The Power of Habit

This is the most powerful non-fiction book I’ve read in a long time. If you have a bad habit you want to overcome, or a good one you want to start–also if you’re open to discovering either of these–this book is for you.

The Power of Habit

by Charles Duhigg

This is the most powerful non-fiction book I’ve read in a long time. If you have a bad habit you want to overcome, or a good one you want to start–also if you’re open to discovering either of these–this book is for you.

Duhigg tells some powerful stories here, and cites studies that are enlightening in their own right. What is unique about his handling of the content is how consistently he ties it all to practical application in real world circumstances. This dogged pragmatism is fitting, given the topic. It could almost be called a how-to manual, if it weren’t so thoroughly researched and well written as to serve more academic purposes just as well.

In addition to being useful for individuals, The Power of Habit is written for organizations. The second half of the book is focused on the power of individual habits within organizations and the trends of habit and culture that give rise to what Duhigg calls ‘organizational habits’. Anyone who manages people or runs a company will find a lot to think about here, and do.

Stylistically, a good balance of storytelling and social scientific reporting make the narrative more inviting than the typical title in this genre. The stories are not told in isolated segments, however, but are woven together in strands to illustrate the central themes of each section. This takes a bit of getting used to, but on the whole is helpful for recalling the various anecdotes that make Duhigg’s book an enlightening guide for any person or business with habits they would like to end or begin.


Check out the resources and teaching guides on Duhigg’s website.

What happens onstage

what happens on stage should be just as complicated and just as simple as things are in real life. People are sitting at a table having dinner, that’s all, but at the same time their happiness is being created, or their lives are being torn apart.
Anton Chekov

Will Rogers Quotes

The humorist Will Rogers was remembered today on The Writer’s Almanac, referred to as “the original king of all media.” Here are some of his quotes worth remembering:

So live that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

You know horses are smarter than people. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people.

There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.

When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.

Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.

All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that’s an alibi for my ignorance.

I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.

The short memories of the American voters is what keeps our politicians in office.

A fool and his money are soon elected.

The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that’s out always looks the best.

Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.

Common sense ain’t common.

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

When you’re through learning, you’re through.

How to Make Embedded Video Responsive

Video embeds are one of the most common elements that break websites designed to adapt to the viewports of phones and smaller tablets. From my favorite development framework, Foundation by Zurb, this is still the simplest and most effective method for making your video responsive.

The CSS

.flex-video {
  position: relative;
  padding-top: 25px;
  padding-bottom: 67.5%;
  height: 0;
  margin-bottom: 16px;
  overflow: hidden;
}
 
.flex-video.widescreen { padding-bottom: 57.25%; }
.flex-video.vimeo { padding-top: 0; }
 
.flex-video iframe,
.flex-video object,
.flex-video embed {
  position: absolute;
  top: 0;
  left: 0;
  width: 100%;
  height: 100%;
}
@media only screen and (max-device-width: 800px), only screen and (device-width: 1024px) and (device-height: 600px), only screen and (width: 1280px) and (orientation: landscape), only screen and (device-width: 800px), only screen and (max-width: 767px) {
  .flex-video { padding-top: 0; }
}

The HTML


Image via A List Apart

Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing

Adapted for the Information Age

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing have held a high place among the innumerable “advice for writers” lists. A testimony to its influence, attendees at Leonard’s funeral were given, in addition to the order of service, a card with a list of his 10 Rules for Writing.

While they are derived from the experience of writing book length fiction, there’s insight here for content creation of any kind. All the marketing, blogging, pitching and performing we do, after all, are just various forms of storytelling. The medium is not the message.

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story.

Showing rather than telling is important in an age literally obsessed with the visual. You don’t have to pack everything into an animated GIF, but it does help to think about how your writing might help or hinder your reader’s capacity for visualizing the story you’re telling.

1. Never open a book with weather.

People connect most naturally with people, not environment. It might be necessary on occasion to describe or explain, but the most engaging content will focus on personal connection and human experience, allowing the reader room to use their imagination and visualize the world you’re building for them.

2. Avoid prologues.

Get to the point, and get their quickly. Backstory has its place, but if you’re writing about the story you’re not telling it. If it’s absolutely necessary to provide some “by way of introduction” note, hurry up. Imagine you’re in a theater. People have come to see your movie or your play. How much can you get away with before people start yelling and throwing things?

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

Leonard explains this one simply: “The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.” Beware of imposing yourself on the story. Try to let the character, product, or whatever it is, speak for itself.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…

A writing professor of mine used to say that everyone carries a bag of words around with them, and as they move around adjectives creep to the surface. You have to learn go ignore them; use them sparingly. Same goes for adverbs.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

Used carelessly, exclamation points turn into yelling or unwarranted hype. Make sure it helps the reader in some way. Don’t just use it to convey your own emotion.

On a more contemporary note, keep your emoticons under control as well. Better yet, don’t use them at all unless you’re writing an email or a text message.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

Of this one Leonard says, “I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.”

Be precise about what’s going on in your narrative. If you’re tempted to wrap up an entire scene with a dramatic phrase, you probably have a lot more work to do on it. Take a break. Slow down. Come back to it.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

The same goes for jargon. If you have to use technical terms you don’t understand your subject matter well enough to be writing about it for the public. You’ll be insufferable as a term paper.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Again, it’s better to show rather than tell. Show enough to set the stage, but don’t let your story turn into an observational narrative on something inside the story. You’ll make your reader feel uncomfortable, like you’re peering over their shoulder, afraid they might miss some profound implication.

If you’ve read the Hemingway story Leonard mentions, this is a perfect example:

In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

A story line is like a train. If you slow down too much, or stop to have a look at something along the way, it takes a long time to get going again. Not all of your readers will be there to hear you call them back on board.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

It almost sounds flippant, but taking on the reader’s perspective can be an eye opener. Consider how a busy, overworked, attention strained reader is going to react to what you’ve written. Read it out loud. Imagine she’s sitting there in the chair across the table from you, on the park bench in front of you, or next to you on the subway. Imagine her listening to you. What does the expression on her face tell you?

In other words, Leonard says, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

Via The New York Times & BBC News

Learn, Unlearn, Relearn

The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
Alvin Toffler

As a philosopher I see in this a wise statement. It fits like a sidecar with the insight of Socratic wisdom: before you can truly understand anything you must become aware of how little you really know.

As a web developer it strikes me as a solid practical guide. In the 21st century the tools of our ever evolving trades–strategies, tactics, best practices, programming languages, etc.–are relentlessly changing. If you can’t learn, adapt, examine, test, adjust, you will fall behind in one way or another.

Steven Covey makes a similar observation in another way in The 7 Habits–the bible of personal and professional growth:

With the dizzying rate of change in technology and increasing competition driven by the globalization of markets and technology, we must not only be educated, we must constantly re-educate and re-invent ourselves. We must develop our minds, and continually sharpen and invest in the development of our competencies to avoid becoming obsolete.