Jason Keisling

A Quick Puzzle to Test Your Problem Solving (via NYT)

Category : politics, problem solving · No Comments · by Oct 3rd, 2016

This fantastic test was posted by the New York Times over a year ago:

Here’s how it works:

We’ve chosen a rule that some sequences of three numbers obey — and some do not. Your job is to guess what the rule is. We’ll start by telling you that the sequence 2, 4, 8 obeys the rule:

Now it’s your turn. Enter a number sequence in the boxes below, and we’ll tell you whether it satisfies the rule or not. You can test as many sequences as you want.

[click here to go to the NYT link and test your answer]


The answer was extremely basic. The rule was simply: Each number must be larger than the one before it. 5, 10, 20 satisfies the rule, as does 1, 2, 3 and -17, 14.6, 845. Children in kindergarten can understand this rule.

But most people start off with the incorrect assumption that if we’re asking them to solve a problem, it must be a somewhat tricky problem. They come up with a theory for what the answer is, like: Each number is double the previous number. And then they make a classic psychological mistake.

They don’t want to hear the answer “no.” In fact, it may not occur to them to ask a question that may yield a no.

Remarkably, 77 percent of people who have played this game so far have guessed the answer without first hearing a single no. A mere 9 percent heard at least three nos — even though there is no penalty or cost for being told no, save the small disappointment that every human being feels when hearing “no.”

It’s a lot more pleasant to hear “yes.” That, in a nutshell, is why so many people struggle with this problem.

Confirmation Bias

This disappointment is a version of what psychologists and economists call confirmation bias. Not only are people more likely to believe information that fits their pre-existing beliefs, but they’re also more likely to go looking for such information. This experiment is a version of one that the English psychologist Peter Cathcart Wason used ina seminal 1960 paper on confirmation bias. (He used the even simpler 2, 4 and 6, rather than our 2, 4 and 8.)

Most of us can quickly come up with other forms of confirmation bias — and yet the examples we prefer tend to be, themselves, examples of confirmation bias. If you’re politically liberal, maybe you’re thinking of the way that many conservatives ignore strongevidence of global warming and its consequences and instead glom onto weaker contrary evidence. Liberals are less likely to recall the many incorrect predictions over the decades, often strident and often from the left, that population growth would create widespread food shortages. It hasn’t.

This puzzle exposes a particular kind of confirmation bias that bedevils companies, governments and people every day: the internal yes-man (and yes-woman) tendency. We’re much more likely to think about positive situations than negative ones, about why something might go right than wrong and about questions to which the answer is yes, not no.

Sometimes, the reluctance to think negatively has nothing to do with political views or with a conscious fear of being told no. Often, people never even think about asking questions that would produce a negative answer when trying to solve a problem — like this one. They instead restrict the universe of possible questions to those that might potentially yield a “yes.”

Government Policy

In this exercise, the overwhelming majority of readers gravitated toward confirming their theory rather than trying to disprove it. A version of this same problem compromised the Obama administration’s and Federal Reserve’s (mostly successful) response to the financial crisis. They were too eager to find “green shoots” of economic recovery that would suggest that the answer to the big question in their minds was, just as they hoped and believed: “Yes, the crisis response is aggressive enough, and it’s working.” More damaging was the approach that President George W. Bush’s administration, and others, took toward trying to determine whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction a decade ago — and how the Iraqi people would react to an invasion. Vice President Dick Cheney predicted in 2003, “We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

Corporate America

Corporate America is full of more examples. Executives of Detroit’s Big Three didn’t spend enough time brainstorming in the 1970s and 1980s about how their theory of the car market might be wrong. Wall Street andthe Fed made the same mistake during the dot-com and housing bubbles. To pick an example close to home, newspapers didn’t spend enough time challenging the assumption that classified advertisements would remain plentiful for decades.

One of the best-selling business books in history — about negotiation strategy — is “Getting to Yes.” But the more important advice for us may instead be to go out of our way to get to no. When you want to test a theory, don’t just look for examples that prove it. When you’re considering a plan, think in detail about how it might go wrong.

Some businesses have made this approach a formal part of their decision-making: Imagine our strategy has failed; what are the most likely reasons it did? As Jason Zweig has written in The Wall Street Journal, “Gary Klein, a psychologist at Applied Research Associates, of Albuquerque, N.M., recommends imagining that you have looked into a crystal ball and have seen that your investment has gone bust.”

When you seek to disprove your idea, you sometimes end up proving it — and other times you can save yourself from making a big mistake. But you need to start by being willing to hear no. And even if you think that you are right, you need to make sure you’re asking questions that might actually produce an answer of no. If you still need to work on this trait, don’t worry: You’re only human.

Feynman on questioning

Category : quotes · No Comments · by Jul 27th, 2016

“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”
Richard Feynman

Carl Sagan on books

Category : quotes, science · No Comments · by Jan 6th, 2016

“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.”
―Carl Sagan

Why I celebrate Christmas

Category : politics, religion · No Comments · by Nov 24th, 2015

I am a non-Christian who celebrates Xmas.*

There are many aspects of Christmas that I enjoy, which are not related to Christ, viz., spending time with family and friends, the lights and decorations, the festivities, the gifts, the music, etc. It’s a joyous and exciting time, and despite what many people believe, it’s mostly secular! Most of these traditions and festivities originate from pagan festivals that predate Christ’s birth by thousands of years. The actual Christian aspects of the holiday, which I don’t celebrate, were integrated with these festivals and rituals at a later time.

Contrary to the cliches you’ll see on church signs, the birth of Jesus Christ is not the reason for the season. Not only did most traditions pre-date the birth of Jesus, but biblical scholars overwhelmingly believe that Jesus was not born on December 25 or even during the winter for that matter. Most Christmas traditions contain elements of other ancient midwinter traditions. For example, the decorations and feast comes from Yule-log traditions and gift-giving comes from Saturnalia. In the past, Christians opposed these rituals. Early devout Christian sects refused to celebrate Christmas because it was not Biblical nor respectful of their faith. The bible itself even condemns them as heathen:

Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

-Jeremiah 10: 2-4

Some Christian denominations today still do not celebrate Christmas for similar reasons though by now most Christians have adopted these customs and absorbed them into their own celebration of Christ’s birth. It was Pope Julius the First who declared in the year 350 CE that December 25 was the official Christmas date. It had previously been used by the Romans to celebrate the birth of the sun. Shortly after the name Christmas was substituted.

If you’re a Christian, I do not intend to discourage you from celebrating your beliefs. There are many reasons to celebrate Christmas. Some celebrate the birth of Jesus, and that’s fine. People are free to celebrate whatever they want. But to claim that Christ is the reason for the season is just simply not accurate and it ignores the other aspects of the holiday that not only predated Christ, but were also at odds with most Christians at one time. I am simply stating why I celebrate the holidays. When I say I celebrate Christmas, I am not saying I participate in the Christian traditions. I don’t celebrate the birth or the nativity. I don’t pray (I also don’t celebrate Easter because unlike Christmas, it is mostly a Christian holiday.). I simply engage in the dinners and gift-giving and decorations. These are all customs that have nothing to do with Christ.

*Fun fact: Xmas is not a secular term or an attempt to remove Christ from Christmas. X is simply a Greek abbreviation for Christ. Likewise, holidays is derived from “holy days” and isn’t disrespectful toward Christians. And while I’m at it, there isn’t a war on Christmas (but that’s for a different post). That is, with exception of the time American Puritans tried to ban Christmas because they viewed it as pagan idolatry that had nothing to do with Christianity. Hmmm.

On religion

Category : religion · (1) Comment · by Feb 5th, 2015

This is intended to be a brief overview of my views on religion. It is not intended to be combative.  I was a believer for almost two decades and was very devout for much of that time. It is easy for me to empathize with religious people and see where they’re coming from. My intention with this post is to help others understand a non-believer’s point of view and also lay the basic principles for which many of my other posts on this blog will come from. I don’t aim to change minds, but rather to posit arguments that will incite thought and understanding. Regardless of whether one questions previous beliefs upon reading this, or continues to adhere to those beliefs, my hope is that the reader will have a better understanding of some arguments against god and comes away with strong rationale for why they believe or disbelieve in a god.

Did God create man, or did man create God?
“The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most people believe in god, although which god one believes in often varies based on where one was raised. There are multifarious gods and religions that people believe in, but one area of common ground amongst atheists and theists (including Muslims and Christians) is that they lack belief in most of these deities. Christians share an atheist’s skepticism in regards to Allah or Vishnu. They too lack faith in these deities. The one difference between atheists and Christians is that atheists believe in one god fewer than Christians. I posit that if theists were to observe their own beliefs with the same critique they pose toward other gods, they too would be atheists.

Regardless of which god a person believes in, it’s safe to presume very few, if any, believe in gods like Ra, Saturn, Thor or Zeus today. These are regarded as mythology by most. But, at one time, people did in fact believe in these gods. Man derived these deities in order to explain mysteries of the universe such as the sun or thunder. People believed in these gods much like Christians believe in Yahweh (the Christian God of the Bible) and Muslims believe in Allah.

These gods were used to explain gaps in humans’ knowledge of the universe. Of course today these gods are considered mythological as those gaps in knowledge were explained by scientific discovery. Now that physicists are aware of positive and negative charges and it has been discovered that lightning is merely an electrostatic discharge, gods like Thor and Zeus are no longer necessary.

The God of the Bible and other modern religions have also been used to explain gaps in humans’ knowledge of the universe. In this essay, I will mostly focus on the God of the Bible since that is what I grew up believing and am most familiar with. There have been thousands of questions throughout history and people have filled those gaps in understanding by saying “it’s God.” As science provides answers for those gaps, God is no longer necessary because the gap in our understanding has been filled with an explanation that has been tested and verified. Prior to our current knowledge of planetary orbits, it was believed that the sun revolved around the earth. The geocentric theory was a common belief not only because from our vantage point on earth, the sun (not us) appears to be moving, but also because this was stated in the Bible. Today most Christians regard these scriptures as metaphoric (such as the terms sunrise or sunset), but at that time these scriptures were taken literally. When Galileo promoted Copernicus’ heliocentric theory and claimed the earth revolves around the Sun, the Catholic Church condemned him for heresy. We are now aware that the earth does in fact orbit the Sun and even most Christians acknowledge this fact. The same can be said of many other things we know from science that were once gaps in our knowledge where people answered with god.

The most common gap in our knowledge that is plugged with “god” today is the origin of the universe. Christians assert that the universe must have a cause and because scientists have not determined a cause, then that cause must be god. But again, this doesn’t actually prove that there’s a god. It simply proves that there is a gap in our understanding (a gap that is becoming increasingly smaller and smaller). Many other gaps in humans’ understanding throughout history were eventually explained by theories that didn’t require a god hypothesis. I have no reason to believe that any current gaps are any different. Just because we don’t know an answer to a question does not mean that god is the answer. Saying “God did it” does not explain any of the universe’s mysteries, it simply offers an excuse for not knowing.

Another reason that the argument of causality fails is because it requires god to be excluded from its own premise. If all things in existence must have had an initial cause, as Christians argue is the case for the Universe, then wouldn’t God require a cause as well? Why should God be immune to having a cause? And let’s say that a god DID create the universe. Which god? As I stated earlier in this post, there are many gods that people believe created the universe. Which one is correct?

If all people awoke tomorrow with a completely clean palette of knowledge and were without all memory of science, religion, history, etc., I believe that in time people would rediscover much of our scientific knowledge. People would rediscover the boiling point of water and the orbits of the planets. It would certainly take time, but many scientific laws would be rediscovered. I don’t believe people would create the same religions we currently have. They might imagine deities to explain answers to questions they don’t know, but I do not think they would come close to resembling the Bible. And if upon awakening these people were provided all existing books and tools, one could test what they read in science books and determine that the Earth does in fact revolve around the sun or that water does in fact freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. These would prove to be accurate because they are. But if a person picked up a copy of the Bible, would it provide the same “truth” that many Christians claim it presents? I suspect that people would have a difficult time distinguishing it from even some of the most far-fetched fictional works. Sam Harris used a similar thought experiment in his book The End of Faith where he concludes, “the Bible and Koran, it seems certain, would find themselves respectfully shelved next to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Egyptian Book of the Dead.”

“Can omniscient God, who knows the future, find the omnipotence to change his future mind?”-Karen Owens

I don’t claim to have all the answers to the universe. For me personally atheism and agnosticism answer two different questions. Atheism addresses belief whereas agnosticism addresses knowledge. If I’m asked if I believe there’s a god, then my answer is no. If the question is “Is there a god?” my answer is that I don’t know. Technically, by this definition, we’re all agnostic. None of us truly know. Christians certainly believe, but they don’t know. We all have limited knowledge of the universe, but where we differ is belief. And without complete knowledge, it’s impossible to prove a universal negative. Theists cannot prove God exists, and atheists cannot prove that God does not exist. Likewise, no one can prove that unicorns or Bigfoot do not exist because humans have not discovered the entire universe and somewhere in the universe it is possible for a unicorn to exist, although I do not believe this is the case. In regards to unicorns, all of us are skeptics, though we can’t know for sure.

However, if a being’s qualities are contradictory, it’s logical to assume that it cannot exist and therefore does not exist. Though I do not know all of the properties of every part of the universe, I can make a decent assumption that a cubed sphere does not exist anywhere in the Universe because it is seemingly impossible. A cube has 8 corners; a sphere has no corners. I do not believe a cubed sphere can exist, and therefore I do not believe it does.

Likewise, God’s attributes contradict each other. I posit that god seemingly can’t exist and therefore doesn’t exist. The qualities of God include being omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful), omni-benevolent (all good), all just, all merciful, and free-willed.

Given the existence of evil, omni-benevolence is not compatible with omnipotence and omniscience. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, he is aware that evil exists and he has the power to rid the world of it. If God is all-good, why hasn’t he done so? Epicurus states this cleverly:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

One cannot argue with the fact that evil exists because God wants it to. The Bible even says that God created evil (Isa. 45:5-7). In what way does this make him all good? In his book Who Made God, Christian Apologist Ronald Rhodes makes the point that evil is not existent on its own, it is the corruption of what already exists, much like mold or rot. On the surface, this is a decent attempt at answering the question, but his answer runs into the same problems that the initial question posed. If God created everything to be good and they were corrupted, God knew this would happen (at least if he is all-knowing). And if he is all-powerful, he could stop existing things from corrupting. In a world where there are horrible things such as cancer, disease, rape, and murder, it is difficult to imagine an all-loving being just sitting back and watching these things happen to good people when he is fully capable of preventing them. The concept of free will may explain allowing acts like rape and murder, but not tragedies such as disease, cancer, tornados, hurricanes, and all of the other devastating events that are not caused by a choice.

Another explanation for the problem of evil is that evil can lead to a greater good. But wouldn’t an all-powerful god be capable of creating good options without the use of evil? There is no evil in heaven, yet heaven is supposed to contain superlative good. If heaven does not need the presence of evil to achieve a greater good, then why is the presence of evil necessary on Earth?

Some Christians believe that without an evil adverse, one couldn’t do something that was truly good. There are a couple problems with this explanation. First, if God is omniscient, he knows if someone is going to choose good or evil before said person ever makes that choice. If God knows a person is going to make an evil choice, that person cannot make the adverse choice because God would have been incorrect. The idea of an omniscient and omnipotent god is not compatible with free will. In this context, free will is utterly useless if God will punish one for making the wrong choice. A gift of which the recipient will be punished for using is worthless. Imagine that a president were to pass a law that was an egregious suppression of liberty. Suppose it was made illegal to read books, or that one could be incarcerated for wearing a hat. Most Americans, regardless of their political ideology would consider this horrifying. When the new law is met with criticism, imagine the president responds by assuring people that they still have freedom. They are still free to wear a hat; they will just be thrown in jail if they do so. Is that freedom? Would that answer satisfy people’s concerns? Likely not. What good is the freedom to wear a hat if one will spend life in jail for doing so? Most, if not all, would agree that this is not freedom. This is essentially the same reasoning that Christians use for free will. The Bible states that God has given us free will. Yet if a person uses that free will to choose not to accept Christ, a supposedly just god will declare infinite punishment for finite sins. Like the example above, an authority figure, this time God, states that people have freedom to choose their actions, but those that make the wrong choice will be punished. Again, What good is free will if one is punished for using it? Is this really freedom?

The Bible
“She lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” -Ezekiel 23:20

The Bible is supposed to be the infallible word of God, yet it contains many errors, contradictions, absurdities, unscientific claims, acts of violence, acts of racism, bigotry, and injustice. There are far too many to list them all, but one doesn’t have to read far to find problems. The Bible begins with contradicting creation stories (Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:21) that are very much at odds with very basic scientific discoveries. On the first day, God says “let there be light,” yet didn’t create the sun or stars that produce light until the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19). And when the Bible does get to the creation of light, it refers to the sun to rule the day, and the moon to rule the night (Genesis 1:16). But the moon is not a light! The moon merely reflects light from the sun.

Obviously the Bible is not a science book and God is not obligated to reveal all scientific discoveries to us, but why would he include something in his book that would later be proven wrong? The primitive men who wrote the Bible understandably had little knowledge of science because most discoveries had not yet occurred. This explains the multiple unscientific verses in the Bible. This explains why the Bible implies that the Earth is flat (Revelation 7:1, Isaiah 11:12, Job 38:12-13), that the sun revolves around the Earth (Ecclesiastes 1:5, Psalm 19:6), or that the Earth remains still (1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 104:5). Obviously the Earth was believed to be flat during the time the Bible was written so it makes sense that a man would make these claims, but why would an all-knowing god make these implications? In order to take the Bible literally, one must disregard discoveries from geology, physics, astronomy, biology, paleontology and most other scientific domains.

The Bible proposes several prophecies, some of which were vague enough to be somewhat accurate, but others that just simply didn’t happen. There is no record that Egypt was ever a barren wasteland as the Bible claimed (Ezekiel 29:8-12), or that the Nile dried up (Ezekiel 30:12), but I suppose those events could still happen in the future. But there are also occurrences that the Bible said would not happen that in fact did. In Ezekiel 26: 7-14, God sends Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the wicked city of Tyre and then claims that Tyre will never be rebuilt. If it is to be never rebuilt, it must not exist today. But that’s not the case. Tyre still exists today, despite being conquered by Alexander the Great (not Nebuchadnezzar).

And the Bible is full of contradicting stories. 2 Chronicles 16:1 mentions Asa Baasha, king of Israel, rising up against Judah ten years after 1 Kings 16:6-8 claims Baasha died. 2 Samuel 6:23 claims “Michal, the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.” However, 2 Samuel 21:8 reads, “But the king took the two sons of Rizpah . . . and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul.” Unless we are to believe that Michal gave birth to five children after her death, these seem like conflicting stories. And there are plenty of other contradicting stories in this book.

Some of the Bible is just absurd. As if being emasculated isn’t bad enough, according to the Bible one is also going to hell for it (Deuteronomy 23:1). Handicapped are also not welcome in the presence of God (Lev.21:17-23). The Bible says that a man must marry a girl whom he rapes and cannot divorce her (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and if a man discovers that his bride is not a virgin on their wedding night, the men of her city must stone her to death on her father’s doorstep (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). The Bible says it is acceptable to sell your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), stone people for working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15), and stone disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). In the absurd verse Genesis 38:7-10, God kills a man for ejaculating on the ground. Teach that one to your children in Sunday School! Make sure you also teach your kids not to make fun of a man who is bald. God will punish them by having bears attack (2 Kings 2:23-24). God kills many infants and children in the Bible and is even praised for bashing babies against rocks (Psalm 137:8-9)! I suppose God is not as pro-life as many of the religious right think!

These are just a few, of thousands of contradictions and absurdities that can be found in the Bible! These kinds of problems aren’t difficult to find. Just pick a story. For example, here is a thorough debunking of Noah’s Ark. Pick just about any story and think about it critically and you will find sufficient reason to cast doubt.


I’ve expressed some of the reasons for no longer buying into Christianity. During the time that I began questioning my beliefs I spent years reading the Bible and Christian apologists, talking to pastors, and even praying for answers. But the easiest way to convince me that God exists would be for God himself to prove his existence to me. This shouldn’t be too much to ask since he did prove existence to people in the Bible. Paul was a skeptic and even killed and imprisoned Christians. He lived after Christ’s death, and like myself, the Bible and Christian apologists were not convincing to him. God himself had to appear before him and show him that he was wrong. Thomas had to physically touch Jesus to affirm that it was indeed God. Why did God reveal himself to skeptics then, but not now? My answer would be because the Bible is fiction and God is chimerical. Many people have prayed for years for God to speak to me, and I appreciate the prayer because it shows people are concerned for me but it also shows that God either (a) does not hear their prayers and cannot answer me, (b) God hears their prayers but is unable to answer me, (c) that God hears their prayers and is apathetic, or the most likely answer, (d) there is no god. None of these are qualities worthy of worship.

My top 5 blog posts at reason.com in 2014

Category : graphic design · No Comments · by Jan 2nd, 2015
My top 5 blog posts at reason.com in 2014

2014 was my first year at Reason and I was able to work on some awesome projects including a couple…

Monkeys are going to steal your babies!

Category : advertising, graphic design, humor · No Comments · by Nov 4th, 2014

Add this to a long list of reasons to facepalm at PETA. They recently implemented this campaign in the D.C. Metro to create awareness for the treatment of baby monkeys. The problem is that the designer used poor hierarchy and grouped the text with the image, unintentionally conveying that the monkeys pictured are taking your freedom and your babies. Oops.


The Right Answer: Learning How to Think

Category : graphic design, problem solving, quotes · No Comments · by Jun 11th, 2014

From Chapter 1 of “A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative” by Roger von Oech:

“Children enter school as question marks and come out as periods.”–Neil Postman, Educator

Much of our education system is geared toward teaching people to find “the right answer.” By the time the average person finishes college, he or she will have taken over 2,600 tests, quizzes, and exams. The “right answer” approach becomes deeply ingrained in our thinking. This may be fine for some mathematical problems where there is in fact only one right answer. The difficulty is that most of life isn’t this way. Life is ambiguous; there are many right answers–all depending on what you are looking for. But if you think there is only one right answer, then you’ll stop looking as soon as you find one.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher put a small dot on the blackboard. She asked the class what it was. A few seconds passed and then someone said, “A chalk dot on the blackboard.” The rest of the class seemed relieved that the obvious had been stated, and no one else had anything to say. “I’m surprised at you,” the teacher told the class. “I did the same exercise yesterday with a group of kindergartners, and they thought of fifty different things it could be: an owl’s eye, a cigar butt, the top of a telephone pole, a star, a pebble, a squashed bug, a rotten egg, and so on. They had their imaginations in high gear.”

In the ten year period between kindergarten and high school, not only had we learned how to find the right answer, we had also lost the ability to look for more than one right answer. We had learned how to be specific, but we had lost much of our imaginative power.

An elementary school teacher told me the following story about a colleague who had given her first graders a coloring assignment:

The instructions said: “On this sheet of paper, you will find an outline of a house, trees, flowers, clouds, and sky. Please color each with the appropriate colors.” One of the students, Patty, put a lot of work into her drawing. When she got it back, she was surprised to find a big black “X” on it. She asked the teacher for an explanation. “I gave you an ‘X’ because you didn’t follow the instructions. Grass is green not gray. The sky should be blue, not yellow as you have drawn it. Why didn’t you use the normal colors, Patty?”

Patty answered, “Because that’s how it looks to me when I get up early to watch the sunrise.”

The teacher had assumed that there was only one right answer. The practice of looking for the “one right answer” can have serious consequences in the way we think about and deal with problems. Most people don’t like problems, and when they encounter them, they usually react by taking hte first way out they can find–even if they solve the wrong problem. I can’t overstate the danger in this. If you have only one idea, you have only one course of action open to you, and this is quite risky in a world where flexibility is a requirement for survival.

An idea is like a musical note. In the same way that a musical note can only be understood in relation to other notes (either as part of a melody or a chord), an idea is best understood in the context of other ideas. If you have only one idea, you don’t have anything to compare it to. You don’t know its strengths and weaknesses.

For more effective thinking, we need different points of view. Otherwise we’ll get stuck looking at the same things and miss seeing things outside our focus.

Southwest Airlines: Cheap fares and cheaper communication

Category : advertising, graphic design, typography · No Comments · by Feb 21st, 2014

This sponsored post by Southwest Airlines appeared on my Facebook timeline. Apparently the image is supposed to say “Sale”, though I didn’t figure this out until I read some of the comments. Other commenters saw words(?) like SLLE, SILE, STLE, SMLE, etc. Southwest spent money promoting a post that is difficult to read. An important aspect of both design and marketing is clear communication. Rather than focusing on communication, they instead tried to be cute with the image.


Choosing words for my lettering project.

Category : quotes, typography · No Comments · by Jul 2nd, 2013

When learning new words for my lettering project, I have begun avoiding big words that aren’t actually helpful in conversation. While words like “grandiloquence” are cool to know, in most cases using such words just comes across as…well…grandiloquent (Pompous or extravagant in language).

As a designer, my focus is clear communication and though I do occasionally learn some fun words, I have been attempting to choose words that simplify rather than complicate dialog. Below is a great quote about the word epexegesis (which I actually did use in my lettering project because I thought it was an amusing word to know):

“Never use a long or unusual word that requires the addition of more words just to make clear the preceding word or sentence. I’m going to use the word ‘epexegesis’ because as a writer you should know it, but not use it. Epexegesis is another fun word that only one person in a million might know. The dictionary says that it means ‘the addition of more words to make clear the preceding word or sentence.’ So stay away from words like epexegesis that need explaining. Words like that only increase your fund of trivia.”
-Leonard N. Simons