • Krochet Kids. Similar model as Mercado Global, working in Uganda and Peru.  Super cool pieces.  Each product is hand signed by the person who made it, providing a nice little personal connection.  
  • The Brave Collection.  Jewelry handmade in Cambodia to celebrate bravery and empower women across the globe.  I love their message: “Courage is Contagious”
  • Shea Yeleen.  Empowers women in West Africa (a place near and dear to my heart) and the US through the production and sale of Shea butter products. As seen on Oprah.
  • There are also a handful of marketplaces for impact sourced products, many focused on employing marginalized women in the developing world: The Little Market, Raven and Lilly,

 

For anyone:

  • LSTN headphones.  Guys love headphones (I love headphones too).  LSTN uses proceeds to fund hearing restoration and spread awareness for the global problem of hearing loss and hearing impairment.  Their commitment to the cause leads me to put them in a category beyond just a token donation with our purchase.   
  • Warby Parker.  Sunglasses.  I’m generally dubious about 1:1 models but these guys do it very well.  I’m a fan of VisionSpring, their partner org for distributing glasses in the developing world.
  • Zady.  Zady is a company tackling a big problem: the trend towards fast fashion.  Clothing that’s nearly disposable, often produced with child and forced labor, contributing to carbon emissions second only to the oil industry.  They’re working to define a new standard for the fashion industry.
  • Sustain condoms, lubricants and wipes. Yes I am going there. Started by Jeffrey Hollender, the founder of Seventh Generation, Sustain tackles global reproductive health by offering you products produced sustainably in every way.  Jeff rules.
  • Little Lotus sleep sacks and baby blankets.  Little Lotus products are designed with a crazy technology to retain your baby’s body heat and keep them extra cozy (read: sleeping through the night).  The org is tied to Embrace Innovations, who provides live saving infant warmers to babies in the developing world.
  • A titanium spork.  It’s pretty outrageous how much waste we consume with disposable cutlery.  Even the compostable stuff takes forever to decompose.  What if we all carried around a spork, or had one sitting with us at the office?   
  • A Swell, Miir, or Kleen Kanteen water bottle.  Ok so everyone knows how I feel about bottled water.  Kleen Kanteen makes a stainless steel water bottle which is superior to often toxic plastic water bottles.  They’re also certified B Corp and overall badass companies.

 

Give:

  • You might be turned off by the consumerism of the holidays altogether, or you might have people on your list who would rather have you donate to a good cause in their honor then receive another scarf.  Give Well’s top charities are the most impactful channels for your donations.  Personally I’m a huge fan of GiveDirectly and direct the vast majority of my charitable donations in their direction.
  • GlobalGiving has a gift card.  Please don’t do that.  As nice as it sounds to let someone chose which cause to fund, your friend will pick the picture that tugs at her heartstrings the most.  This perpetuates ineffective capital allocation for nonprofits and a system where accountability is tenuous.  While GlobalGiving does vet orgs, they are focused more on outputs and outcomes.  For the most part, we should chose where our money goes based on impact (this is a qualified statement bc an impact focus gets us into trouble too, but that’s another post).  

 

This post represents just a few hours of research.  I know many of you will know of additional opportunities, please post in the comments and I’ll vet and add to the list!

 

The Insight That Transformed My Parenting

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I’m pretty amazed at how often our parenting instincts lead us astray.  More often than not, I see ineffective tactics when I’m out and about with my little ones.  “Spencer!  Take turns on the slide” a well intentioned dad might yell from across the playground.  “Sabine!!!  DO NOT hit your brother!!!” I’ve yelled more times than I’d like to admit (the protective mama instinct is a scary, powerful thing).

 

My husband and I are lucky to be sending our children to a co-op preschool where there’s a “teaching parent” in the classroom every day.  During our time in the classroom we’re able to observe experienced, highly educated teachers at work, where they model for us the effective ways to support our children as they learn basic social and emotional skills.  We’re also required to attend a mindful parenting lecture in each of the first two years, where the director delivers valuable messages about parenting preschool age children.  These touchpoints led to a few big ah-ha moments for me.

 

First, is that when your kid inevitabley freaks out about some insane minutia, what matters is that your kid is freaking out, not that the thing they’re freaking out about is trivial.  It happens all the time at my house.  Just last week, my children were in hysterics about a single blue window magnatile besides an entire mountain of the little magnetic plastic building tiles.  The typical parent reaction is, “Come on guys, there’s a pink window right here.  You love pink Sabine!”  But to them, it’s a big freaking deal.  They both WANT that blue magnatile.  And we need to acknowledge that, because in that moment what’s really happening is your kid is feeling big emotions and doesn’t know how to manage them, no matter how inane the trigger from an adult’s point of view.  Just saying, “I know it’s really frustrating, there’s only one and you both want it” goes a long way to making your kids feel understood and heard in your household.  Think about it from the analogous adult interaction.  Imagine you come home from work and tell your spouse / partner about what a bad day you had, and they just dismiss you and say, “Whatever, I wouldn’t be upset about that.”  It’s not helpful.  In fact, it makes you feel like they don’t really care.  So lesson one: validate your little one’s feelings, no matter how silly they seem to you.  They aren’t to them.  It’ll make them feel understood as you help them navigate tough situations.

 

Second, is that when your kid does something they shouldn’t do, like hit another kid, or yell, or throw something across the room, don’t say, “Don’t do that!.”  It’s important to recognize the impulse behind the action.  Usually your kid is hitting because he or she is in a situation she doesn’t know how to resolve otherwise, hitting is the most effective tool they have to employ.  Or maybe he’s throwing something across the room because he’s really upset and that’s the way he’s managing his big emotions in that moment.  Most of the time, parents will just tell kids what not to do, instead of validating their emotions (see lesson one!), recognizing what they’re trying to achieve with the action, and then, critically — telling them what to do.  That’s lesson two.

 

But parenting, as we all know, can be a total minefield.  Even if we employ strategies that make a lot of intuitive sense, like the ones above, our kids will inevitably go nuclear on us.  It’s their job to push boundaries, and it’s our job to set them.  When that clash happens, it rarely goes smoothly.  This would often lead me to wonder, am I missing something?  Is there an even better way?  Should I yell sometimes, I asked myself?  It would seem to make sense if they’re doing something really bad, like hurting each other.  Right?

 

Then I read No Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson (this is the parenting book I most highly recommend, but if you are time strapped I found an article summarizing it here).  And that was all my analytical brain needed to have the confidence I knew exactly what I was doing as the parent of two preschoolers.  It explained tactics in terms of brain development, and suddenly it all made perfect sense.  

 

Our neocortex doesn’t stop developing until our mid twenties (understanding the implications of this must be absolutely critical for surviving the teenage years).  In the preschool years, the amygdala rules: our lizard brains where all of the emotions are being processed.  As the executive function of the neocortex evolves, the connections between the two strengthen, and we are increasingly able to manage our emotional responses.  So when your kid is upset or worse yet, amidst a full on tantrum, their lizard brain has taken over and they literally have no access to their rational brain.

 

There was a fascinating study done on adults, where they were asked to look at images of human faces in different emotional states.  The study monitored their brain functioning when seeing those images.  When a threatening face came up, their fight or flight response triggered, firing their amygdala.  Asked to complete the same exercise while stating the emotion on the faces, their brains responded very differently.  The act of labeling the emotions required the neocortex, which diminished the activity within the amygdala.

 

What does this have to do with parenting?  So here’s your kid freaking out about getting the yellow gumball instead of the blue one.  It seems totally trivial to you, “you still have a gumball, chewing gum is the key function of a freaking gumball for god’s sake child calm the f* down” is likely the dialogue playing out in your head.  Ah but you remember they are experiencing big emotions, that matters, and so you say, “You’re really frustrated you didn’t get the color gumball you wanted, aren’t you?”  It’s not that they just feel heard, which matters too.  More critically, their brain was just completely hijacked by their amygdala.  They had no access to their rational brain.  But with that statement, by giving them the words for the emotions they are feeling, you just triggered their neocortex for them.  And that just calmed their amygdala.  Note: this doesn’t always work, sometimes they are so far gone you have to just hold them to calm them down.  My son sometimes goes so far off the deep end anything I do further freaks him out, but you get the point.  By validating and stating their emotions and triggering their neocortex, you essentially just acted as an external part of their brain, drawing the connection between the two regions.   By doing so, you’re also helping to connect those parts of the brain so eventually, your kid’s brains can do that on their own.  Holy shit, right?

 

Now that they have started to calm down and their neocortex is online again, they can process your genius lessons about what they can do in those situations: to manage their emotions, to resolve conflict with their siblings, to realize whatever outcome they want.  While they are in the middle of the crazy tantrum, you’re totally wasting your breath.

 

There’s an important implication of all this that I haven’t mentioned yet.  That’s what happens when your kid is upset and you get angry and frustrated.  Even if you don’t yell, your facial expressions or body language may be sending a threatening message.  If they are, you are further activating your kid’s amygdala.  He or she is just going to get more upset and less capable of calming down and learning how to manage the situation better next time (note: this logic applies to grown ups as well….).  Worse yet, just as when you’re naming the emotion you help draw connections between the neocortex and the amygdala, when you get upset and fire their amygdala further, you’re wiring their brain in the wrong direction!!!  So when is yelling productive?  Never, it turns out.

 

So when you’re kid is freaking out about nothing, remember what’s going on in his or her little developing brain.  When they’re doing the wrong thing, remember that they don’t yet have or know how to use the tools to manage their big emotions, or compromise when they can’t get what they want, or resolve conflicts with their siblings.  It’s our job to teach them these tools, and to keep our cool as best as we possibly can.  Keep Calm and Discipline On, my parenting friends!

 

 

How Yoga Can Help You Break Your Bad Habits And Establish Good Ones

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The vast majority of us would like to eat better, exercise more, spend less time on the Internet, and get more sleep. When it comes to behavior change, we recognize the power of habit and the value of commitment devices. A friend employed a comical commitment device last week: he declared publicly on Facebook that if he didn’t manage to lose 10lbs by the new year, he’d donate $1,000 to Ben Carson for President, a “doctor” who stated homosexuality isn’t genetic because prison can make people gay.

Turns out yoga has it’s own principles for creating positive changes in our behavior, and they have been working their magic on me the past couple months. The second limb of Ashtanga Yoga (there are eight) is the niyamas, principles for behavior towards the self. Together they form a potent recipe for personal understanding and behavior change. There are five of them: saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (friction from behavior change), svadhyaya (knowledge), and ishtvan pranidhana (surrender to god). The last one is still a mystery to me but the other four, particularly santosha, tapas, and svadhyaya interplay quite beautifully to bring about positive change. Like design thinking, they represent mindsets where you can jump in anywhere and bounce between them.

Svadhyaya is a good one to start with. It refers to the understanding of ourselves that we gain from studying the ancient texts or other scholarly works, as well as from introspection and meditation. When you think about it, it’s pretty surprising how little time we spend really investigating ourselves; we’re so busy meeting our endless social and work obligations or crossing off our to do lists. Practicing svadhyaya can help us slow down and bring awareness to the behaviors that create joy or agitation in our lives. It can also help us discern at a more fundamental level what really matters to us, versus what everything and everyone around us makes us think matters to us. Armed with this clearer understanding of ourselves, we can then determine the things we want to change.

That’s where tapas comes in. Tapas refers to the friction, or heat, or fire that comes from positive change: breaking bad habits and establishing good ones, or fighting the inertia to change jobs or get out of a relationship. You know tapas well: that urge for a burger when you’re trying to eat healthy, that procrastination to go for a run later (which often never happens), that temptation to stay up just a little bit longer on the Internet when it’s past your bedtime. Yoga asks us to step into that fire. It’s quite simple really, but just recognizing tapas when it occurs gives me that extra little motivation to get on my mat, turn off my phone, or pass on the chocolate ice cream (as if I ever actually pass on chocolate ice cream!). Seriously though, it’s powerful stuff. I see the resistance as it comes up and I’m reminded to push through it.

Santosha though, is probably the most beautiful of them all: contentment. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude and focusing on the positive. I have enough. I am enough. What I’ve done is good enough. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s so easy in today’s world to get caught up in comparison to others! Shantosha’s about accepting yourself where you are. This comes hugely in handy when, inevitably, we falter when we face the tapas. It asks us to be gentle with ourselves at the same time that we work towards becoming better versions of ourselves. To give ourselves credit for the effort even if the outcomes are yet to manifest.

The morning of my third day of yoga training, I really wanted to be on time. If I showed up late, I’d be locked out of the room for meditation. As the minutes ticked by at home that morning, I became more and more anxious about getting out the door. My kids suddenly became whinier and more difficult. I became more agitated. I finally left the house in a huff, rushed across the city, and arrived… 2 minutes late. Locked out. Pissed. Great way to start a day of intensive yoga training.

So I sat there in meditation outside the room (svadhyaya), contemplating what had just occurred. This silly habit of mine of being late causes spikes of stress daily, if not multiple times a day. Clearly, my increasingly upset state had a direct affect on my children, which turned into an unpleasant spiral for all involved. Then here I was driving rushed across the city, obviously putting myself and others at risk. All for literally no good reason. So I decided to work on it. So now when I’m tempted to send one more email or wait five more minutes before heading out the door, I recognize the tapas. It’s usually enough to get me moving. Often times, I’m still late. When that happens, I get less worked up about it.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t try to do better next time.

What Does Being Late and Talking Too Much Have To Do With Stealing?

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The first limb of yoga (I explained yoga and how the exercise part fits into a broader philosophy in a previous post) is the Yamas.  There are five of them: Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non stealing), Brahmacharya (abstinence) and Aparigraha (non hoarding, non coveting).  Together they constitute the moral commandments of yoga.  Intellectual curiosity motivated me to study yoga philosophy, what I didn’t expect was the immediate, significant shifts in my behavior and more importantly — overall happiness.

The third yama, Asteya, has arguably had the most significant impact.  Non stealing.  Digging deeper, it means only taking what we need, or what’s an appropriate allocation.  Not wasting.  Otherwise we are stealing from others.  

What are some of the little things we all do that would be considered violations of Asteya?  Being late.  We agreed to meet someone somewhere at a certain time, they stopped what they were doing to be there on time, but we didn’t.  Being late also violates Satya, truthfulness.  We committed to be somewhere at a certain time and then we didn’t follow through.  Yoga has also made me more aware of the habits that create agitation and this is probably the biggest one.  I get stressed out trying to get out the door, it stresses my kids out and we downward spiral together, I feel bad I’m late, I drive faster than I should, and all for what?  Usually nothing important.  Nowadays trying to break my habit of being late is probably my most significant “off the mat” practice.

Interrupting or talking too much and not letting others have space to speak their mind are other prevalent violations of Asteya.  So many of us extroverts, with natural strong personalities, just talk more than we should.  I practiced this while in my yoga teacher training.  I’d hold my question or comment until we were ready to change gears; often times someone else asked the same thing I would have, and doing so gave them an opportunity to contribute.  In group exercises where I’d typically wind up taking on a facilitating role, I’d make sure the quieter people were prompted to chime in.  I bet almost universally those of us in leadership positions can work on this one.

Some other common, Asteya unfriendly behavior: copying, taking credit for other’s ideas and efforts, being an energy vampire, seeking attention, being needy, taking advantage of others, being distracted (by your phone perhaps?) when you’re with others or in a meeting, ordering too much food, wasting resources.  The list goes on.  Bringing awareness to this yama showed me the subtle ways I take more than I need and by virtue of that, am less thoughtful to others than I could otherwise be.

So let’s be late a little less, and let others talk a little more.  And put that phone away and give your friends and family the attention they deserve.  I promise it’ll make you happier along the way.    

Ahmisa And That Bottled Water You Just Drank

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Yoga is everywhere these days, though the form that most of us know involves incredible flexibility and seemingly impossible configurations of the body.  After nearly a decade of (mostly) dedicated practice, I decided to take the plunge and do a teacher training.  My primary motivation was to deepen my personal practice, as well as to understand the broader philosophy from where this popular form of exercise has sprung.  There is such unexpected, profound value in what I’ve learned: I now have the tools to, put most simply, live a happier life.  

Anasa, as the physical practice is referred to in the yoga texts, is just one of eight limbs of yoga.  The first limb is the Yamas, which refer to principles of how we treat those around us.  The first and in some ways most important yama is Ahimsa.  Sanskrit is this incredible, dense language where each word requires a whole paragraph of English to convey its meaning.  In it simplest translation, Ahimsa means nonviolence.  But it’s not just nonviolence really, it’s non-harming.  Compassion.  And not just in our actions, but in our words and in our thoughts.    

As part of our training, we spend a day focusing on practicing each of the yamas.  I found ahimsa to be particularly complex.  Superficially, it’s relatively straightforward.  I’m kind and compassionate to most of the people I encounter in a day.  Awareness of ahimsa did make me think twice about giving someone a dirty look for driving badly, getting angry at my kids, or rolling my eyes at my husband for some quotidian annoyance or another.  It’s kind of amazing what happens when you choose to radiate kindness instead of negativity.  It spreads.

But it’s when we really start to unravel ahimsa that things get really interesting.  What I am implicitly endorsing with that bottle of water I just purchased; or that eyeshadow I just put on; or that gasoline I just bought; or that steak I just ate?  Our consumption decisions have profound effects on others and yet we make them with little, if any thought about it.

This disconnect between our values and the outcomes we support through our economic behavior has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  I believe there is an enormous opportunity here.  I think, for the most part, we’d all like to close the gap between the world we want to see and the one we perpetuate as we vote with our dollars every day.  But how to do it?  The information asymmetry is immense.  It’s not realistic to think that we as consumers will research the practices of each business behind the products we purchase.  The reality is we’re living in a world where we expect increasing efficiency in everything we do.  This doesn’t mean all is lost.  I think it means that there’s a big opportunity for an intermediary to come in and help us make the right choices.  Sometimes this takes the form of a store that we trust to only carry values aligned products.  Other times it takes the form of third party certification.  We see this happening in specific areas, such as fair trade certification.  But we need a global measure that considers the environment as well as the people directly and indirectly involved in production.  The B Lab does the best job out there with their B Corp Certification, but their reach so far has been limited.  I’d be stoked to find an ecommerce site where I could do most of my shopping.

In the meantime, it’s worth taking a moment to think twice when you pull your your wallet.  And when you do that, believe it or not, you’ll be practicing just a little bit of yoga.

Enough With Failing Fast Already

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This perpetual talk about failing fast is kind of driving me crazy. Of course we can and should learn from our missteps, but all the “failing fast” rhetoric misses a crucial point.

We shouldn’t be failing, we should be experimenting. Maybe I’m being a stickler for nomenclature, but to me there is a big difference between failing and experimenting.  Failure is when you’re sure you know the answer, invest in building something, launch it, and then realize you were wrong. Experimentation is when you think you know the answer, go test it before you invest heavily in it, and then iterate based on what you learned.

We fail when we over invest our resources in something that’s unknown without testing basic assumptions. We fail when we don’t turn a thoughtful eye towards learning until we’ve run into a brick wall. Preaching failing fast sets us up for a much longer and more expensive learning cycle than is necessary.

Instead of creating a culture where failure is permitted, we should be creating a culture where experimentation is expected. When starting to invest in a new idea, we should ask ourselves, “what assumptions we are making that are necessary for that idea to succeed?” We should ask ourselves, “why is a certain variable in our idea (e.g. mode of input, distribution channel)  what it is?” and consider exploring alternatives. We should develop experiments (at the d.school we call them prototypes) to explore these critical unknowns, and feed our learning back into a new iteration of the idea. Working with this mindset, one invests more and more in each experiment, and they morph into the implementation of a well-tested idea.

When we experiment instead of fail, and start talking about our process and lessons, our learning curve really starts to hockey stick.

No more posts.