Don’t Create A Leaning Ledge

What were they thinking?

I’m sure you’ve had the occasion to use the phrase “What were they thinking” or how about, “You only had one job.” Have you ever said that? We say such things as we experience something so seemingly ridiculous that we are unable to conceive how anyone could ever create what we are seeing, hearing or experiencing.

Metro-North is the commuter train that runs to New York City’s northern suburbs. When the trains were upgraded a few years ago the ledges at the end of the carriages were redesigned. The old design was flat and as a result they were great places to rest your coffee whilst reading a book or fumbling through your belongings. The new design, which was meant to be an improvement, was now leaning. A leaning ledge, it is impossible to rest a coffee cup on a leaning ledge, it’s almost impossible to rest anything on a leaning ledge.


In his book Skin in the Game, Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggests that this new improved ledge was probably designed by a non-commuter or at least one that didn’t read books and drink coffee on their daily journey. Otherwise, “What were they thinking?

Taleb’s point is that to truly appreciate something, to rightly know how something will work and what impact it will have on those who experience it, I have to have ownership. “Skin in the game,” as he calls it. I need empathy with everyone for whom my creation is designed. This is not just a matter of “putting myself in their shoes,” it is me actually experiencing the thing in my shoes, it has to matter to me, I have to feel it.

This has made me realise that I need to position myself a little closer to the things which I create. I need to have real-time feedback and real-life feedback. I need to know how it feels on the other side of me, on the other side of my creations. When I am too removed from the impact of what I do, my work drifts toward complexity and in my experience that doesn’t help anyone, including me.

So I’m taking stock, I’m asking for feedback, I’m using mystery shoppers. You could say, I’m moving closer, I’m leaning in, I’m experiencing first hand what it’s like to hear me, read me and follow me etc. and I think that it’s helping.

I’ve no desire to create a leaning ledge and neither have you. I don’t want anyone to say, “What was he thinking,” or worse “He only had one job.”

So when you create, experience your creations first-hand. Get real-time feedback. Ask for help. Your followers, clients and friends will all be grateful. Don’t create a leaning ledge.