Eating more than you can lift

I grew up on Muppets. My childhood was filthy with ’em: Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and so forth—also weird errata like Jim Henson’s The Storyteller and The Dark Crystal. Somewhere around peak Muppet a small film called The Empire Strikes Back appeared, in which a green mystic Muppet dispensed Muppet wisdom. But Yoda was the second-wisest Muppet, after Miss Piggy.

I think often of Miss Piggy’s greatest insight, which was:

“Never eat more than you can lift.”

This is not dissimilar from the Macintosh’s introductory quip in 01984:

“Never trust a computer you can’t lift.”

The respect-for-people variation is:

“Never trust an idea you can’t lift.”

Well, that sounds nice, but…

What makes an idea liftable?

  • The idea has to be the right size for people to grapple with.
  • People need support
  • …and space to maneuver around and get a good grip.
  • People do one thing at a time.
  • It helps if it is something people can see and touch.

When presenting a new idea to someone, help them figure out how to lift it. Throwing a book or training at human beings and then shouting, “get back to work, but don’t lose a sense of urgency about this new stupid thing!” is not respectful to them, nor is it developing their skills and expertise.

One approach I’ve relying lately is carving time out of “training” or “workshops” or “staff development” to sit around and play games.[^n] This can be an easy, cheap way to give folks practice lifting an idea: finding its center of gravity, figuring out how to set it down without breaking anything, and thinking about exactly where and how new concepts might help them get their work done so they can go home on time and do whatever they please with their limited time on this miserable, rotating orb.

(If anyone would like a suggestion about what do with their free time, I recommend watching some of Jim Henson’s old Wilkins Coffee commercials.)