One of my favorite things about working at Adobe was the small library

Note: This was migrated from my old Medium blog. I have decided to migrate from Medium to WordPress, and I’ll write about the reasons why soon, stay tuned.

I worked at Adobe from 2002 to 2005. What I worked on is a topic for another time. But, one of my favorite things about working there was the library.

The opposite of a small library: shoutout to NYPL!

I haven’t been to the office since 2005, and it looks much spiffier now after the redesign. But, back in the day at least, there was a small library, maybe 20′ x 30′ or so, near the main cafeteria. It had a few hundred books related to the practices in use at the company — design, programming, marketing, etc. And it was an actual library where you could borrow books, with a part-time librarian, electronic card catalogue system and all.

I liked the library, first of all, because it wasn’t used that much. I barely remember seeing any other visitors in the 3 years I worked there. It was nice and quiet, and free from distraction. I would often duck in after lunch for 10–15 minutes just to get a mental breather from my workday.

I discovered a number of interesting books there, such as The Reconfigured Eye, which looks at the history of images, their “truth” and how digital technology changes all that. Also Stop Stealing Sheep and Find Out How Type Works, a very accessible introduction to typography and particular typefaces.

Steve Jobs, in his famous 2005 graduation speech at Stanford, discussed how he took a calligraphy class at Reed College, learned about and became fascinated with the history and visual power of good typography, and this experience directly influenced the type on the first Mac (and to this day). He didn’t go to Reed to learn about type, but it was a consequence of being there and being surrounded by its use on “every poster, every label on every drawer”.

I didn’t necessarily “learn” typography or design from the library, but it gave me a quiet space to explore my emerging interests, which I hold to this day, mostly as an armchair discusser of the subject on Twitter. And that’s why I still remember that room.

On Courtesy

Note: This was migrated from my old Medium blog. I have decided to migrate from Medium to WordPress, and I’ll write about the reasons why soon, stay tuned.

I fly a lot — nearly every weekend — for personal/family reasons. It’s expensive, tiring, and disruptive in many ways.

There are small consolations, though. For example, when you fly enough, you get status with the airlines. On United, that means sitting in Economy Plus at no extra charge. The extra room is nice — I can work on a laptop without feeling like I’m sitting inside the trash compactor from Star Wars:

It’s also nice when your fellow passengers are courteous and well-mannered. I generally keep to myself, so I don’t fault anyone else when they do the same. I also understand that people can be brusque when they are tired or preoccupied. On the other hand, small gestures of civility are appreciated too.

My fellow passenger on tonight’s flight exemplified this good karma approach. When I was boarding and arrived at my aisle, I had to do the “excuse me, but I’m sitting in the middle” interruption. Most people will stand up, move, and leave it at that. However, this fellow stood up, made clear eye contact, and gave a friendly smile and a slight nod. It was like saying, “Sure, welcome to your middle seat! Here, let me get out of your way for a sec. Don’t worry, it’s no bother at all.” but without any words.

Similarly, at the end of the flight, when the plane had arrived at the gate, the seatbelt signed had turned off and everybody had started collecting their things to leave, this fellow immediately stood up and asked if I had any bag in the overhead compartment that I needed. I said that I didn’t, but he asked the lady in the window seat as well. They went back and forth a few times trying to confirm which bag was hers, but ultimately he located it and brought it down for her.

Not only is this a nice gesture to your neighboring passengers, it’s also a strictly more efficient way to deplane. Less time is wasted as each person gets up out of his or her seat, enters the aisle, blocks the entire flow of foot traffic, dislodges a bag, then resumes exiting the aircraft. Clearly, this fellow knows a thing or two about both manners and improving processes.

It doesn’t really matter who this person was. It could have been Joe the accountant or Jane the retired marketer. Courtesy isn’t about who you are, but how you act and treat other people in the moment.

In this case, the person was Stewart Butterfield, of Slack and Flickr fame. The only reason I mention this is as a data point for all the other aspiring entrepreneurs out there. Some use Steve Jobs as justification to be jerks. Please don’t, it’s sophomoric and counterproductive. You will likely be more successful by spreading good karma to everyone you meet.

I originally wrote this in early 2016. 2017 will be remembered for many things, including the opposite lesson — being an assbag to your customers on camera is a great way to, well, look like an assbag instead of a leader:

Originally posted on 22 Jan 2016. Revised 8 Jan 2018.