Trevor Jackson

Interviewer: You also said the intention behind the work becomes even more important. I’m curious: what do you mean by that? How can an intention of a piece of work be more important than the outcome?”

Trevor Jackson: Because that’s all that matters. The reason you do something is what it’s all about. For me, what I do, this isn’t a lifestyle to me. This is my life. This is something I’ve grown up on. It’s helped me through really rough times. It’s pretty much fueled my life. And for me, right now, I said anyone can do anything that looks good. I’m not impressed by things that look good anymore. It doesn’t move me. I’m impressed by ideas. I’m impressed by people that may be the outcome isn’t great but the reason they did it is fantastic. Both in music and in visuals, that’s really what excites me right now.”


October 22, 2022

The Polarity Strategy

This is a series on Robert Greene’s 33 Strategies of War applied to designers and product builders.

You need something to judge yourself by. To motivate you. To create a sense of clarity and a source of direction. And this starts by waging war on an enemy.” Choose wisely.

In the first chapter of Robert Greene’s book War, he speaks of The Polarity Strategy:

The more clearly you recognize who you do not want to be, then, the clearer your sense of identity and purpose will be. […] Focus on an enemy…a value or an idea that you loathe and that you see in an individual or group. It can be an abstraction: stupidity, smugness, vulgar materialism. […] Your enemy is the polar star that guides you. Given that direction, you can enter battle.

In building products, the common practice is to do competitive analysis to understand the current landscape better, gather inspiration and examples, and gather common patterns of how others in the same or adjacent space has solved a particular problem that is relevant to what you’re trying to build.

In this practice, the usual idea is figure out a space wherein one can operate, to find a niche they an exploit, find a vector they can zone in to hopefully create some differentiation.

I’m not going to refute the value of competitive analysis as it is indeed valuable in painting the picture of the terrain, similar to laying out a map and seeing the strengths of existing armies. My gripe with competitive analysis is it has become a tool to replace strategy.

Simply understanding the players in a space does not equate to a strategy. Figuring out one part that is not done by the competition and doing it slightly better does not mean you have a strategy. Saying We will differentiate from XYZ by doing ABC better” is kind of ironic because by your own definition, you are not exactly differentiating but rather copying a commodity and hoping to create a sort of distinction. This often fails in creating any meaningful separation because you are still operating within the bounds of the competition and hoping that the audience will value that particular distinction you’ve chosen over your competitors which you hope will translate to more profits. This is not strategy. This is naively hoping met with laziness.

What I like about Declare War on Your Enemies” and particularly, The Polarity Effect, is its single-minded focus. It is a call to arms with ruthlessness at its root because it centers everyone at a real direction than a vague interpretation. It is not enough to simply say We will do XYZ better.” This is not inspiring and it does not create a level of clarity that mobilizes people into action. It is better to say:

We are at war with [insert status quo]. This [status quo] is a representation of [insert something abstract] and a new way needs to exist in the world. Our way will be that new way. [Insert something you value] depends upon it. This is why what we are doing is not just of necessity, it is of vital importance, and thus it is our obligation.”

This is still not a strategy per se (which is more about an integrated set of choices—namely, very deliberately choosing what not to do—to create superior value and sustainable advantage) but it is the foundation of a strategy. It says:

  1. What you are against (not in terms of existing competition but something much deeper and more existential)
  2. What you will create as the representation of combating what you are against and for which you will be measured upon
  3. It claims what it is that you value above all else (not in terms of what is simply valuable or what is not because many things are valuable, but what you value over everything else, and thus will be the measuring stick of how much you really value something)
  4. It claims why you specifically are uniquely positioned to go against the enemy”

Of course, this is not meant to be taken literally as if actually on a battlefield and a matter of life and death. It’s just work. That said, work definitely means something (if you think it does), so it’s worthy to go through the exercise seriously.

It doesn’t matter how other people feel about this because ultimately, you have different values and believe different things and you are the one executing your stated direction. Their own interpretation is just about their own values and beliefs: it’s okay, even imperative, that some disagree. This is how you know you’ve stroked a chord and have something that challenges the status quo verging on something that might be a formidable contender not just to existing players in the space but something that might actually change things for the better.

Of course, it’s also possible to go too far and wage war a little too seriously that dares to bend the law and create too much greed, or create neglected unintended consequences as a byproduct of singleminded focus. There are many books written about different founders on this so I won’t belabor them. But the point is this: a fine balance needs to be reached: a vision that is compelling enough against something that desperately needs to change, of which a simple competitive analysis won’t do by itself.

You need something that will give you clarity and direction. A stated enemy” can be an endless source of inspiration. Choose wisely.


August 17, 2022 33 Strategies

Creativity is an Act of Rebellion

Why do we create? And more importantly, why must we create?

Creation is in the very fabric of our species. We are builders by nature. It is our ability to imagine—to see a probable future in our heads and make it reality one step at a time—that makes us human. No other species can do this in the same way. While other species may build out of necessity (say, birds building a nest for example), humans create beyond simple needs. Otherwise, there would have been no reason to be a post-agricultural civilization which would gave us food, shelter, and clothing necessary to live. But we have far far surpassed that.

Beyond need, we have art, entertainment, knowledge, science. These are things beyond mere survival—they are curiosities and compulsions. We have questions about the material and immaterial world and we seek to answer them. (This very thing you’re reading is a creating out of no other need that an itch I wanted to scratch.)

Creation is how.

We find out what we can do, with the hopes that it might give us something in return: answers, satisfaction, euphoria. We toil through the difficulty and spend countless hours to make something which often we are uncertain would be fruitful. And yet, we must try. We dare to create anyway. We can’t help it. But why?

Because there will always be more. The world is an endless stream of possibilities, and new answers reveal new questions, and new technologies demand better ones, and new art movements inspire an opposing art movement. We say we create to justify our beliefs, but is it not possible that we manufacture beliefs so that we can create?

We have untapped energy inside of us that need to be bottled into doing. Mission is the lifeblood of our beings. We are perpetually unsatisfied, and perfection would be the death of our species. That there is more to do, more to attempt, more to learn, and thus more to create, is because…there is much to destroy. The status quo, the old way of doing things, stuck in tradition and ancient processes, outputting lackluster mediocre results. We believe we can do better. Which means there is much to remove and much to replace. And what we’ve created in place of these things, we eventually will also have to move and replace.

Creation need not always be grand. But it does need to deviate ever so slightly, otherwise, it’s just a copy. Creation tends to have an energy around it—an inner sense of quiet focused aggression because it requires strategic precision and mental faculties working in concert combining our skillsets, experience, and faith to birth something to life.

It is not always smooth. Often you’re learning something new through the creation process and it’s expected to stumble and feel uncomfortable as certain things don’t come naturally to you yet as your brain is creating new or reinforcing old mental pathways as you do new things. One mustn’t get frustrated as this is part of creation—you are not merely creating an external thing, the thing you are creating ends up creating you. The thing you’re creating is a reflection of your own set of strengths, experiences, background, and interests at their current stage combined. But also, you are a reflection of the thing you created yourself. It says a lot about you, the creator. And often this is what prevents us from creating, because we feel inferior, or afraid of what others might say, and most commonly, our taste does not match the current status of the output—it may not be to our standards yet. Every creator goes through this. No one creates a masterpiece from the moment they try something. Instead, you must stay on the path. You must channel that quiet aggression with continued focus and clarity and challenge yourself to keep creating because creation is what creates yourself. You want to get better so you can create something better? There is only one way: create.

There is so much more that goes into creation: the need to be patient, being stubborn in the face of frustration, having to juggle external factors that may affect the creative process. Yet, one must still create. The creation doesn’t care about your excuses. Rather, these are all fuel. Creation is an act of rebellion—against the status quo, and against everything that seeks to pull you away from creation. There is a price that comes with the opportunity to will something new into the world and every creator must pay.

The thing will not create itself. It needs your energy. It needs your rage. It needs your taste. It needs your sense of rebellion. It needs your persistence. Most of all, it needs you. And believe it or not, you need it just as much. Because all these things inside you need to be bottled up to manifest something you can call yours. It is a gift to the world for which the reward is the creation of the thing into itself. Yes, there are all the things it can do in the world. But that is outside of your immediate control. There are no second- and third- order effects until you’ve created the thing, and that is between you and the creation.

We must dare to keep creating. Our souls are no fools, it knows when we’re not, or when we haven’t poured our heart into something. Let our creations create us. Let us continue to be rebels. It is in our blood. It is in our DNA. Our species rule the planet only because of our ability to create. Everything is created through some sheer sense of belief and will and creation.

Something is calling deep into us. We know it. We may not know exactly what we will create next or the path to get there. We must feel into it. We must march on into the world to receive energy back so we can bottle that up into something unique and something that is truly ours. The world as it is this moment can’t be all there is to life. The world needs us. The world needs more rebels like you.

What are you going to create next?


June 20, 2022

Speed is About Trust

Aaron Levie, founder and CEO of Box, tweeted about speed as an advantage:

The crucial point here is this trifecta:

Small teams, hyper aligned, with few constraints.

I’ve always believed in this.

It seems easy in theory but hard in practice because organizations have a natural gravity about them that can lead to internal competition and misalignment.

But when you have all three, magic happens. I know because I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of such teams.

The hyper aligned” is the hardest part of the trifecta. You can have small teams with few constraints that cannot build with speed, quality, and with learning in mind. I know because I’ve also experienced this before (in different teams).

The difference is top of mind for me now every time I do something new. When you’re on that slow, sluggish, train of dysfunction, it is the opposite of all the feelings of magic. (For more on this, read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni).

What I’ve come to understand is that hyper-alignment only happens if there’s a shared vision, mutual trust, and a focus on team achievement.

And the opposite is also true: a team is not aligned if they don’t have a shared vision of what their product ought to do, if the team doesn’t trust each other, and if people’s focus is on individual achievement such as promotions, raises, and bonuses, rather than the team serving the customer. And this toxic environment is painful, it’s hard to rebound from (though not impossible, but would require everyone to check their ego at the door, which is what makes it difficult), and most of all it is a waste—a waste of resources, of talent, of time.

This is why nothing is more important than establishing and fostering trust in a team. (For more on this, read Radical Candor by Kim Scott). You can have top tier talent and still not produce anything close to its potential if you don’t have trust. But teams with trust can go much farther together and accomplish something much greater than the sum of their parts. Trust is the great multiplier.

The trifecta of small teams, hyper aligned, with few constraints” is how organizations achieve speed. But trust is what makes or breaks it.

How do you build trust? Being committed to a mission, having low egos, and being team players. A video from legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler on The Team, The Team, The Team” exemplifies this best.

Obviously this is harder to do in organizations where there are a lot of dynamics at play and incentives can vary. But it is definitely still possible to build trust through great teams—and that’s by hiring team players. You can snuff this out by understanding what people have done in team settings, what they’ve done for others to help the entire team win, and getting references from previous managers/leads and especially cross-functional peers. (Especially for designers, ask for references from people who aren’t designers. How do their engineering partners think about them? How do their product partners think about them? What about people in non-product development roles like data, like marketing, program management? Design’s real impact stretches way beyond the pixels. As hiring manager, measuring their infuelnce more than their design inputs is a good way to understand their overall ability and impact.)

From there, it’s about organizational design: building pods and giving them meaty problems with the leeway to problem solve and innovate as they see fit. Teams of course are just one part of the bigger picture. Just as important is how these small teams, hyper-aligned, with few constraints work with their neighboring teams. This is now about fostering culture continuously through shared values and staffing appropriately where needed.

Ideas are dime a dozen. But when you have a good idea with great execution powered by high-trust, you have something amazing. You’re not just building digital products anymore. You’re building something much greater—a self-propelling organism that punches well above its weight and can do amazing things collectively that they would not have been able to individually.

This is magic.


December 29, 2021

Believe in Your Genius

Genius is believed to arrive at birth. But contrary to popular belief, all of us have genius.

Or a better way to put it: all of us are bestowed genius at the time of our birth and it doesn’t really leave us until death. And even then, the gifts of our genius will keep giving in the cycle of eternity if properly nourished.

The modern definition of the word has come to mean a specific person with supreme intellectual ability or creative prowess—someone who achieves new discoveries or advances in a domain of knowledge.”1

But the word genius originates from Roman mythology, which means:

the individual instance of a general divine nature that is present in every individual person, place, or thing. Much like a guardian angel, the genius would follow each man from the hour of his birth until the day he died.”2

If genius then is present in everyone and not a select few, how do we unleash this genius?

The difference is whether we choose to cultivate that genius throughout our lifetime. But for us to even do that, we must first accept it, and for us to accept it, we must believe each of us have genius, and acknowledge it when we see it and feel it.

Genius thought of as something reserved for the few has become a reason why individual genius isn’t more cultivated in the way it deserves to be. That we can’t or won’t be Einsteins or Da Vincis or Marie Curies or Musks is said often and used as an excuse, but this only exemplifies the point: each of these people cultivated their genius to the utmost extreme and because they cultivated their own genius, by definition, there can only be one of them. More importantly, trying to be like them would only be running away from cultivating our own genius. We can be inspired by other people and their respective geniuses, but we cannot copy or achieve someone else’s genius—we can only cultivate their own.

Think of it like each of us have our own spiritual pet that we didn’t choose but chose us. This representation is prevalent in mythology, literature, and even in modern fiction: Dorothy’s terrier Toto, Luke Skywalker’s droid R2D2, Ash’s pokemon Pikachu, Jon Snow’s direworlf Ghost. These are not merely expendable sidekicks. They protect their owners and have deep similarities with them—they almost share one soul. Genius is similar: we cannot have someone else’s genius because each of us have our own, a spirit which we are one with, one whose lives depend on us, and reciprocally, our lives depend on them.

Genius is a gift we must accept. We must believe in its existence. And we must cultivate it—feed it—like we would spiritual companions and pets. Only by doing so will our own individual geniuses serve us in return. This process will take time because our geniuses need nourishment in order to grow to its full potential. But it will never get close unless we believe in our individual genius in the first place.

While it may take time for it to reveal its shape, its features, its ultimate final form, believing in it is the first step. And once we understand that it is an integral part of us, we must accept it for what it is, and nourish it as much as we can. We can’t let it die, because then, we may be physically alive, but would be spiritually dead.

And while many of us might feel spiritually dead in our day to day—an endemic of modern times, it is never too late. After all, our own individual geniuses are inside us just waiting to be nourished, and ultimately, be freed. It all starts by believing in our genius.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genius↩︎

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genius_(mythology)↩︎


September 27, 2021

Life is About People

The quality of our lives depends so much on the quality of people we allow into our lives.

As I get older, I’m more convinced life is ultimately about spending time with amazing people.

This was not so obvious to me growing up and is still unnatural for me as someone who loves spending much of his time alone.

But being around amazing people who make you better makes life better. Life is more likely to be average or mediocre if you’re around average or mediocre people, but we can increase the likelihood of our lives being amazing if we’re around amazing people.

Humanity is about connection, building memories, and triumphing against worthwhile challenges. You can only do that by being around great people and being a great person to be around with.

As the saying goes: If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

If the quality of our lives depend on who we spend time with, it makes perfect sense that we should aim to have a high standard for people (family, friends, colleagues, partners, etc.) we surround ourselves with. We absolutely need to be picky about it and should expect others to do the same.

It’s only right that we should seek the absolute best people given that life is finite and because our lives get exponentially better the more amazing people we surround ourselves with. It is truly one of those things where the returns increase with more inputs and compound on each other on a long time horizon.

But what is great” or amazing”? That depends on what purpose that other person serves in your life. And make no mistake that you, too, serve a purpose in other people’s lives, thus being high value is imperative if we want to be surrounded with other high value people.

If it’s your friends, do they truly support you in your endeavors? Do they raise your ambition? Do they make you want to be better? Do they keep it real with you and tell you things straight? Do they have your back when you’re down? Do they make you feel you belong? Do you have them for life?

If it’s your colleagues, do they challenge your thinking? Do they help you grow in your career? Do they make you want to bring your A-game? Do you trust their judgment? Do they truly want what’s best for the team and company? Do they want to win as bad as you do?

If it’s your partner, do they inspire you? Do they make you want to be a better person? Do they make life sweeter and more meaningful? Do they make you feel fortunate they chose you? Do they seem like good role models? Do they exemplify traits you wish your children would have? Does their existence alone make life worth living?

Life is meant to be lived in the company of amazing people.

If you can’t find any, ask yourself why, or go find them.

This is one of those challenges worth a lifetime to get right.


May 25, 2018