Some people are toxic avoid them.

In his talk, Ten Things I Have Learned, Milton Glaser hands down a list of axioms he earned through an amazing, life-long career in design. I recently rediscovered this document after it sat in a folder marked “save” for a few years. Instead of leaving it there, I thought I’d share these “ten things” and add my own wooden nickel.

If Milton’s third axiom was an emoji it would be the Mr. Yuck sticker because there’s no symbol for the word toxic. “Nauseated Face” is the closest but that describes just one of several feelings or emotions that we suffer from having to deal with toxic people. Anger, disbelief, disappointment, and resentment are but a few responses to toxic people, but there is only one response to their behavior.

03/10 — Some people are toxic avoid them.

This is a subtext of number one. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. and the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energized or less energized. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. if you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

I love Milton’s test, it’s simple and leaves little room for misinterpretation of the results. After suffering the company of several narcissists (from family to friends to co-workers) over the years I have zero patience and time for toxic relationships. And neither should you if you’re able.

In my coaching practice, the subject of a toxic employee comes up at least once per year. However, not every instance would have been so easily tested using Milton’s method due to a person’s lack of required interaction with co-workers spending the time instead on seeding gossip and spreading rumors. These are the subtle actions of a toxic person who has yet to be unmasked.

Anytime I sense a hint of toxicity when working with leaders my advice is always to get rid of that person immediately, without hesitation. Because like a poisonous cloud the toxicity expands and will negatively impact more and more people and eventually a company’s operations and capacity to function. I share this perspective confidently by scars I earned from doing what I could to avoid confronting toxic people which led to reduced morale, productivity, profitability, and eventually the loss of remarkable talent. Toxic people are devastating to culture.

You might be thinking, hey why not talk to them first and give them a chance to redeem themselves? And that’s what I used to think and tried a few times. Unfortunately, I don’t believe toxic people have the necessary self-awareness that can enable these people to turn themselves around. When trying to confront toxic people they are in a state of disbelief and project fault onto others or circumstances not under their control. I’ve seen it time and time and time again. The pattern is real.

So, I would add to Milton’s thought. Some people are toxic avoid and fire them immediately. Ain’t nobody have time that.


If you have a choice never have a job.

In his talk, Ten Things I Have Learned, Milton Glaser hands down a list of axioms he earned through an amazing, life-long career in design. I recently rediscovered this document after it sat in a folder marked “save” for a few years. Instead of leaving it there, I thought I’d share these “ten things” and add my own two cents, or this case seven dollars and forty-two cents.

Milton’s second thought is a dooo-hooo-hooo-hooozy. And every time I read it (and I’ve re-read it several times already this morning) I can feel an energy climb up my spine—standing the hairs on my neck straight up. Like the energy of one hundred Liam Neesons skits. Oh baby, I can feel the force! I’m in a coffee shop right now so I have to contain myself, but I could totally flip over every table in this place if I was okay spending quality time in front of a police bodycam or two. Alright, let’s get at it, Milton writes:

02/10 — If you have a choice never have a job

One night I was sitting in my car outside Columbia University where my wife Shirley was studying anthropology. While I was waiting I was listening to the radio and heard an interviewer ask, ‘Now that you have reached 75 have you any advice for our audience about how to prepare for your old age?’ an irritated voice said ‘Why is everyone asking me about old age these days?’ I recognized the voice as John Cage. I am sure that many of you know who he was—the composer and philosopher who influenced people like Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham as well as the music world in general. I knew him slightly and admired his contribution to our times. ‘You know, I do know how to prepare for old age’ he said. ‘Never have a job, because if you have a job someday someone will take it away from you and then you will be unprepared for your old age. For me, it has always been the same every since the age of 12. I wake up in the morning and I try to figure out how am I going to put bread on the table today? It is the same at 75, I wake up every morning and I think how am I going to put bread on the table today? I am exceedingly well prepared for my old age’ he said.

Ok, now I know where my faux rage from earlier in this post came from—the decimation of tens and tens of thousands of jobs in the last sixteen months! The companies that threw people at pandemic-induced pivots unceremoniously kicked to the curb once the masks came off due to extremely poor leadership driven by a black hole of vision, strategy, and an imperial inch of foresight.

“Never have a job, because if you have a job someone will take it away from you” gets a ‘ding-ding-ding’ from this author. Spot on. Direct hit. If I may add to John Cage’s thought, not only will they take your job away, but your dignity too. Unfortunately, I speak from experience but after years of reflecting I’m grateful for those horrible moments in my career because they have prepared me for the future. I have gained more maturity to know what I don’t want if I can avoid it, and that’s a job. Yet, I might have to—no matter how you live, eventually, money is a requirement—but I’m hoping that I won’t ever be assigned another employee identification number or a security badge.

The last sixteen months have been spent ideating, validating problems, and starting small initiatives to put things out there and see what sticks. I don’t want another job, I want to stick out the rough times and start a small quiver of tiny companies. And I hope you, my friends, don’t have to either. This is exactly why I’ve started Jump Ship! with Ryan Rumsey. We want everyone to go into business for themselves, especially our peers in the tech industry who can be, and have been, tossed aside via video chat despite any loyalty and contributions you made.

I don’t want 100% of my revenue to come from a single source whether it's from full-time employment or a single client. I want to wake up and know that I have several ways to put bread on my table. And in doing so, I can provide many types of services (maybe one-day products!) that line up with my unique expertise, and interests, and, more importantly, allow me to collaborate with friends.

Though it’s not a priority or a life goal, if I am ever going to put a dent in the universe, it’s going to be in the job market. I hope one day you can do the same.


Three dot bomb.

Received this morning via LinkedIn InMail (Ok, look, I don’t understand LinkedIn’s use of camel case when their logo is set in lowercase. Classic bi-polar, indecisive leadership. Anyhoo):

Hi Greg, I'm the COO at Planet Theta, the world's first virtual reality dating app. We're revolutionizing the dating industry, prioritizing convenience and women's safety. Featured in The Today Show, Forbes, CNBC, BBC, and Vice, we're projecting $22.8M in revenue by June 2026. With AI-driven personalized experiences, we gather valuable marketing data.

A few thoughts:

  1. Ew, gross.
  2. I highly doubt they’re revolutionizing anything, but I’m sure Meta appreciates that they found another use for their headset. I imagine the growing catalog of virtual experiences is going to resemble the Google Play store filled with a plethora of crap.
  3. Prioritizing women’s safety is admirable and I am all for it but is it number two on the list? And how does VR protect against types of safety issues like verbal abuse and assault?
  4. And, I fail to understand how this is convenient to women because any dudes who have a VR headset are likely not highly qualified candidates for dating, virtual or otherwise. They are highly likely to either be single and weird or married (and also weird).
  5. Nobody cares if this was “featured” in the media anymore. I don’t believe that any of these companies validated that you’re awesome but instead just needed to fill air time. I would have preferred to watch a dog on a surfboard.
  6. $22.8M in revenue for a company with a website that doesn’t have a product to buy? Is it possible some dot-com douchebag fell into a coma in 1999, woke up in 2023, and is using their old playbook? This figure reminds me of when DivX reported $60M in revenue but most of it came from a revenue stream they didn’t discuss publicly: digitizing porn for online streaming. This has a similar, creepy vibe.
  7. Normally I would throw up in my mouth a little about now, but I took a Pepcid after breakfast and it's working.
  8. “With AI-driven personalized experiences, we gather valuable marketing data.” Oh great! So, they say they are concerned about women’s safety but they’re going to use AI in all the worst, unethical ways. Yeah, this is going to work out really great. Speaking in doge: Women much safe.
  9. Note to self, I need to remove the word “investor” from my LinkedIn profile. It’s just a magnet for bullshit. I wanted to be like the other cool kids and I should have known better. Or, maybe I leave it to attract fodder for more posts like this.

I seriously hope this product never sees the light of day and the people behind it go back to slinging instant hashbrowns at a Waffle House.


Come sit on the left with me, and help me stay there.

This post is for everyone who makes things no matter what it is that you make. Clicking through my RSS feeds, I came across the story of Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida who once divided his class into two groups and got two very different outcomes from each (and no, this is not that story). In this tale, the outcomes aren’t as interesting as much as what led to them.

There are many sources for this tale but I’ll choose this one by Austin Kleon. Also, keep in mind this story takes place long before the iPhone or digital photography.

On the first day of class, Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida, divided his film photography students into two groups.

Everyone on the left side of the classroom, he explained, would be in the “quantity” group. They would be graded solely on the amount of work they produced. On the final day of class, he would tally the number of photos submitted by each student. One hundred photos would rate an A, ninety photos a B, eighty photos a C, and so on.

Meanwhile, everyone on the right side of the room would be in the “quality” group. They would be graded only on the excellence of their work. They would only need to produce one photo during the semester but to get an A, it had to be a nearly perfect image.

I like the story thus far, but wouldn’t it be way more cool if instead of the perfect photo it was the perfect bank heist or drug deal? Imagine a new season of The Wire with two gangs taking an entirely different approach to netting out the same EOY revenue result. Anyway…

At the end of the term, he was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the “quantity” group. During the semester, these students were busy taking photos, experimenting with composition and lighting, testing out various methods in the darkroom, and learning from their mistakes. In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they honed their skills. Meanwhile, the quality group sat around speculating about perfection. In the end, they had little to show for their efforts other than unverified theories and one mediocre photo.

If you don’t immediately feel inspired to go make one hundred of whatever you like to make then you may want to consult a physician—Blood thinners are likely in your future.

I’ve been in both groups and looking back at the time when I produced more than I tinkered or thought about what I wanted to make. Sitting on the left side of the classroom so-to-speak, not only did I get a lot done, but I was a lot happier than any time I’ve sat on the right side. And when I sit too long on the right, I also tend not to create much at all which leads to creating nothing at all.

I don’t want to sit on the right side again, and I hope you all will slap me upside the head if you find me over there in the future.


You can only work for people that you like.

In his talk, Ten Things I Have Learned, Milton Glaser hands down a list of axioms he earned through an amazing, life-long career in design. I recently rediscovered this document after it sat in a folder marked “save” for a few years. Instead of leaving it there I thought I’d share these “ten things” and add my own two-cents, maybe even a whole dollar.

So, here we go with Milton's first thought (more to follow):

01/10 — You can only work for people that you like.

This is a curious rule and it took me a long time to learn because in fact at the beginning of my practice I felt the opposite. Professionalism required that you didn’t particularly like the people that you worked for or at least maintained an arms length relationship to them, which meant that I never had lunch with a client or saw them socially. Then some years ago I realized that the opposite was true. I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle.

During the formative years of Airbag as a design studio, many of our clients were fans of Airbag the blog. Our work was not representative of what I wrote about. That would have been an amazing cornucopia of client curiosities. Instead, we worked with people who were drawn to the tone and style I used to write in for many years (obviously that changed as I added employees who drew their own ‘audience’). Our culture was strong and it noticeably changed when we started to sign more and more clients who knew nothing about me or Airbag the blog. And, like Milton shares, the work grew more difficult because we didn’t have a relationship between us and our clients outside of the work itself. 

When I moved out of client services and into the Enterprise that feeling did not go away. It got worse the more distant I got from designers and the folks they were working for or with. During those times, my happiest memories and the work I am the most proud of have a direct correlation with the the type of relationship that I had with the people involved. And though I am a relationship guy, a diplomatic leader as Peter would say, it’s still not always possible to forge the type of relationship that Milton talks about, and it’s completely out of your control.

After ten years of being a partner and an employee at companies of all range in scale, from boutique studio to global enterprise, I made two decisions:

  1. I’m never going to work with or for someone who is not self-aware of their bullshit or refuses to get professional help for said bullshit.
  2. I am going to work with the people I want to work with because they mean something to me, no matter what we’re working on.

This is all still in prototype, as they say, but I’d rather go down with the ship surrounded by people I have affection for than any other way. To some extent I can work on anything as long as I’m working with people I care about and visa versa.