Trust the creative process, find the art and magic

[Update: AS OF SEPTEMBER 2017, DK is making Atelier S P A C E. But before we began roving the world gathering people in real life for conversations about the creative process (and hands-on programmes designed to get us doing instead of just thinking about doing), we used to have these conversations in virtual spaces. The Q&A series that we made for our online magazine, S P A C E, continues to be a place where we return for inspiration. A past life in journalism led to the style of asking questions and diving deeper to explore what it is a person cares about most, what she wants to say about her work and how we can contextualize it to make what we learn relevant to a broader audience. Everything we do in S P A C E has to do with the connections between people, with interstitial spaces. That is why we are starting to share more openly some of the early Q&A’s that were originally exclusives for our online community, S P A C E, which subscribes each week to our ongoing conversations, learnings, resources, links, and musings about how we make, who makes, where we are, and why we do this work. For more information about S P A C E, go here.]


A CONVERSATION TODAY with North Carolina ceramics artist and a personal friend, Ronan Kyle Peterson.

Here is what he had to say about our theme this month, IMAGINE. We are discovering some shared interests in, amongst a few other things: work, cycles, and practice.

DK: I’ve seen your work evolve quite a bit in the last decade. What is it you are up to?

RKP: Essentially, I am dealing with effects of agents of growth and decay and how these agents shape and embellish the surfaces of stones and the skins of trees. Employing an earthy background palette stretched across textured but quieter surfaces, I wanted to upset that quiet earthiness with intense splashes of vibrant color, patterns, and glossy surfaces not commonly associated with tree bark or the rough surfaces of rocks amidst fallen leaves.

DK: Tell us your thoughts on ‘work’—what is it, who is it for, and why does it matter?

RKP: ‘Work’ noun-wise, would be the pots that I make to sell. Which references my ‘job’ or the verb ‘work’ that I do to make a living. The work for me is learning about color, how colors work together, how color and pattern changes perception of form, and how color pattern and texture can affect a person’s mood or perception of a pot.

The work that interests me, or the energizing part, is figuring out forms for functional purposes—cups and mugs for drinking, bowls for eating or serving from—and decorations or surface treatments that complement and complete the form.

DK: Why do you do what you do?

RKP: I make… because it makes me happy, fulfills a need, keeps me searching. I’m just infinitely blessed that others, customers, want to buy my pots and are interested for the most part in what, the work, that I am doing. It doesn’t matter in a larger context, but it does matter to me, because in the doing I am happy.

DK: Is that where the magic is? In the doing?

RKP: For me, the magic is in the making or the doing. Talking, wishing, and hoping do not get the job done. The magic is in the doing.

DK: A lot of people say they wish they had more time be an artist, make music, travel, write a book, and so on. What you would say to them?

RKP: I guess I would say, you just have to make it happen. And it will not just happen. A lot of times there has to be a sacrifice of something else: sleep, long meals, vegging out, tv, income, family time, socializing… Making time or sacrificing something else to make time seems to be hard for some people, because they are energized and content through socializing, etc. For me, working, making new work, exploring new forms, colors, combinations, that is what energizes me.

DK: What does rhythm mean to you?

RKP: Rhythm recently is not contained in one working cycle. Work is started, but not finished until later, spilling into the next cycle, and the next. It used to be frustrating, but I have found that through continued experimentation with form, color, and pattern, that ideas tend to belong aside one another: they are a continuation of thoughts I build on. I guess this speaks to an overall rhythm? I’m making a healthy offering of cups and mugs each cycle, but I have more larger pieces waiting to be finished. Now it is kind of nice to think more about the larger pieces, figure out different decorations and surface approaches that fit better, better than my original plan. I’ve started reglazing older pieces, [and] making different lids for jars. Revisiting sometimes resolves some deficiencies of the pieces. I have a general set of forms, but I’m trying out new things, mostly decoration-wise, every cycle.

PROTOTYPING. RKP’s instagram feed (and this image, in particular) caught DK’s eye for our sequence RHYTHM. ‘The image is from a kiln loading with a friend,’ he tells us. ‘Just showing how potters test glazes, not actual product or work, more process to figure out what glazes to use and how they will look in the firing.’

DK: Imagine two young people, maybe teens, who are thinking about artistic pursuits having a conversation, perhaps at a museum somewhere, and they know virtually nothing of the real experiences of people like you who have reached some sort of acceptance, it appears, in the methods you are using to make and do and share. What would you tell them?

RKP: I would say be patient. It takes a lot of time, and failing and observing, to figure things out. One thing that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind is how much help and support I have: I’ve worked for many potters with different styles and aesthetics, I have in-laws who let me use some of their space for a studio, I have galleries who work with me and for the most part allow me to bring them work that I choose to make. Growing that network, that support system, I think, is pretty crucial. And being patient, humble, and open to comment, advice and opportunities.

Discover more about RKP at his website.

Get S P A C E

Order the Book of Songs

IT’S NOT QUITE A CHAPBOOK, nor a novella, but rather a curation of some of the most intriguing people we’ve met in the last two decades. A curated collection of poetry and line art drawings. Some images are photographs of collages.

WANT TO ORDER the Book of Songs?

Order here >

WHAT IT IS. It’s not quite a chapbook, nor a novella, but rather a curation of some of the most intriguing people we’ve met in the last two decades. A curated collection of poetry and line art drawings. Some images are photographs of collages. Visuals were mostly made on the spot, live to music. Mostly jazz. Paired with poems, collages, most of the time done right there, on the spot. The Book of Songs is 8 poems and one short story. Each is inspired by someone pretty darn amazing, and there are links in the back to some of their sites. It’s also a dedication: this book is for the memory of Soknea Teang.

SPECIAL OFFER. Get a free track from the Norwegian free jazz band Gunslinging Bird Quartet when you order the Book of Songs. Pretty cool song, ‘If Your Mother Was a Hamster,’ comes with your order.

Get both in an instant download here.

Book of Songs
Book of Songs


‘Et eksempel er frygten for at udleve mine passioner’

Frygt og Lykke. A short essay by Aske Pedersen

I VIRKELIGHEDEN HANDLER det ikke om at skrive, men om at åbne mig op for andre mennesker. Og for mig selv. For at gøre dette, er jeg nødt til at smide min facade, mit uigennemtrængelige skjold af forsvarsmekanismer, og hvad sker der, hvis modparten ikke kan lide det den ser? Noget af det mest uhyggelige er at gøre sig sårbar, blot for at blive såret.

Update October 2018: S P A C E the zine begins in print with the new zine, ‘Janteloven.’  Learn more here.



TODAY, a guest post by Aske Pedersen from Aarhus, Denmark.

(English version here.)

Frygt og Lykke

JEG ER BANGE. Ikke for mørke, højder eller for at dø. Nej, jeg er bange for ikke at slå til, at være utilstrækkelig, og derfor foregår der en konstant kamp indeni mig. En kamp mellem frygt og lykke. Et eksempel er frygten for at udleve mine passioner.

Når folk spørger mig, hvad jeg virkelig godt kan lide, siger jeg næsten altid at skrive. Men hvorfor har jeg så ikke rørt tasteturet i snart et år? Jeg ved, at det gør mig glad, men noget holder mig alligevel tilbage. En del af min identitet og selvforståelse er bygget op omkring forestillingen om, at jeg er god til at skrive. Hvad sker der med mig, hvis forestillingen ikke holder? Hvis jeg virkelig giver det bedste jeg har, men det bare ikke er godt nok. Denne frygt holder mig fanget i en magtesløs og narcisistisk stilstand, hvor jeg gemmer mig for frygten og udskyder konfrontationen. “I dag er jeg træt, jeg skriver i morgen. I morgen har jeg travlt, men der er tid i næste uge.” Næste uge bliver til næste måned, og næste måned bliver til næste år. Frygten vinder kampen, og min selvfølelse bliver baseret på en løgn, som jeg ikke længere tror på. Men der er sket noget i kampen mellem frygt og lykke. Jeg skriver.

I virkeligheden handler det ikke om at skrive, men om at åbne mig op for andre mennesker. Og for mig selv. For at gøre dette, er jeg nødt til at smide min facade, mit uigennemtrængelige skjold af forsvarsmekanismer, og hvad sker der, hvis modparten ikke kan lide det den ser? Noget af det mest uhyggelige er at gøre sig sårbar, blot for at blive såret. Denne frygt holder mig fra de mest spændene samtaler, nye venskaber, kærester og evnen til at kunne elske rigtigt. I mødet med andre mennesker vælger jeg den nemme vej, hvilket for mig, er humoren. Ironi er blevet en så stor del af mig, at grænserne er blevet udhviskede. Jeg ved ikke længere, hvornår jeg er ironisk, og hvornår jeg ikke er. Måske har alt jeg siger en grad af ironi, hvilket betyder, at jeg kan sige stort set alt. Men mister mine ord så ikke betydning?

Det er ikke kun det jeg siger, det er også måden jeg lytter på. Ofte tager jeg mig selv i at udtænke mit næste svar, før modparten er færdig med at tale. På den måde er jeg sikker på at undgå den akavede stilhed, og samtidig kan jeg fremstå mere intellegent. Dog går der noget tabt i processen. Jeg glemmer at lytte, og jeg formår ikke at se mennesket overfor mig. I stedet kommer samtalen til at foregå på mine præmisser og ofte til at handle om mig. Måske er jeg nutidens narkissos, eller måske er jeg bare bange, eller måske er det én og samme ting.

Hvis man koger det ned, handler det om at tage den sikre vej i samværet med andre mennesker. I samtalen kommer vi ind på alle de selvskrevne emner som studievalg, vejret og geografiske placeringer, og så kommer der et par vittige bemærkninger. Bare så det hele ikke bliver for kedeligt. Det er ikke pinligt, ingen er blevet såret og alle har det fint. Fint… Hverken mere eller mindre. Men jeg gider ikke længere have det fint. For når målet er at undgå fiasko, udelukker jeg samtidig muligheden for succes. —AP

Fear and Happiness

I AM AFRAID. Not of darkness, heights or of dying. No, I am afraid of not being enough, of being inadequate. And because of that, there is a constant battle inside of me. A battle between fear and happiness.

An example is the fear to live out my passions. When people ask me what really lights my fire, I almost always say writing. But then why haven´t I touched the keyboard in almost a year? I know that writing makes me happy, but something is still holding me back. A part of my identity and self-understanding is based on the conception that I am good at writing. What happens to me if that conception breaks? If I really give it my best shot, but it´s just not enough. This fear keeps me in a powerless and narcissistic standstill, where I hide from the fear and delay the confrontation. “Today I’m tired, I will write tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m busy, but there should be time next week.” Next week becomes next month and next month becomes next year. Fear is winning the battle, and my self-esteem is based on a lie that I no longer believe in. But something has happened in the battle between fear and happiness. I am writing.

REALLY IT’S NOT AS MUCH about writing, as it is about opening up to other people. And to myself. To do this, I have to throw away my facade, my impervious shield of defense mechanisms, and what happens if the counterpart doesn’t like what it sees? One of the most frightening things is to make yourself vulnerable, only to get hurt. This fear holds me back from the most interesting conversations, new friendships, girlfriends and the ability to really love another person. When meeting other people I choose the easy option, which to me is humor. Irony has become such a big part of me, that the boundaries have become blurry. I no longer know if I’m being ironic or if I’m not. Maybe everything I say has a touch of irony, which means I can say almost everything. But then what significance do my words hold?

It’s not only what I say, it’s also the way I listen. Often I catch myself devising my next answer while the counterpart is still speaking. That way I’m certain to avoid the awkward silence, and at the same time I can appear more intelligent. However something gets lost in the process. I forget to listen and I don’t manage to really see the person in front of me. Instead the conversation happens on my terms and is often centered around me. Maybe I’m the modern day Narcissus or maybe I’m just afraid, or maybe they are one and the same.

IF YOU BOIL IT DOWN, it’s about taking the road of comfort in the companionship with other human beings. In the conversations we go through the even written topics such as education, the weather and geographical locations, and then a couple of jokes are thrown in just so it doesn’t get too boring. Nothing is embarrassing, no one has been hurt and everybody is fine. Fine… No more, no less. But I don’t want to be fine anymore. Cause when the goal is to avoid failure, I exclude the opportunity of success. —AP

Naming, concept and brand identity for NUK Cafe in Phnom Penh

Nuk Cafe, Design by DK 2014A VERY SAVVY team approached Design Kompany through a mutual friend and that opened the door to a fun project that tapped all of our best creative offerings. Naming, concepting, and brand identity design. That was exactly what they didn’t know they wanted, but appreciated, at the end, in the manner of clients preceding them. ‘NUK’ came about as a name idea after a series of serious conversations, and a visit to the site, which was then under construction.

Nuk Cafe, Design by DK 2014
Nuk Cafe, Design by DK 2014

NUK Cafe
Work: Concept, Naming, Brand identity + consulting on interior design
Location: Phnom Penh
Year: 2014

Naming, concepting, and brand identity design. ‘NUK’ came about as a name idea after a series of serious conversations, and a visit to the architectural site. A section towards the back of the first floor seemed well-suited to holing up with a great paperback. That’s how we found our way to the name ‘NUK,’ a play on ‘nook, but minus the visually awkward double ‘o.’

Fewer letters—heck, even just an ‘N’—made for a versatile motif that one could just take in as a total image (that’s what a logo mark is, more than ever, just an impression, not a ‘word’ to be read—who has time to think?). As soon as we presented the name idea to our clients, three people got on cell phones and called friends in Vietnam, Thailand, and even further afield via Line and WhatsApp. ‘How does that sound? Does it mean anything bad? No? Good.’ Nuk fit. Snug.

Many times designers will do what you tell them to do. But you two would not. You would say, ‘No. That’s not a good idea, and we’re not gonna do that.’ That was new. You made us think, and in the end, we got to a stronger design together. Thank you. —Kenneth Hui, NUK Cafe

NUK opened on Street 154, and our clients invited us to sample the ice cream. Last we heard, they’re gearing up to open a second store.

Salon & Exhibition: New line and collage artwork by DK

‘ENDINGS CAN BE GOOD: Nostalgia is a cripple.’



First published in S. P. A. C. E.
Get it — $28/mo.

Pushing through the dip: on process and perseverance, or something

I WANT TO MAKE ‘N’ for London and Copenhagen and Ha Noi this year, and I’m going to just have to keep on inviting people until we find the magic sets of 16 per city. Bearing with me are the guests who’ve joined so far. I’m so lucky and grateful that a few of us are on for new things, for challenges, for learning as we go, for mixing it up, for giant blind dates, and for, yes, the human connection that can happen when we unplug, show up, say hi.

DK’s 16N project gathers 16 strangers in 16 cities. Cities that have an ‘N’ in them. On topics that start with ‘N’. This began in April 2015 in Phnom Penh with ‘N’ Phnom Penh: NORMALITY, then in October that year continued with ‘N’ Bangkok: NOW. We are now inviting new guests for ‘N’ London: NOTEWORTHINESS and ‘N’ Copenhagen: NEARNESS. Here is an update from the series, ‘Diary of N’.

Published in S. P. A. C. E.

Get new insights every week in DK’s eZine S. P. A. C .E.

MAKING MY WAY OUT OF THE BOX. It’s true. I’ve been hiding, sort of. I’ve been avoiding the work of actually inviting more people, because it takes a lot of mental effort and huge emotional reserves. I mean, not like the kinds you would need to go through trauma or anything.

Just—when you are idealistic and hopeful and optimistic and believe like anything in the power of people to work together collaboratively, beautifully, together when they only have a chance to meet and get over their initial seeming differences then yeah, you get discouraged to see that most people, I’m talking about 99% or so, but I haven’t done all the math yet, will not agree with you.

Maybe they’re scared. Worried. Not into it. Don’t think it’s important to ‘go outside the comfort zone.’ Is that what I’m asking people to do? It seems that way. That is what I hear, mostly, in the responses to my invitations—

‘You’re asking me to go outside my comfort zone.’

And sometimes, that is a welcome thing. I guess now that I’ve been hiding for a while I’ve had a chance to regain my enthusiasm for ‘N’. Some cool people are joining and I have made a promise to them, that I will make this happen. I am the kind of person who does what I say I will—it’s a huge value I inherited from my father, who is stout, and stubborn, sometimes keeping us from getting along, but boy, do I love that about my dad: his consistency in doing what he says he will. Later in life, I learned that is the best way to build trust and quality relationships—for work and for personal stuff, too. Show up. Do what you say you will.

I want to make ‘N’ for London and Copenhagen and Ha Noi this year, and I’m going to just have to keep on inviting people until we find the magic sets of 16 per city. Bearing with me are the guests who’ve joined so far. I’m so lucky and grateful that a few of us are on for new things, for challenges, for learning as we go, for mixing it up, for giant blind dates, and for, yes, the human connection that can happen when we unplug, show up, say hi.

I’m sharing the journey in some updates on our blog, but mostly in email conversations with people who have opted in to our mailing list at Design Kompany. (Just go to the contact page and click ‘get updates by email’ if you are curious.) I’m guessing most people are not aware of the quality level I am looking to make for ‘N’.

I AM GUESSING THAT they would see this, initially, as some sort of quick buck thing. They don’t know that it’s actually running at a loss. That is to say, the sponsor that everyone asks me about is actually my own studio. And we’re not rolling in it, like. We’re just… we care about uncertainty, trying things, taking chances, showing up, making something beautiful if we can find people also interested in those things. (Lately, business execs, generation Z, and innovation R&D heads.) It’s not everyone, for sure. And that is the learning, to date. It’s actually very, very few people. But then again, it wouldn’t be worth it if, through this giant maze, I didn’t find my way towards them.

TO BE HONEST, I don’t know how I would respond if the tables were turned. That is, if someone from the internet whom I didn’t know asked me if I wanted to get a ticket to some event that had never been done, with people I didn’t know and couldn’t read up on beforehand, and on a date ‘to be determined’ together by the registered guests, Hm, what would I say to that? Maybe it’s because of the challenge of trying to be more open this year, to say ‘yes’ more, to try new things myself that I wanted to keep going with ‘N’ after Phnom Penh and Bangkok and really try to make it to 16. I’m not saying it has to happen all at once, perhaps a break after the UK-DK tour this year. The rest can wait. It can happen over sixteen years, if it must, because what counts is the moment of it happening, in those places, not the hurrying through… I care about ‘N’. I guess I care about it because it is introducing me to a very neat set of people, (you know who you are), and the future ‘N’ guests to be determined, and it is for them, for meeting them, the chance to know them for a bit, that I want to keep pressing forward, and push through this awkward ‘givey-uppy’ moment, the one that some people call ‘the dip.’

To be continued….

#whynot #sayyes

Published in S. P. A. C. E.

Get new insights every week in DK’s eZine S. P. A. C .E.

On quality and intrigue, a conversation with line and music

A Q&A WITH ERLING SKORPEN, a jazz artist, on what makes something intriguing. ‘When you listen to a concert, and you notice that the musicians are really into what they’re doing. When you can feel the energy in the room, and there exists a special atmosphere there. That’s the feeling that best describes intrigue for us.’

IN DENMARK I got to hear a pretty neat collection of intriguing bands at a weird and fascinating spot in Copenhagen called Mandags Klubben 5e. (More about them, another time—so fun.)

But for today I want to share an interview with someone intriguing I met, whose upcoming album is another thing I’d like to share about in a future post as it has a connection to one of our own pieces of work, The Book of Songs, in an abstract, tangential sort of way. Abstract and tangential, now that I think about it, is exactly what was awesome about being there on that day last autumn.

Let me expand.

Loved the sound of a young group called Gunslinging Bird Quartet, and started drawing in ball point pen and off the page—two new things for me, at the same time. I later asked trumpeter Erling Skorpen about the style of music he and his bandmates play, and why. Free jazz.

DK: Cool show, can you tell me about your band?

EK: Through years of playing and exploring different types of music, we all found a common interest in this type of jazz music. It’s merely a process—we might part ways with this aesthetic in one year or ten years. This is the music we all love, and which inspires us right now.

DK: What makes you happy?

EK: When we are playing music and it really works out. Drinking coffee. Pleasant surprises.

DK: How do you define intrigue?

EK: When you listen to a concert, and you notice that the musicians are really into what they’re doing. When you can feel the energy in the room, and there exists a special atmosphere there. That’s the feeling that best describes intrigue for us.

DK: How do you define quality?

EK: When music is honest and it connects with the audience. When you really hear that these people mean what they do.

MEMBERS OF the band are: Trym Daniel Rødvik – alto saxophone; Erling Skorpen – trumpet; Alex Riris – double bass; Amund Nordstrøm – drums & percussion.

Discover Gunslinging Bird online here:

Arts and culture, conversation and the story

IT’S NOT FOR EVERYONE, as Erling says and which is exactly why I enjoyed being there. Mainstream can get in the way of real connection, in my opinion. When you bumble into the unexpected and find intrigue, there is something *! that happens.



It’s delight these days, I’m convinced, that makes up the aesthetic of a new kind of ‘beautiful.’ And when I say ‘delight’ I don’t mean some user interface or an app. I mean, real life. What is the role of music in society? What is the role of poetry, of design? To make artfulness, I think. To meander, to open hearts.

But what’s your take? Comments welcome. —DK

This post originally appeared in the INTIMACY sequence of our eZine, S. P. A. C. E.

Time and space for quality self-reflection

MAKE SPACE for self-reflection. This 12-step virtual workshop is a tried-and-tested way.

Programmes online from DK are, as of July 2018, by invitation only. To request an invitation and details of our online workshop-salons, tell us. If you’d like to be notified of SELF January 2019’s invitation-only opening, please add your name through the form on this page.

Thank you for your attention and interest in SELF—we’re excited to bring you the best of highlights of 10 years of conversations on how to find the ‘concept of you.’ To be continued! —DK


Work | Space

Our new work should be oriented towards collaboration, sustainability, creativity and problem solving.

YOU GET THINKING about things, and you start to notice, Wait a minute. This is all about spacemaking.

Allowing people plenty of room to come into a framed, bounded box. One that’s handled with care. Is safe. Where you can let yourself relax, and get to know others. And talk. Like, really talk. Engagement starts from this. We open doors to teambuilding, shared visions, open space dialogues and true collaborations. Win-win-win-win… You see how it works.

But I should tell you about me. So you know me, a little. Before we go into the philosophy of work and space and ‘N+1.’

I co-founded Design Kompany LLC in 2004 in Seattle.

To be really honest, much of the early days were spent noodling about, uselessly. Work was hard because we were young, and new. We got burned a few times, and we handled other projects less-than-ideally. Met many dead ends, things falling through, the usual. This is par for the course for the experienced, of course, but we had to learn through doing. That’s a philosophy we haven’t lost… design isn’t theorizing. Design is doing. Talking, mostly. Really, that’s what people were always surprised about. How much time we spent on the first part of the design process: the creative brief questionnaire. Work that out with us, and we will deliver something extraordinary. Guaranteed, because, it’s a given that if you make that space and share the trust, both sides will put forward their double efforts.

But before, we just played like everyone else. Business was about money, deals. We didn’t know. We learned, though. That it’s about being good at learning about people, what they are telling you, what they are not telling you but want to tell you and will if you allow the space to let them. Flow. Play. Space. Work.

Prior to our move to Asia in 2013, people knew us as brand designers. We did concepts, made logotypes and brand identities, and wrote brand usage manuals for architects, software developers, and many other  process-oriented people. They liked our method. We liked their smarts. We grew, and we learned, and we changed. Then we went on the road, for a year. That was longer than anyone had imagined. And we found Phnom Penh in 2013, whilst on that journey. It had a certain quality, to me. It felt like anything could happen. That by simply being here, by simply observing and studying the Khmer aesthetics closely by living near them, we could really learn. Grow. And it fit. We’ve been here ever since. Changing, learning.

PHNOM PENH. Meeting people. Discovering styles, engaging across new cultural lines, appreciating the approaches of new and very different others. Their initiatives. Their hospitality. I feel lucky. This is fun. It’s exciting.

SOME OF THE WANDERINGS THESE LAST 20 years (literally and metaphorically), have certainly helped me come this far into this thing called entrepreneurship, however trifling and bare-bones our agile approaches are, in the world of business. These insights from doing rather than just theorizing about how to create value for people who desire your services have helped me. A lot. Real-life experiences, brute-forth trial-and-prototyping-and-testing  have sustained me through self doubt, criticism, financial and other hardship, and nourished my sense of purpose. I suppose that’s another reason for which I want to share this with you… I believe in practicing thinking for its own sake, and for the sake of clarity. Now that I’m where I am, there’s this. Our consulting work is now very much about meeting you where you are. From there, we’ll do the spacemaking, to set the stage, so you can do the big work. The thing of ‘N+1.’ Take it to the next stage, yes?


‘I work… to earn money… which I use… to consume stuff… which makes me happy,’ Lynda Gratton in The Shift, on “the traditional deal at work”

THE ABOVE OBSERVATION is a particularly harsh way, perhaps, to look at generations of people’s values and decisions around work, but I think is pretty accurate. My dad had another take: ‘work is supposed to be difficult—to suffer through it is the work.’ Paraphrased, of course, since this was Japan, and a lot was implied rather than stated explicitly or  repeatedly.

I remember growing up associating work with suffering this way, and for me, the work I was to suffer through was my studies. Fast forward to the 90s, and I was a college student in the US. Then, work and job was about how much we’d make in the first year.

Being in engineering, friends around me were throwing around the numbers like 50, 60, 70K per annum, counting them long before graduation and planning the neighborhood where they’d buy their first house. On the other hand, we were the gen X: many of us were openly skeptical, quoting from Reality Bites and the Wall, and daydreaming about vagabonding in Europe or Asia. I was stuck in the middle.

Majoring in Parks and Recreation, I had no fantasy about making six figures any time soon, and my Japanese lineage and studiousness didn’t make me fit in the granolas-and-Birkenstocks club either. Lucky for me, I enjoyed doing what I was getting into at the time, running student clubs and organizing events, and knew what I wanted to be, however vaguely, when I grew up. It was just figuring out how to get there, wherever ‘there’ might be. Trusting the process. I was fortunate to have brilliant mentors early who showed me there’s no such thing as a predetermined flight course.

I was to flap my wings.

Aimlessly, frantically… until I learned to fly.

So… yeah… 25 years into flapping, I have a better idea of where I’m going, work-wise, but I try not to fool myself in thinking that I’ve figured it all out.

Work is to find meaning in life, and truly meaningful work will consume all life that there is.

This isn’t to say that work is more important than other areas of life.

It is that work contains life, in its ultimate form.

Not that any of us will ever achieve this fully, but to me, that ultimate integration of work with life is what I’m after.


Our societies have too long (but this is shorter than we assume!) defined work as a separate activity that’s dedicated to earn our living. And thus, to many of us earning has become the meaning of our lives. I was lucky to reject this early because I didn’t have the privilege nor smarts to obtain membership to the elite class that can define themselves through their annual income and job titles. Everywhere I look around, these days, though, I see many more that have either opted out in their own accord or never had such privilege. The new generation is opting, rather, for meaning. But we carry much baggage from our legacy and its biases: towards money, towards prestige, towards long hours, towards competition, towards disregard to ourselves and others. To integrate work back into our lives we need to be awake to these biases in ourselves and work to overcome them.

Our new work should be oriented towards collaboration, sustainability, creativity and problem solving.

Coworking spaces, “innovation” labs, peer-to-peer economy, “crowd-” everything—these are but some ways this shift is manifesting. But that isn’t enough; the skills I grew up with is awefully inadequate to this new orientation, and I fear that our kids are afforded no better education today. This is where I intend to focus my next decades on.


IF OUR NEW WORK is to collaboratively create solutions to problems—to join the words I used above together—then we need a place where people can gather, to do that work. Space, to me, isn’t just about the physical container, the term encompasses what we create together first, when more than one person come together: holding space.

How we come together, work together and grow into a community; how the communities grow, relate to each other and shift as a whole system: this is a question of space—creating, holding, and nurturing of it—to me. To explore this concept I gathered a few people together in a small gallery space in Phnom Penh, where new spaces for entrepreneurs, artists, and social change makers are on the rise. Some were physical space holders, some were event organizers, some ran organizations, some came because they were curious.

Here’s a few things I learned from our 11-person conversation then:

    • Details are important, and how you can ‘design’ or ‘control’ can be too abrupt, sometimes, and get things veering off to the opposite direction. ‘We tried to make it not too loud,’ said the co-owner of the gallery that hosted us.
    • Experience was a theme of the occasion, as most of us gathered were designers of events, temporal spaces rather than the physical. Why do we need to gather? Sometimes, it’s to educate one another about something important. Sometimes, it’s about the loneliness, the void we feel. We talked about suicide rates in Korea, and how otherwise disengaged kids would come together to create flashmob—a temporal, physical \space\. Controlling space is a tricky business, and it’s akin to steering a boat in open water. Small adjustments can mean a lot down the road, and the less control you can use in getting to the destination, the faster you get there. But how do we know the destination, in open water? Sometimes you start with one intention and you get to another, and it could be a beautiful thing. And what about productivity?
    • How we define productivity decides what we do to optimize it. Someone said: ‘The education system is a productive space for one metric. But we have become good at the wrong thing, perhaps.’
    • We talked about Nerd Night [Phnom Penh] and how it is a place where newbies and incumbents can interact. And how it was meant to solve the problem of silos in the incumbents. And how the space affects the quality of the experience. Trying to accommodate different crowds and breaking the ice requires conscious, intentional small steps rather than a sweeping, big stroke.

…Small steps, in other words.

As I head into the Coworking Unconference, itself a space that has been created intentionally, I keep this one thought in mind, turning it over this way and that way.

What’s the small step that I can take, a little adjustment I can make? That’s the thing. That’s it. That’s the work of making space, and spacemaking to do the work, that we here at DK call, ‘N+1.’


ONE STEP AT A TIME. We are learning and changing and growing all the time. Will you be interested to hear more about how things continue to develop? Ideas, resources, articles and more are all available to you when you become a patron of DK. Here is a link…

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Guest post: ‘Skipping the awkward get-to-know-you-phase’

GUEST POST from a guest of ’16N,’ our international conversation series of salons: ‘When we met, it was like we didn’t have a long awkward get-to-know-you phase, it was easy to chat and talk about less usual things.’

Published in S. P. A. C. E.

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A guest post today from Sarah Rhodes. Sarah had joined us at ‘N’ Phnom Penh, and reflects on that experience. 

WHEN I FIRST moved to Siem Reap, I was attending a lot of different events to meet different people and try and find my place and friends in a new city.

It was at one of these events where I met [DK], who was hosting ‘N’, an event that sounded a bit interesting, and although we didn’t get to talk directly, it was a few days later that we ended up having a great chat watching the sunset on a rooftop in Siem Reap town.

Whether it was the first meeting or the sunset chat there was no doubt that the connection had been made, so when I was visiting Phnom Penh in April last year and it coincided with the ‘N’ event, I considered myself very fortunate.


It was during this visit that I realised the other attendees of the event had also had similar encounters with [DK], so it was no surprise that when we all arrived for this event we found that we automatically connected, as we had one main thing in common. The way the event was organised was well thought through; from the personal invitation, individually crafted official invitations, creative activities which with facilitated conversation beyond the usual ‘who are you?’ and ‘what do you do?’.

WHEN WE MET, it was like we didn’t have a long awkward get-to-know-you phase, it was easy to chat and talk about less usual things. I met many interesting people that night. I now have friendships with people in Phnom Penh from ‘N’, after all a friendship is formed by first talking with someone, and then talking with them again. —Sarah E. Rhodes (@saraherhodes)

Published in S. P. A. C. E.

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S. P. A. C. E: ‘Diary of N’

…PEOPLE WHO’VE said ‘yes’ to this wacky and weird idea. Followed all the instructions. Showed up, on the day. What happened in Phnom Penh and Bangkok was very special. And it’s because of the people who came. I can’t even tell you how cool it was. We made it possible, ourselves. We chose to be there, and we were there. Because we were curious. We wanted to be. That’s what made it magic.

Published in S. P. A. C. E. for members of SELF.

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I’ve given myself a task. To find 256 people. In cities that have an ‘N’ in them. To talk about a topic that starts with ‘N’. In a venue that starts with ‘N’, too. So far we’ve gone to Phnom Penh for ‘N’ Normality at NUK Cafe, and to Bangkok for ‘N’ NOW at Nikko Cafe. The next few places are on the books for later this year, and I am now working to invite the magic set of 16 to each of those places. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the number one reason is:

‘N’ is magical.


It’s working. The thing that an innovation consultant we know and work with closely said innovations are solutions to the right problems that users love to use. The important parts: ‘Right problems,’ and ‘love to use.’

The problem: people aren’t connecting in meaningful ways. Outside of work or romantic relationships, it’s hard to discover space and time to connect for quality dialogue, intellectual play and stuff like that. ‘A 30 year old guy talking to another 30 year old guy?’ someone on a train I met somewhere in the autumn said, ‘Well, that’s just weird. It’s like a date. What do you like? I don’t know. What do you like? That’s just… weird.’

Is it?

Can ‘N’ let it happen, so it’s NOT weird?

My original gut feeling was, ‘What if we could stop trying to collect people? As if we’re all numbers. What if, instead, we were all N, so randomly chosen and highly self-selecting. And then, when we have this very short moment of a conversation space in real life, those ‘N’ who’ve chosen to join the project become real people. The kicker: you have to check in your phone at the start. This is a picture of what it ‘feels’ like to be there. I took this picture in Copenhagen.

People. It’s about the people.

256 in total.

You. Me. Us.

People who’ve said ‘yes’ to this wacky and weird idea. Followed all the instructions. Showed up, on the day. What happened in Phnom Penh and Bangkok was very special. And it’s because of the people who came. I can’t even tell you how cool it was. We made it possible, ourselves. We chose to be there, and we were there. Because we were curious. We wanted to be. That’s what made it magic.

‘A – H A!’

EVER SINCE the idea to make ’16N’ flashed into concept in March 2015, I have sort of obsessively been writing people or bumping into them and asking, ‘Will you like to hear more about ‘N’?’ Sometimes they say yes.

I wanted to design a way for us to all meet each other at the SAME TIME. Serendipity and chance, but sort of on purpose. An experiment? Something. The idea being let’s see who comes. Let’s see what happens. Non-boring conversations, please. How to make it happen? This was my premise: You can design for great conversation. You can engineer conditions so that it’s more likely to hit on something cool in the space of a short burst of time. (PS, I’m an engineer by training, a designer by school of life.)

What I needed were these things:

People’s trust.
A unique proposition.
A firmness in structure.
A way to make it fun.
Openness within the structure, on the day.

NO DOUBT this is a work in progress. But if you’re here because I invited you to an ‘N’ in your city, there’s more to share, at the password-protected link. Let me know you are there, and I can share more.

Diary of ‘N’ is published in Design Kompany’s eZine S. P. A. C. E. —DK

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