Andrew Witt — Letting Ideas Grow
Simplify your life. Do less, better.



Harvard University's Andrew Witt on the power of ruminating ideas, understanding complex problems, curating signals, geometric simplicity, introspective automation, and finding time for reflection.

Andrew Witt is co-founder, with Tobias Nolte, of Certain Measures, a Boston/Berlin-based office for design futures and an Associate Professor in Practice of Architecture at Harvard University. Trained as both an architect and mathematician, he has a particular interest in a technically synthetic and logically rigorous approach to form. His work has been shown at the Centre Pompidou, Barbican Centre, Futurium, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, among others.


Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn and Certain Measures.


Favorite quotes

  • "When you are eighty, you can look back and see, That's the body of work that I put into the world."
  • "I try not to look at other people's work as much as possible and, partially, it is to force myself to create in a very particular way but also not to create false expectation of speed and expediency and immediate demand which can be super corrosive, especially if you want to nurture something that's going to be durable."
  • "There will be certain moments when you feel like, Okay. This was well done. This is something that I put into the world and is good."
  • "Our whole understanding of what it means to create something which is successful is about creating things which are frictionless and can be distributed as easily as possible through market channels. It's all about this process of consumption."
  • "There's this moment where you see the waves moving away from you towards the horizon. In its very basic way, it's only the water and sky that are around you."

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People mentioned


Episode notes

  • Introduction. [0:00]
  • Part 1 — Career, ideas, and geometry. [1:04]
  • Certain Measures vs. Harvard. [3:33]
  • Stitching ideas. [8:27]
  • Letting ideas grow. [13:58]
  • Where good ideas come from. [15:23]
  • Mapping super-high dimensional spaces. [18:04]
  • Mapping projects. [21:21]
  • Big data. [22:33]
  • A geometrical challenge. [26:25]
  • Geometric simplicity. [28:25]
  • Simple and intuitive. [31:02]
  • Part 2 — Life, creativity, and the end game. [33:07]
  • Daily habits. [33:17]
  • Reflecting away from the screen. [35:26]
  • Commute and time for reflection. [36:02]
  • Marginalia, being a generous reader - When (and how) Andrew catches up with news and media, and being a "generous" a reader. [36:40]
  • Indexing ideas when reading. [37:11]
  • Creativity. [38:33]
  • Types of ideas. [39:49]
  • Practicing seeing - Deliberate practice and sketching. [41:29]
  • Curating signals - Monastic tendency toward projects, notifications, and social media. [42:00]
  • Scripting email - A better way to work with email using Gmail's API and visualize your interactions with others. [43:33]
  • A customized journal - Automating frequent workflows, quantifying yourself, and the costs of task-switching. [44:49]
  • Time tracking. [46:03]
  • Digital organization. [46:38]
  • Quantified self - "What's driving you to do certain kinds of things?" When is it helpful, or revealing, to track your stuff in order to make decisions. [47:39]
  • Analyzing your writing - And acting on tracked data. [48:55]
  • Swimming. [51:04]
  • A happy moment - "Something that may last longer than your efforts has happened." [53:12]
  • An influential person - "There can be a deep power in returning to certain ideas and mining them for new possibilities over years or decades." [55:46]
  • The end game - "When you are eighty, you can look back and see, 'That's the body of work that I put into the world.'" [57:49]
  • Connect with Andrew. [59:46]
  • Spreadsheet of goals. [1:00:21]
  • (Not) looking at other people's work. [1:02:03]
  • Outro. [1:03:28]

Thanks for listening!


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Theme song Sleep by Steve Combs, under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US.

September 27, 2019

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