Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This is a candid shot—(do you see many of those these days? I feel like they are rarer now that we have instant editing and ‘film’ is cheap)—that Akira took while Kush (left) and I (right) were mesmerized by our first foray to Riverside. I’d heard about it. Designer lattes and glass walls, art galleries and fancy boutique hotels and fine cuisine. Yes, “cuisine.” That’s what it would be called. Not just food or street food or “cart food” like K, a DJ from Asheville I met in Bangkok, referred to our usual 35-baht-a-meal (roughly $1) meal of choice.
It still more or less is about $1 per person per meal for us, as we are not here on vacation, after all. You might think so, to look at us. Zipping around on the tuk-tuk, splurging for the day because the heat is boiling and you want to be careful when you know, you have a kid in tow.
The road and the education conundrum
“What are you going to do about school?” a lot of concerned-looking parents ask. In India, it was a neighbor whom I’m not sure is loved or hated, owing to all the gossip I’ve heard her speak and others speak about her (India is best avoided, IMHO, but perhaps I’m too near and dear to the place because I look Indian and no matter how many times I say, I’m from Michigan, people still think I eat curry for every meal).
“Education is his right,” she said, moving me in to the territory of don’t need to know this person from my earlier, more neutral and open stance of let’s see who this person is and what I can learn. No. The idea that I’m denying my son a basic “right” is just too below the belt for me. I’d been thinking about it, though, all the last few months, and that culminated in this post about educating my son that I did for Medium. Please check it out if you’re on that site. I’d love more people to see it, and not just the hard core homeschooling and unschooling crowd, which feels a bit too “leftist,” to borrow a metaphor, for me.
Truth is, we are learning and discovering a new country. Together. My new photoblog is up, at Kismuth, which means “destiny.”
Cambodia is new for all three of us. It’s good for the spirit to refine the lines, for us, for just this bit. Will I spring $3 for sushi sometime? Don’t know. It depends on how we fare. Arrival’s been fantastic.
“Rest,” as my grandmother would’ve said if she were watching this unfold, “is up to God.”
What do you think? Would you take your kid and business on the road?
Good morning from the border town of Aranyaprathet. On the Thailand side, just before we head into Cambodia.
It’s immensely bright today.
It’s quiet. The room is clean. The hot water works. There is a giant table that reminds me of the one we used to have in Seattle at Kornerhaus, back in the day I thought we would be working together in that city for the rest of our lives. As much as I loved living on 20th Avenue in Capitol Hill, mere steps from my favorite small theatre in the world (Washington Ensemble, of course, though they tended to veer towards the melancholy), I am happy to be here. On the other side of the world. In more ways than one might imagine, that’s how it feels.
Here are some of the ways things are different. No one is going to meet me for coffee today, which means of course that I’m totally an unknown quantity here. A little lonely but that’s okay. I’ve adjusted to this. (It was pretty cool to have a Designer’s Korner event in Bangkok, though, when Narisa Spaulding joined us at the House of Beers for our Belgian beer and doodling standing date that used to be at Stumbling Monk.) Strange that no one all these last ten months has known me in some deeper way than smalltalk and chance encounters.
But then again, no one is going to flake on coffee or lunch or whatever, either, something that I found out the hard way wasn’t just confined to Seattle culture, after returning to my hometown on the East Coast. I blame it on cell phones. It’s so easy to change it up on the fly. Part of why I don’t have one.
I am the kind of person who does what I say I’m going to do, so the feeling of making stuff tentatively tentative most of the time makes me feel kind of frenetic. I like knowing stuff, for sure. I think being “busy” is just an excuse for not knowing how to prioritize the important things. Time with friends and family, for example. I’ll go into this a bit more, but when we’re at the end of our lives, are we really going to think about what a great job we did at the office? Sure, I am into efficiency, too. Getting it done. Having it all clear and organized and squared away. But of course, that another thing you can’t have on the road. No one knows anything for sure.
Nostalgia, loss, and gain
Maybe that’s why it’s starting to feel okay.
Not having our own everything, including a table with solid, generous surface area on which to spread out paper, books, notebooks, hats, a coil for mosquito-zapping, the eyedrops for my corneal inflammation they gave me in Chiang Mai, and a passport bag, a book about Winnie the Pooh (that’s the blue book, my son’s), and the hairbrush I still have from 10 years ago. A thing that lasts and still works. A good thing. Quality.
This guesthouse isn’t even anything like I was expecting, given all the stories about Cambodia and border towns. And my expectations were pretty low after the Banbasa tour that was mostly just scratching away at my dusty eyes, and wondering if there would be an end to the overnight buses that started in Kathmandu and would end in Chandigarh, before a five-hour drive to the other border of India, over there by Pakistan, in Preetnagar. (See this video about the village we stayed in with the lovely family who run the Punjabi-language Preetlarhi magazine.)
One kind of ending is another beginning
Mostly, it’s feeling normal. The no longer having things that are part of your usual routine. Just a few, choice things. Extra suitcases get left behind. You start to feel like maybe it’s okay. That what really counts isn’t all the trappings of a modern life, trapping us in our thinking. It’s more important to let go a little, if it’s possible, and that might take 10 months on the road to unwind.
But it’s going to be worth it. If the feeling of lightness in my heart and the anticipation of what’s ahead with joy is any indication, it will. The big secret is close. The one that’s around the corner. Every turn has revealed something beautiful that you couldn’t have known about, people you wouldn’t have ever met who share their hearts, and whom you miss immensely when the parting moment has to come. The big secret is looming. The one that’s in your own self. That says, I have it. Everything I could ever need or want to ever be.
Letting go to find center, and trusting the process.
Being here on the road in Southeast Asia and in India and Nepal, too, I’m changed. Of course.
Traveling for this long and this far from “home,” well, it feels like a foreshadowing of death. When I die, no one will be right next to me to talk to. I’ll probably think back on the good times, the good memories, the bright spots, and maybe have some regrets about things not said or things said too strongly, or taking something personally that was another person’s deal.
Except, I’m not there yet, at the end. Feels like a new lease on life. Taking stock is a good idea.
Unlike my immigrant parents, who tried so hard to convince me to follow them in pursuit of an American Dream, acquiring “stuff” and “status” isn’t what’s important to me, and to my little trio. I have the lads right here with me. Knowing them uniquely and sharing deeply is what matters.
I have some stuff, sure. A few favorite dresses. Flatland. The essentials of paperwork and documents and a few unnecessary bits, too. But I’m learning as we go. What counts is us, our beings, not the things we take around.
Our first-ever zine-making workshop: at Brainergy Schoolhouse in Chaing Mai, Thailand.
Cutting. Pasting. Collaging.
My favorite activity in the world that has to do with making and doing is zinery.
Little books that you can create, on your own, with words, pictures, and imagination.
“Wait! Where’s the advertising?” said one guest, who was half-kidding. Still, the idea that you expect to be sold to when you pick up a printed (or collaged piece of art that’s been photocopied, in the case of zines) is a little disconcerting to me. I believe in the idea of exploring to find something new, something that comes from within, and the workshops that we are *just* starting to create and deliver now while we are in Asia and still experimenting with the process of trusting the process, if that’s not meta I don’t know what is, has begun to begin.
Design Kompany exists to make space for exploration, play, and learning by doing. It’s not about to-down esoteric concepting that you see from giant ad houses that want you to buy what they say is cool. (Think Mad Men.) For us, real design is about stirring up the unique and authentic that’s already there, within, and creating a forum to discover, articulate, and express that through visuals and words.
In the past, this has been mostly brand identity designs, so logos and brochures and business cards. Expressing the story. But now, we’re moving towards more experience-making spaces. More workshops, that are lighter but still very much rooted in DK’s core philosophy: trust the process.
Get lost a little to find center. The locus might not be where you think. Saving time in life by learning what’s important to us, and what makes us who we are, that’s big.
Came across this on tumblr:
“Sometimes people ask me, “If I realize that I as a separate identity don’t really exist as I thought I did, then who is going to live this life?” Once you touch upon this radiant heart of emptiness, then you know what is living this life, what has always lived it, and what is going to live it from this moment on. You realize that you are not living this life; this radiant heart is what is actually living this life—along with this radiant, empty mind. When you give up being who you thought you were and let yourself be who you really are, then this radiant heart lives your life. Then no-thingness becomes your reality, and nondual awareness is what you are.” Adyashanti (via lazyyogi)
How it felt to consider a thing, that is, started with the visuals.
You approached a brand, for example, like you would a person. If they happen to be good-looking, you think, “Yeah, they’re probably good at what they do.” (See “halo effect.”)
The present and future of media, journalism, art and design (and yes, that’s a lot)
Truth is, though, that in the new era (and who really knows when it changed over to “new”) of media and conversation and branding and design, the first impressions are hardly those of a brand’s look.
Sure, they’re important. You want to see clean design that confirms your ideas about a thing, person, idea, or service that purports to be professional. In order to imbue trust, you want a brand identity that matches a perceived value of class, taste, quality and reliability. But here’s the thing. Great design is now a given. If you don’t have it, you’re going to be overlooked.
There are way too many other people, too many colors, sizes, shapes, snazzy presentations, clever tweets and pithy, agonized-over Facebook updates to be bothered about someone who has ONLY a pretty face.
I’m talking about noise.
My least-favorite thing, ever.
I’ve been talking a lot about this, this being the way it feels to talk about “branding” not as logo design anymore (that was 2006 and before) but about a way of being. Authenticity was the buzzword for a couple of years there, and that was right, but not enough. It’s more than that. It’s a total package.
It’s about being Human.
A human heart and hand have to be part of a brand or you’ll soon throw it out the window because it’s more plastic, made-in-China, faceless, nameless, giant and cumbersome and electronic or not messes of stuff. Stuff isn’t what we’re needing. Read on to find out what is. (And: the picture above will make sense then.)
Yes, all this stuff I’m talking about today, mostly to myself, because you do that when you are on the road for a long time and “practicing the unknown, uncertain and different” through a wacky but deeply confidence-testing project Orangutan Swing (thank you, Akira, for bringing me into this box of putty, where there aren’t any surefire corners, and where the things that emerge are sometimes troubling, but sometimes eye-popping epiphany-making stuff.)
Didn’t really know that we could manage eight months on the road like this without much going on at our DK office, which went virtual in 2008, the same year we had our son. Cashflow issues set in, immediately. So we had to improvise, even back then. More workshops, like this one for University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on design thinking. More creative thinking kinds of projects. Roundtable designing. Events. Even merchandise (but that wasn’t long-lived).
Everything changes when you have a kid, they say, and “they” are totally right. Striking a chord between what we wanted Design Kompany to become, and what we knew we could offer, required taking time to think clearly once our son got old enough to walk around on his own. That was 2013, the year we left, metaphorical notebooks open and ready to report on the things we’ve found in the world.
So we made it “Asia.” Then, “South and Southeast Asia,” Then, four cities:
Durham (okay, this is the outlier)
Trying to build conversation spaces out of thin air. The work of not just design thinking—look for the unknowns in the places you’d never imagine them—but also of dialogue-making. Journalism meets design when you try to find unique sources. Art happens when you can connect people in a way that makes them talk not just through a conduit (say, Big Media, or advertisement-driven Facebook), but in a space that feels safe, comfortable, and inviting. A space that has to be, for all intensive purposes, designed. That sounds hokey, but in these eight months, it’s been a real fascinating thing to watch it happen. Go somewhere new. Meet people. Find out what’s going on. Look for the story. Create a theme. Invite. Make up a circle. And then, the conversation begins. The conversation that happens from one person to another, but not in the way we’re used to when we go to School and have our Desks in Rows. Nope. We’re circle people here.
Chords. Chords of conversations across the circle.
That’s the magic.
And, if you want to know a secret, it’s where we find out we’re not really so very much different. Or alone. Or in need of something to buy to fill up our hearts, or make something happen that will give us meaning. The conversations ARE the meaning. The so-called village, the one it takes to raise a little child, the one I swore I’d go in search of because, by God, being a new mother and trying to run a, well, I’ll call a spade a spade, a “lifestyle business,” wasn’t exactly a cake walk. Add to that your co-parent is your business partner, and your mother thinks you should “get back to reality” because art-making is a giant waste of time.
You don’t get much help from the ones who don’t see it, though.
I’m typing this post in a 80-year-old village, 10 km from India-Pakistan border in Indian state of Punjab. The house I’m staying in is as old, but kept in good order, with minimal clutter. The interior, though dimly lit, has a spacious, comfortable feel. On the walls are artworks by the owner’s daughter, an upo-and-coming printer. The twilight sun illuminates the somewhat faded, white walls in gold.
A man, of Punjabi origin and educated in America to be an engineer of the modern India, purchased 175 acres of this land with a vision of artists and writers from all over to come and experience Punjabi cultures, and learn from each other. A community of love, respect for one another, and culture. There would be residences filled with books and art. A common kitchen would feed everyone. An activity-based school. Community theater in public spaces.
Gurbakhsh Singh, the founder, started a magazine, Preet Lari, in Punjabi language, to revive and nurture the indigenous culture, and named his village Preet Nagar. Singh became a master writer of Punjabi language. People gathered around his vision, from Lahore, Amritsar, and beyond. A community was born.
Then, in 1947, India was split, in exchange for its independence.
As it sat practically on the border of the two new nations, in conflict from their births, Preet Nagar suffered a great deal of indignity. Many residents moved away. Facilities decayed. New, not so respectable members—smugglers, religious fundamentalists, petty criminals—moved in. Some family members and the community members, including Sumeet Singh, a grandson of the founder and then the young upcoming editor-in-chief, fell to random, fanatical acts of violence.
But Poonam Singh, the suddenly-widowed editor, did not lose sight of the hope and idealism that the community was founded on. Today, Preet Lari, its community, and its spirit are well and alive under her helm, though smaller, and more spread-out, and perhaps more modern feminist, than originally conceived. And it’s mounting a major comeback.
I just sent a giant email about blogging to our Learning Tribe. In it, basically, I told our members to start, if they haven’t, one thing, today: telling their stories.
Why is it so important? I think today, storytelling is branding.
Not every company has such glorious, and tragic, story to tell, as Preet Lari‘s example above. But then, maybe, that’s just our lack of imagination.
Regardless; we all need to tell our stories. That’s how we can build our own legacy brand.
Here’s a simple, two-step guide to get started.
Pick a medium. Facebook, twitter, wordpress, tumblr, YouTube, Instagram. Just pick one. You can pick more than one, if you want, but one is easier. Pick the one that you are most likely to use often, and can stick with for the long haul.
Start telling your story.
Duh. Am I oversimplifying it and not giving you much direction?
Okay. How do you know what story to tell?
Start with anything. Write what you like. As you put out more thoughts, images, stories, you will start to see your own story emerge.
It’s important that you hit publish as often as you can. Writing in privacy is great and all, but you need the accountability that comes from being in public, and the audience that reacts to what you put out—the conversation will help you figure out your story more quickly.
Why am I telling you this now? I recently learned that 21% of businesses, who took this survey at the Marketing Score, still don’t blog. Of those who do blog, nearly half say they do it poorly (1-5 of 10 points).
And that was a surprise, though it shouldn’t have been, maybe, to me. I thought, surely by now, most businesses are blogging/podcasting/tweeting/posting on Facebook. They just need help honing in on their story on their chosen medium. I see everyone talking about “content marketing” and “social media marketing” online so much, and got used to seeing so many of my friends use social media to keep in touch, I forgot that many people still needed to be convinced to get talking online, especially for “serious” reasons, beyond being on the receiving end of the stream of contents—news, entertainment, “messages”—and emails from people who’d like to sell to them.
57% OF BUSINESSES DON’T BLOG AT ALL OR WOULD LIKE TO BETTER. ARE YOU ONE OF THEM?
So, if you are like one of those 57%, here’s a call to action. If you are still not sure about putting your stories “out there,” today’s the day.
Because if we don’t, we are just one of the extras in someone else’s story—that bespectacled business owner hunched over his desk, this smartly-dressed lady in a coffee shop reading a newspaper, that family walking in a park with a dog—in a magazine, tv, a billboard or on the sidebars of our favorite websites. We are more than our demographics, lifestyles or even our accomplishments. Our individual stories matter; that’s how we are meant to connect with each other.
We’ve let others tell our stories long enough. Let’s start taking back our rights to tell our own story.
If you are on board, sign up below to become a member of our Legacy Design Learning Tribe. I have a gift for you there, next week.
Every year for the past decade, I’ve been writing on the New Year to tell you how things are going here, but for this moment, for today, I want to talk about YOU.
I want to talk about your potential, more specifically. That which is within, that which is ready to become something incredibly bright. If. You. Allow. It.
At the start of Design Kompany, when Akira and I were still college kids making t-shirts in the mid 1990s, I used to believe, and I really did for a long time, that design is about art and stuff. About making things look pretty. You won’t believe how many times people come to us from the web and say, “You do good work. Can you do that for me, you know, just ‘make it pretty?’” Once it was a call from someone in another part of the country, on a tight deadline to turn some fast stuff around for a Power Point presentation. I know that there’s nothing I can do in that situation, it’s almost like the time when I used to tutor kids in algebra who’d show up at the start of a quarter, then disappear for the rest, then come back ready for me to make magic for them to pass their exams. The same answer, in both cases: “I don’t think I’m your man.”
We can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat, if we’re really great designers. Bear with me: I don’t think design means throwing together a lot of words on sticky notes and leaving it at that, either. (Maybe for the last year, you’d think I’ve turned into more of a philosophizer, and you’d be partly correct, but it’s still inspired by the same main idea.)
Which is this.
Design is making meaning.
I really, truly, one thousand percent stand behind this.
DESIGN IS MAKING MEANING.
You will want to, I believe, make something great for that budding potential that is there, right now, inside you for this year and the one after that and all of those other years. I talked about this kind of thing when I kept insisting “There’s Not That Much Time Left,” at TEDx in Raleigh, back in the fall of 2012. It was really a 4D version of the core of the story of what I think Design Kompany delivers, too, which is a space for you to realize the potential that’s there, within.
I’m not talking about making a giant pile of money, even though I’m pretty confident those things come when we mature in the work that we’re born to do. Knowing what that work is, though, can take half a lifetime. Or more. But it doesn’t have to be something you do on your own.
Design Kompany stated out as a t-shirt place, then gradually turned into a spot where you could go and see a lot of graphics and make stuff on Photoshop and all that. But the equipment, the apps and all that stuff, those are just trimmings. You need to have a core. A concept. A really thorough idea of what it is that makes what you do important, first to YOU, then to the world. It’s big. It’s hard. Many people don’t want to do this. A LOT of people don’t, to be honest. It’s okay. I’m here writing to that 0.01% who DOES.
Is this your year?
Say hi to Design Kompany, if so. We’re very happy to hear from you.
Find me at dipika[at]designkompany[dot]com or @dipikakohli on Twitter.
Millions of children are assuming that everything is amazing and will always be that way. —Typed phrase on a found flyer
For the last 10 days I’ve been in one place, a tiny village called Preetnagar in Punjab, just outside of Amritsar, in India. Our six-month visa is coming up to its end not many weeks from now, and with the sound of just birds, the loudspeakers of prayers throughout the morning, buffalo herders and clapping hooves on the pavement or dirt road, the occasional scooter, or even, lo!, a car!, things have definitely come to a place of intentionally-designed introspection.
I have not set foot off the site. I wandered to one edge, found a pond with Kingfishers hanging around, and came back. I sat on the roof terrace, and thought about things for a long time. Part of the reason I’m here is to do just exactly this. I’m glad for this space. It’s a real gift, and I’m grateful. It reminds me of what people who hire Design Kompany say we do for them: make space, and give permission, to get lost in thought and play.
The quiet space
Forced to be quiet for a while, you start to look inwards.
It’s kind of mind-boggling. I wonder what I’ve done these last ten years? What did it mean, how did it matter? Did anything change? What was it all about?
I have to admit, I had a bit of a breakdown just before we got here. In Nagarkot. That’s a town you take two buses to get to from Kathmandu. After the daunting task of looking in the mirror, I had to go, “So, wait! I’m getting older (I’m 38 now), and what the heck have I even done?!” It stunned me. I thought about it all the 76 hours overland from there to here, this village, where Design Kompany is doing a project to help the village community. Preetnagar was set up in the 30s as a place for writers and artists to share ideas and a kitchen, to reconfigure and update its legacy design.
Big stuff, but we’re made for that. The only hard part is when we have to turn the cameras on ourselves.
When did we get so busy?
As I watched the sun come up over the Himalaya in Nagarkot last month, the stunning vista that put to bed at last all doubts I’d been harboring about the “feasibility” of this trip—Michael Linton, of Open Money, puts it this way: Money is a vector, it just goes up and down—things calmed a bit, at last. I still wasn’t sure about the answer, but to allow the space to think about me, for the first time since my child came into this world, I mean just me, that was big.
Design Kompany’s whole purpose is to guide leaders towards this kind of space, this intangible, not-quite-sure-how-this-works, introspection place. A good place. Strange to be led to the same space, but from a new perspective.
This is me, and my son, Kush. We started our trip just the two of us, back in April 2013, in Vietnam. When I went, I didn’t know just how much shedding there would be, starting with “the big burn” of old letters, lots of pictures, and writing that I’ve lugged around from apartment to apartment for years, not doing anything useful with it at all.
How did we get to the point where we aren’t able to notice the small details, because there simply isn’t time enough to do so? To stop, linger, look, and listen. Even when we try to discover a quiet moment, in order to reflect deeply, we are often caught on a timetable with meetings or appointments on both sides of that frame. Scheduled doses of space to “regroup,” that’s how we do it in the modern way. Modern often being seen as a positive thing, but after seven months in Vietnam, Laos, and now here in India, I’m seeing that it’s not really that awesome to have everyone in the world stuck to their phones. Kids in Vietnam the age of one on their iPads, babies getting slapped because people were in too big of a hurry to get back to their own. I saw that. It shattered some part of me, the one that came to Asia to discover “the village,” the one it supposedly takes to raise a child. (See The Village Report, at the more experimental place I write, Kismuth. A cojournaling project is underway for 2014, if you are curious, you can find the link here, and the password is “2014.”)
On the search and the inevitable slam that is the midlife crisis
I’m guilty of the overdependence on technology to “feed” some part of what I need, which it can’t do very well at all, of course, and possible (definite?) internet addiction, too. The first 76 days in Vietnam with just Kush, I didn’t have a laptop, phone, even a camera. I just recorded my thoughts and feelings in journals and mental snaps. Those are pretty rich, when I think of them now, and I’m glad I went about it that way.
See, I feel more in touch with more people than I ever have, but there’s also a sense that we’re far away, on islands of not being able to talk, not in a real way, because to do so is against form. Form says we have to know everything, straight up, when we’re declaring our major. Form says we’re supposed to be on a career track that means “lining things up,” and having them squared away, and knowing ahead of time with one thousand percent clarity that that’s what you want to do. To fail is to declare openly that you were wrong about it. That you didn’t know better. But life… is a series of turns and twists, isn’t it? How can we possibly know for certain what’s around the corner? It’s a giant maze. My question is, why are people in our modern culture of American society (and even Western, in general) so concerned about efficiency? About getting there faster. But they’re not really thinking too hard about where it is they’re going. The work to know, to find the gift within that we have to offer the world, to discover what it is that is our own legacy, you could say, that takes a lot more effort and you just don’t get a lot of space, if you are also concerned about what other people think, that is, to make it. To find the time. To put priorities in the order that fits your heart, not necessarily your practical mind. You have to know these things, in order to change something. But do we want to change? I’m 38 now. I am thinking hard about these things. And the things I’ve seen in peers and new friends, on the road and in correspondence through the net, is that we do.
Want to change.
We want more time with our loved ones.
We want to be healthier.
We want to slow down, and not get stressed out with our jobs or people who eat our energy.
We want connection.
Even, sometimes, a route back to ourselves. Who are we, what does it mean, why does it matter?
The starting can happen anytime. The consciousness is always there. But the will, the will to change something,e ver so slightly so that the space can open to look within and see what’s written there, that’s the thing. That’s where we fill our time with television, magazines, books, movies, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity… in other words, detachment. We numb ourselves. It’s too hard to get somewhere else, because we’re so busy spinning our wheels to consult our hearts and check in: “So. Where are you going?”
Especially excuses to think about the purpose of your life.
Here are a couple thoughts that have passed through my own mind in recent days, when it comes to avoiding sitting down to do the hard work of outlining and refining what it is I want to do:
They’re not leaving, so how am I supposed to think? I can’t make space. There’s not enough time. I’m not sure about it yet. The feeling isn’t ready. Not getting inspired. I don’t want to. I don’t want to think about it right now. Not tomorrow, either. Maybe after that. Maybe, by then, I’ll know what I want to say. About my life. About its purpose. I’m not avoiding it, am I? Not really.
If you’re like me, you convince yourself, that way.
Not to make time to think about your purpose.
The thing that you’re doing with your work, and your life. The reason you’re here. Do you know what it is that’s the thing you were born to do, that only you, with your unique mix of talents, skills, and circumstances, are able to give back to the world? A big question.
But… important, isn’t it? Are you clear about what that is?
It can take a lifetime, sure, to come around to making the time to finding out. But even then, it’s not too late. Today I met a 73 year-old man staying at the same hostel-like spot we’re in here in Nepal. He’s looking around, too.
We are all growing and changing, all the time, and learning as we go, aren’t we? Still, a strong core identity about who it is you are, and why what the work you do matters, can really go a long way to connecting with the people who will help you realize your dreams.
Intention-setting, is another way to think about it.
How to think about the meaning in your life and life’s work
There’s more than just “plug and chug,” as they used to say in seventh grade algebra. “Solving for x” doesn’t have to be the point. Knowing why the equation is even there, and what it stands for, and what the information gleaned is going to be used to implement, now that, that’s what counts. “X” itself, that’s arbitrary.
I see a lot of people talking themselves into the idea that “making ends meet” is the point. That putting one step in front of the other is labor. I respect that, I really do. I see that what some people want to do in life is just to have worked hard, do your best, and make sure you’re fed and clothed. But isn’t there more to life? Isn’t there that other stuff, about self-realization, about fulfilling our greatest potential while we’re here on earth, breathing? I care about that part. I care about people finding that part of what it is they want to say to the world about themselves, and why it matters. I’ve talked about legacy a lot here at Design Kompany: maybe it’s because over the last 10 years it’s become a big part of the “why” of our own existence. Guiding people to discover their own, that’s us. That’s why we’re here.
What scares me is a horde of people not thinking about where it is they’re heading, in the big picture. I think of the dividing walls in 1984 and other scenes like the caterpillar pillars in the book Hope for the Flowers, which reminds us that when we’re pushing and shoving to get to “the top,” we wind up in this lofty place that doesn’t connect directly to the universal portal, but instead, feels dangerous and scary. Was this destination what all that work was about? Scores of caterpillars ask themselves, doubting it all in the terrifying last moments, when they’ve already stepped on so many others in an effort to beat them to the top.
Avoiding the question, “Who am I, and what is the work that I do useful for?” is easy. Because its hard.
But the big idea of legacy design, which we talk about a lot here, is that you get a chance to get introspective and think clearly about who you are, what you care about, and what your values are. Doing work that matters means aligning the best of what you can offer with what you find truly important. Taking away the filters from our eyes, those imposed by people we love, or jobs we have, or company cultures, or something else, is hard work.
But if you’re ready to think about that, in a serious and real way, I invite you to start today. One way is with Steer, a free e-course we offer here. But there are tons more. What’s important is starting to think about it, right? Finding out what it is you are all about, whether it’s as the head of an organization or simply as a person who wants to make sure his grandkids know and understand what he was about, that’s awesome stuff, and important, and in that category of “not urgent, but important,” that we tend to let fall, too often by the wayside, ’til it’s too late.
Can the act of conversation be the collaboration? How is conversation important to collaboration? I put these questions to various team leaders I knew, after my previous post. Here’re their answers. Enjoy!
Conversation is not important to collaboration. It is essential. Before conversation happens, each party involved has their own idea of what a collaborative effort will involve and what the outcome will be. During the conversation, expectations are managed and new ideas are formed, using the best pieces of each person’s vision. After the conversation, each party knows their own role and what the entire operation hopes to achieve. A good conversation between skilled collaborators will build a plan that utilizes strengths, protects weaknesses, and makes each team member confident in their role and how it fits into the greater effort.
Problem-solving requires getting diverse perspectives as you consider solutions, and then getting everyone on the same page once you decide the way forward. You need conversation to make both work — people can’t read your mind, and they probably won’t read your memo. As advertising agency legend David Ogilvy said, “If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
For me collaboration brings the lived experience of myself as a collective self. That is, we have the experience (collaboration), and the growing awareness (in part through conversation), that “I” am not just an individual, but also a collective.
If you watch collaborators closely enough, you witness collective ideas emerge: ideas that did not come into the room in the head of any one individual. This is just a ridiculously cool thing to experience and witness. And there are lots of reasons why conversation is important to collaboration.
I’m a researcher, so I like conversation because it provides recordable evidence that can be examined in greater depth later. But conversation is also a source of courage for us as individuals. For example, it was thanks to conversation with my creative partner Bas that we dropped our old titles (me Researcher, he Project Manager) and picked up the title Story Wrangler. For me, conversation provides a mirror that I very much need to fully explore, and witness, our emerging ideas and selves. And it gives us vital physical practice in perspective shifting. And conversation tends to be where most of the best questions come from—the questions that introduce us more fully to ourselves. Conversation is the voice of the collective self, and by participating in conversation, I suspect that we’re allowing the collective to emerge into self-awareness and notice itself.
Conversation is important to collaboration, because: emotional investment is just as important as intellectual contribution. It’s the difference between a solid team and an outstanding team. When each individual in a collaborative environment is heard and their ideas truly received, their emotional investment increases and the project naturally becomes more dynamic. A special kind of magic is created when everyone contributes their superpowers, but open conversation is the gateway that makes that possible. It doesn’t matter whether it’s lateral collaboration or vertical. Conversation is fundamental to smart evolution. In my own business, I look to my support staff regularly to contribute their ideas and often take their recommendations to streamline my business processes. Always ask, always be curious, always be open to new ideas.
Talk is cheap. That’s what people say. They mean, if all you do is talk, you’re not doing much. I say the same thing. Talk is downright stupid, if you don’t do anything with it.
But talk is also where you get smarter. All the time. There’s no idea that you have inside your head that wouldn’t be better served by a ten minute chat with someone smarter than you. I spoke with Rob Hatch about some stuff a few days ago and he left me feeling smarter. I’d missed a few steps in a process, but he saw it, and I didn’t. That kind of stuff comes from talking it through.
This question reminds me of jazz improvisation. All the instruments can be playing, but if they’re not conversing, it’s just noise. When the interplay really hits it’s a transcendent act: response not reaction, listening as well as talking, great sensitivity to others.
When it comes down to it, I think leadership is really about conversation, about being a steward of people and ideas. Conversation provides new insight, and new insight is the only real path to innovation.