Hi. I'm Ken Zinser. I do projects, and this is my blog.

Permission to make mistakes

To err is human, to forgive divine. Or something like that.

But what if the thing you think is an error isn’t considered a mistake by others? Without the closure of forgiveness, you’re left to deal with feelings of self-doubt and remorse.

To forgive yourself divine.

Everyone should be given the opportunity to learn from their actions.

Everyone is allowed to wish they did things differently. The danger comes from dwelling too long.

Navigating change

How do you deal with constant change? How do you stay motivated and grounded?

Write it down. In as few places as necessary. If you can build good note taking and personal documentation practices, you’ll carry valuable knowledge through those changes.

Work in the open. Share your workspace with your whole team, avoid keeping things siloed from others. If your team is sharing knowledge by default, then your notes have even greater context.

Build relationships. Find your allies, your champions. Find your friends. Make connections deeper than the work at hand to build collective resilience. You’ll need those relationships to weather the most difficult changes.

Know your motivation. Figure out why you do what you do. Intrinsic and extrinsic. Scrutinize your reason for being where you are, poke holes in it, cut to the core. It’s your compass. Know thyself, or something like that.

Draw your boundaries. You have information. You have relationships. You have your motivation. Now set a threshold, a limit, a milestone for how much and what kind of changes you’re willing to tolerate. Give yourself a concrete measure. And be okay if or when you hit it. It doesn’t mean you need to take drastic actions right away, but it tells you where you’re at. It’s a check engine light, or a gas light in your car.

Leaving a good impression

I was standing at the corner of a busy intersection, waiting to cross the street, on my way home after work. A bus pulled up next to me and stopped for the red light. Nothing out of the ordinary —As a city boy I’m used to cohabitating with buses. Except the bus driver opened his door and twisted over in his seat to flag me down.

I turned towards the driver, pulled the headphone out of my left ear, and leaned in to give him my attention. My brain put the pieces together a split second after.

“Hey, I used to pick you up in the mornings,” he said. “It’s been awhile, I just wanted to say Hi.”

We chatted for all of thirty seconds — however long before the traffic lights changed. I told him how I had to start getting to work earlier. He told me how he had to start working evenings. Neither of us liked waking up early.

Small talk at the top of your lungs.

“Who is that?” Sarah asked in my right ear. I told her it’s the guy who drove my route to work every morning. “Aw, that’s cute.”

I still think about the time he waved at me to hop on the bus while he was stopped in traffic. He recognized me, and had probably seen me running to catch the bus before, and knew that I wouldn’t have made it to the bus stop before he got there. I wish I had told him in that moment.

It’s nice to be familiar with people. To leave an impression positive enough to make someone say Hi.

Conflict vs. confusion

In a messy, collaborative situation with lots of different people with differing opinions, you need to figure out whether you’re dealing with a true conflict of values and priorities; or just experiencing symptoms of confusion.

They’re both risks to any successful collaboration. Conflict grinds systems down and brings movement to a halt. Confusion obscures purpose and misdirects resources until you no longer know where you are.

To squash confusion, create a brave space. Too aggressive and you risk spooking people back into silence. In the real world it’s perfectly normal to be confused. About a project, or a question, or an acronym. Help people feel comfortable vocalizing what they don’t know, what’s keeping them up at night.

To tackle conflict, cut to the chase. Strike a tone that is assertive, not aggressive. Ask people directly: what do you want? If we handle this your way, how will the world be different? Why is that so important? And who is going to make it happen?

Scales and pendulums

Music is just scales.

Back and forth and back and forth. A pendulum, sequential patterns of sounds.

Creativity, writing, outlining is similar.

Start where it makes sense. Drill down, drill back, add detail, make groups. Diverge, converge. Until you arrive at the right level of detail.

Nero days

I like the metaphor of hiking. I think it strikes a balance of ambition and compassion. Hiking may stir connotations of privilege, but it’s generally accessible and not thought of as an overly aggressive or destructive activity. It’s widely understood, something easy to visualize, and applicable in a variety of contexts.

I went down a deep rabbit hole one day, looking up terms and taxonomies related to hiking and mountaineering. I was originally interested in finding semantic descriptors of complexity. The “small-medium-large” equivalent of difficulty or intensity. The word “strenuous” came to mind, like when a hiking trail is labeled “moderately strenuous.”

I felt good about this scale:

Easy, Moderate, Moderately Strenuous, Strenuous, Very Strenuous.

This is the rest of what I dug up:

Backcountry, Bushwhacking, Camp, Crest, Herd Path, MPD, Orienteering, Path of Least Resistamce, Destination, Trailhead, Switchback, Ridge, Ridgeline, Route, Marker, Ascent, Descent, Elevation Gain, Vista, Viewpoint, Trek, Fork, Loop, uphill, downhill, Terrain, landscape , Detour, Approach, Backpacking vs Daytrip, Campfire, Backpack, map, compass, North Star, Daypack, Guidebook, Route description, Itinerary, gear, field guide or interpretive field guide, binoculars, journal, star chart , supply, provisions, thru-hiking, crest, embark, obstacle, peak, basin, valley, expedition, blaze, white blaze, blue blaze, yellow blaze, trail magic, zero day, Nero day, permits and passes, base camp, summit, trail distance, elevation gain, trail condition, miles per day, pace, point (role), ranger, angel, hiker, Sweep, conservationist, firefighter, outdoor guide

Be meticulous

To be meticulous is to leave something behind for others to find and benefit from.

We all scoff and smirk at the idiosyncrasies of the nerdy kid in every Wes Anderson movie. The neatly written note in the perfectly square shot of the notebook.

But later on they will be the ones who benefit from meticulously documenting their interests and experiences.

They’re the ones who go on to shape perceptions of history. Because they’re the ones who have stuck in your mind. The ones you remember.

Write it down

Language is what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. Specifically, written language is the most defining characteristic.

Written language represents a way to transfer knowledge and understanding between individuals, communities, generations. It’s how we go from small groups telling stories around a fire to cities and civilizations living together in relative peace and harmony.


Fast way, way forward: Writing has become a valuable skill differentiating me from others. I write notes. Meeting notes. Project notes. I collect and organize written information so that other people have a record, a history, of otherwise invisible social and commercial workflows.

I ask people if it’s written down somewhere. It could just be my environment, but it’s rarely written down.

So I tell people to just write it down. Whatever it is.

It used to be that my focus was on visual organization and communication of information. Then I focused on templates, making it easy for other people to visually organize and communicate their information. Then it was about documenting and organizing knowledge. Now it’s about helping others turn information into knowledge.

What does it look like to turn knowledge into wisdom? Is there a role or profession that does that?

It would help to define these terms. Information is data, facts. Knowledge incorporates relevant context. Wisdom is…


Sometimes it seems like all I do is gather and organize information. There’s a huge space between the end of someone’s personal notes and the start of an epidemiologist collecting structured data. I operate almost exclusively in that gap. Bridging the divide between an individual’s idea and an institution’s knowledge. But to be meticulous is to till the soil and give people and organizations and communities a stronger footing to move forward.