Origin

ORIGIN: ‘What is fromness?’ is inspired by ‘Ask me where I’m local’ by Taiye Selasi: ‘When someone asks you where you’re from … do you sometimes not know how to answer?’ Selasi speaks for “multi-local” people. In other words, people who feel at home in the town where they grew up, the city they live now and maybe another place or two. How can I come from a country?, she asks. How can a human being come from a concept?’

Origin: What is ‘fromness?’ Join Design Kompany in an informal setting for a conversation salon, ‘Origin.’ We’ll be talking about questions that help us all reflect on self-identity, whereness, and the notion of ‘where I am from.’ The program is light, and a slight redesign of our 2014 Origin conversation salon, also held in Phnom Penh, in which 16 people gathered for an unusual experience of talking with complete strangers about close-to-the-heart questions. We enjoyed the outdoor and informal setting, so we’ll keep that. Come to meet people from a wide mix of backgrounds. People whose paths you might not have crossed. Who are interested in taking a good, honest look at questions like: Who am I? Where am I ‘from?’ Who is my family? Where is my home? Questions that, we learned in 2014, truly open the heart. And help us learn more about one another, as well as ourselves.

  • ‘I never imagined I’d meet so many different people.’
  • ‘I wish we’d had more time! Thank you.’
  • ‘Weird and interesting!’
  • ‘Refreshingly honest.’

Order ticket — $11.25

Let’s meet in real life in Phnom Penh

See what’s on now.

THE FIRST TIME I CAME TO PHNOM PENH, there was a feeling that anything could happen. This was in March, 2014. This was a time in my life that I needed to be in a place where you could try things, make it up, see what happened. Because so much of what I had imagined was going to work simply hadn’t been doing that. I was on the verge of quitting it all. Giving up on the ‘Anything is Possible’ dream that we started Design Kompany with as a limited liability company in Seattle in 2005.

This was the hope, back then: You could do anything you wanted, if you just had a clear picture of what it was. Somehow, the universe would deliver. Regardless of background or income or societal class, the clarity of intent was the key. 

A few days after moving into a flat on Street 63, something that I never imagined I would do, I organized a conversation salon called ORIGIN.

What is fromness? Having turned this question about in my heart for the one year on the road in India, Nepal, Viet Nam, Thailand, and Laos, I very much wanted to know.

Having a burning question in your heart is one of the best ways to host a salon.

So I did.

ORIGIN was hosted in an ‘unconference’ format, which I think is a new idea here in Phnom Penh and I’d only first ever heard of it a few years prior at a barcamp in Seattle. You propose a theme, a topic that is, that could be openly interpreted. Here’s how it works. You share about it as a date-time-place and just see who comes. When guests arrive, you host the space in such a way as to invite those who are there to share what they hope to hear, and in this way, a natural and organically formed agenda is devised. On the spot. It’s very nice. We talk together in small circles, only with those who are also interested in exploring the topics that we are. In this way, we make good on our time. We establish real connections. People at ORIGIN, pictured below, seemed to really engage with this style of gathering with new and different others.

Here’s a pic:

ONE OF THE GREATEST things I have learned about living in Cambodia is just how open to trying new things that the Cambodian people are. How could I possibly have gotten to know people here, who are from here, when I’d only just arrived myself? Yet there were a lot of people who were local to Phnom Penh who got word of this and came. I really admired and appreciated that.

A lot of times you just throw an idea ‘out there’ and see if it ‘has legs,’ which is just designspeak for, ‘Does anyone really want this?’

In my three years since ORIGIN, I have tried out a lot of other kinds of topics, to mixed reviews and response. I have also gone to other countries and gathered people in different cities, just to see if maybe it was about the place. It’s not. It’s about the people. Whoever comes is the right people, it says in the Open Space manual. Whatever happens is exactly the only thing that could have.

What does this mean?

I will be hosting ORIGIN again.

It will be DK’s last conversation salon in Phnom Penh.

The date is set for 21 April.

The location will be on Street 334 in BKK1.

There are tickets on sale at this website.

You can also send me a note through the form at the end of this page and ask me how to join with Wing or cash. I’m so excited about ORIGIN 2017, but I’m also more experienced now in salonmaking. The people who come are the right people when you have the clarity of intent communicated very articulately. Are you interested in the topic of ‘fromness?’ Then ORIGIN is for you. What it is not is a place to go if you are otherwise bored, or if no other options come up for you on the day. That is why there are tickets, and they are only available for advance bookings. I’m looking forward to it.

Will we see you there?

‘Whatever. I can’t just, well, I don’t want to just spell it out.’

Screenshot 2016-05-30 23.11.47


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‘TELL PEOPLE, in a relatable way, why they should care and why it will make their lives better. Your offering. Whichever one.’

‘What??’

‘Dude. You just have to think about it. The benefits. Not features.’

‘But, but! This is about… self-actualization. This isn’t the kind of thing you go around plastering up and about like it’s some kind of cheap detergent or a Pop Art thingy or something like… I mean… it’s about… Argh. I just can’t do this. I can’t go into description.’

‘But that’s what you have to do. You have to tell people in a relatable way—’

‘Yeah yeah. Why it’s important and why they should care.’

‘Yeah. And how it will make their life better.’

‘So which thing? I mean, there’s the thing about the conversations in real life, which aren’t really something that I need to tell people about en masse, you know, like I kinda actually like it that they are small and incognito, it’s like some kind of… I don’t know… thing. It feels great when it just pops up and magically happens, without too much noise and discomfort and fanfare and people-managing. I mean, sorry, that’s not cool to say, is it? People managing? But I mean. That’s what happens when it gets to be too… many. The value is diluted.’

‘Ooh. The value is diluted. Okay, so you’re creating intimate spaces for conversation? Is that it?’

‘I mean, it’s not just conversation. It’s really about making space for people to meet those whose paths they would’t have otherwise have crossed. This is very, very important!’

‘Um. I’m not really sure I get it.’

‘You don’ know how many people say that!’

‘Well, you might want to think about your messaging. And your target audience.’

*winces* ‘My audience is people who want to be better.’

‘Mmm…  um.’

‘No, wait. Hear me out. The thing is this. MOST PEOPLE are pretty content to do what they’re doing, the way things have always “been done,” and never question how they can personally evolve. I mean, you don’t have to do it in some kind of massive revolt-y way. Even when people have the means to do things the way that makes them actually grow, they often don’t. Why is this? Because did you know only 8% of the population in the United States is into ‘actualizing?’ I read that in a book or something and wrote it into a journal and re-read it today. Today, like. I mean, wow. Most people are achieving, or surviving, or other things, but there are very few who actually want to actualize. It’s at the top of the pyramid, you know? That Maslow thingy?’

‘Yeah, yeah. But what is the benefit? How will it make my life better? Say, if I were an actualizer, that is.’

‘You don’t believe me?!?!?’

‘Uh.’

‘I guess at this point usually I would just throw up my hands and say, FINE. You don’t get it. And walk away. Because I’ve… I’ve been too impatient. Yeah, that would be true.’ *pauses* ‘I guess for the last 20 years, um, I’ve—we’ve?—been lucky enough that there were subsets of that 8% of the population that happened to be in my world at the times that they were, and trusted me, uh, us, and commissioned DK, and you know what I mean, it doesn’t just happen the people go, Oh, sure, let me just hand you this massive project that means a lot to me and that I’ve been waiting for the right person to do for my whole professional career and… and… I just have a good gut feeling about you.’

‘So that’s it? That’s why they should care? And how it makes their life better?’

‘They should care because… because they care about themselves. They want to have time and space to actually do some really good work looking inward. And not in a dumb way, like some pay-me-for-listening-to-you kind of setup, I have this play I could show you that is all about that, and it’s weird how society likes to think that you can justify your angst if you can bottle it up and release it in slow dribs at these programmed sessions, you know, like weird, man, and they do it anyway, and I guess since I come from a whole line of this lot of people who prescribe drugs for medicating away basic stuff like ANGST and ENNUI and… wait. What was the question?’

‘Tell people, in a relatable way, why they should care and why it will make their lives better.’

‘What, the eCourse, you mean? The eWorkshop?’

‘Yeah. Sure. And the salons.’

‘The salons are just… I mean. They’re kinda for fun. So I should really talk about the online courses and workshops, huh. I mean, I should tell people what everyone says that these things give them, but that would be weird, because it’s so personal and confidential and I don’t want to parade people around like they’re, you know, sales tools. I hate that kind of thing. I also don’t want a LOT of people, like I said, the conversation spaces usually work best when they’re small. I love small groups. I can really be part of them when I’m able to see everyone at close quarters.’

‘Then why are you… hiding?’

‘Huh?’

‘People want to see the real you. So they know they can trust you.’

‘Dude. People who know me trust me.’

‘So you’re fine with it? Where you are?’

‘Not 100%, but pretty much. Yeah. I like the people who find me. I like finding people, too, for the other thing, the ‘N’ project, but it’s… different. It’s more of a playful thing. It’s less of a… work thing. But… maybe work and play are… kind of overlapping sometimes. And what I do is let it be fun for people to discover who they really are…’

‘… And you’re on to it, almost, I think! Keep going! That’s good…’

‘…’

‘…’

‘Well, it’s not a party, but it feels like one. It’s more of a jam session, but everyone’s serious, not just frivolous time wasting because nothing else was going on that was more interesting. Well, we all make time for this because it’s important to us, and we commit and don’t go all weird and maybeish about it because it’s a, you know, a commitment. And I want to show up and be solid and make a space that’s good working space, not just fluff, not just woo-woo shite, but you know, like… insight-making. And it works, when it happens. When it does, it really does. I know I should brag about all the stuff I’ve done and put the big logos of all the stuff that has featured everything on the site and whatever but I just don’t want to do it like everyone else. I want to let people find me because they really want to do something interesting, not just standard fare. It’s not ‘self-help’ and I’m not a coach. It’s more… it’s more about… growth. Who wants to grow? Who wants to be better? How do you do that, when it’s not like you can easily discover others who want to do that? I’m talking about that slim segment of the 8% of the population in the US, and even less elsewhere because I have this US style and it’s not like it works everywhere. you know?’

‘Yeah, dude. I know.’

‘Good. ‘Cause lately, I’ve been feeling pretty darn misunderstood.’

‘It’s just esoteric and inaccessible, that’s all.’

‘I know. That’s why for a while, I was doing the comics.’—JP

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‘You need a net, though’

‘YOU MEAN THE GUY WHO CAME OVER, and slept on the bed, in the extra room?’

‘Yeah.’

‘That room, really? The one with all the mosquitoes? And NO NET?’

‘Yeah, yeah. When we used to live there.’

‘I can’t believe… That room had no net, dude.’

‘I know. But it was him. I had to like go over there and talk to him and ask him, it was you, wasn’t it? You’ve been to my house? And then, he was like, “Hai.”‘

‘Japanese people. Shy.’

‘…’

‘TOO shy.’

‘…’

‘What’s all that shyness gonna get you?’

‘…’

‘Say.’

‘No.’

‘Anyway, he seemed nice. I hope he comes to game night.’

Unbound from ennui

I AM A PART of all that I have met, said Tennyson. There is more. There is always more to the story of being, connecting to ourselves, to our colleagues, friends, lovers, acquaintances, children, elders, dead poets, and the people at work. To the ones we haven’t met yet, the rest, the beyond, the out there. There is more.

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

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I HAVE WITH ME TODAY a little green book of writings and collected scraps from physics books and notations from conversations with people who, like me, I think, I hope?, are asking big questions about meaning and stuff. It’s big and crazy, super esoteric, and exactly the sort of thing you have to box yourself into a space for some time to investigate.

Except, play.

Can’t focus on the universe expanding because of yesterday and the other stuff. Playfulness and the idea of it.

Story, the chance of it, the being open and staying open and getting out of the box. Because wow. It’s starting to seem incredibly boring lately, on the internet in blogs, the real-life conversation is 95% dull, too. But maybe it’s just getting older? When you do, you bore easily, right? I should make a conversation salon, online, with others who are looking outside of usual routines to connect. I don’t mean smalltalk. I mean, real stuff.

Playfulness. What is it? Who embodies it? Why is it important? Questions, questions. Always seeking questions, and yet more questions.

The box that I wanted to go right into and sit and think for probably too long and not figure anything out. Objectively speaking, and is there anything objective, anyway?, the idea of thinking is already flawed. You can’t figure stuff out when you just isolate yourself from everything and try to do it.

There’s a Chinese saying that goes, ‘If you think too much you will box yourself into a corner from which you will not be able to come out.’ Hmmm. Easy to romanticize solitude and space, I guess.

Yeah, I’m guilty. You go to Rishikesh and you go to Shimla and you sit and look at mountains and sunrises and you get crazy inspired, but there is no one to tell it to, the emergence and transition, the shift and the story that is unfolding from inside. It is not even unfolding in a clear way.

You write it all down anyway, and publish it on the internet and it’s like, whoa, who cares and then you’re aware more than ever that you are alone, but you don’t want to be. You go for a year on the road in Asia and you start to realize it’s not about the time, or the space, that’s what everyone thinks you’re up to, just hanging out seeing everything and having your mind blown with amazing life-changing experiences. When really you just want chai and wifi and if you’re lucky, a sequence of serendipitous encounters with an intriguing set of conversations, link, link, not in chains but free-form circles, that don’t bind but rather free you from your oppressive ennui. ‘Cause really. Is this all there is? Giant miracle of coming into being in this universe, and this is it? Boredom?

UNBOUND. Can you design for that unbounded break? A peculiar, particular quality of space.

Space to belong. Space to be. To find out one’s way to a concentrated enchanting and mutually intriguing space for hearing, sharing, learning, and processing Ideas and Thoughts, as esoteric as they are, because this is the stuff that pops us out of mountains of boring, (note to self: read A. Huxley), cookie-cutter play by the rules status quo and beyond that, when we’re beyond that, the rest.

NOTEBOOKS APLENTY yet to be filled, like this little green notebook, halfway gone, but halfway hopeful, with stuff about consciousness and qualia and a lovely thing Einstein said about awe and wonder, the wonder of it all, the same stuff that the movie, ‘The Theory of Everything,’ had Stephen Hawking’s character conclude with. The wonder of it all, the mysteries of things, life and the cosmos and the whole crazy chance existence of us, us beings. You zoom out a whole lot and it starts to seem really weird that we have little quibbles with our friends, spouses, neighbors, the people at work. It seems trifling.

So much seems trifling when you are looking at the wide sky, the sheltering sky that we read about in Paul Bowles’ book, the desert and the skip of sands in the stormwaves, there was much to note there, in those pages, pages that began to come alive and out into the space of ennui and wonder, but mixed, like a melancholy that flows from Camus’ The Stranger. Gosh, it is hot. Just thinking about it makes me tired. Othering and belonging, playfulness and inclusivitiy. Topics for today, in the green notebook’s pages, blending with fragments of remembrances from yesterdays talks, chats, online and offline, weird how we are talking together now. Pencil. Keeping it open, light. Living in the space of greys. Whole volumes, lost somewhere in the drift of moving about, place to place and placelessly, with the hope of retracing steps one day, perhaps, when the time is ready, vivid, and ripe.

Einstein, again: ‘The only true knowledge is experience.’

Whatever on earth for are we driving towards the acquisition of data to stuff into our brains? It seems, again, trifling. Petty. I’m confused about this. The existence being such a miracle of chance and so on, chances are slim, they might say, but chances are really bizarrely slim, I’m confident, this alone I’m confident of, that the mere existence of a spinning together of evolution and atoms and organisms and carbon and some other things hit on a magic moment of turning into life.

Where did you come from, you ask the setting sun.

I am a part of all that I have met
, said Tennyson.

There is more. There is always more to the story of being, connecting to ourselves, to our colleagues, friends, lovers, acquaintances, children, elders, dead poets, and the people at work. To the ones we haven’t met yet, the rest, the beyond, the out there. There is more.

The question is, will we open up the lids of our boxes, just a touch, to have a peek.

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

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Social innovation with my Cambodian teammates

TODAY, A GUEST POST from Phnom Penh-based innovation consultant Akira Morita. Akira is a founding member of Design Kompany’s creative collective.

Today a guest post from Phnom Penh-based innovation consultant Akira Morita. Akira is a founding member of Design Kompany’s creative collective.

IT WAS DURING my third Startup Weekend that I was a coach at, in Siem Reap, when I realized I had no idea what it was like to actually participate in this world of quickly assembling ideas and forging them into a clear, well-formed business pitch.

Then I thought: ‘that’s not right. I need to change this.’

Which is how I wound up entering an ‘idea competition’ with a group of Cambodian youths this summer.

THE INKLING. I had watched, coached or spoken at these [startup event and pitching session] things before (I don’t know why—because I was a ‘design thinker’ and a ‘consultant,’ maybe? Is this why people ask you to sign up for things like this?) Whatever the reason, I was always happy to be asked and said ‘yes’. But like I said, I had never personally participated in something that gets people together to quickly come up with an idea for a thing that’s cool (and is needed. And works).

The ASEAN Impact Challenge was a chance.

Deciding to ‘do it’

First a little bit about the contest we are still awaiting word about this week. (Fingers crossed!)

THE CHALLENGE. ASEAN Impact Challenge is an idea competition that gathers people from ten countries in Asia, to compete in coming up with an idea and pitching it. It has to be a social innovation that exists, or gets thunk up on the spot.

It’s organized by SCOPE Group, an ‘international impact consultancy,’ and it’s also supported by Malaysian Governmental agencies, too. It partners with other private companies and organizations (More: AseanImpactChallenge.org/About.php).

The teams of 5 people each have to go through an application process (dead simple and virtually everyone gets accepted), then undergo a full-day workshop on human centered design.

Our ideas get made into 3-minute pitch videos that explain the big idea, then those are submitted to the judges in Malaysia. (This is our status presently, awaiting word on our entry—this week.) Eventually, two teams from each country will be selected to compete live in Kuala Lumpur in November. Coaching. Incubation. (I think. The details of this event is best conjectured at, since the organizers are not necessarily forthcoming with exact details, probably because it’s their first time organizing it.)

Why did I do this? Same reason I do everything. Practice. Trying new things.

To practice ideating for real—with a team. I wanted to do more than side-line coaching with the youths here, to see if I can work with them and help them experience something that results in real growth.

How I found my Cambodian teammates

I ATTENDED AN ORIENTATION session in July, and asked around in a wildly open-format way for teammates. ‘If you are still not sure about what you’ll pitch, I’m looking for team mates.’

Creativity
Ideating in Phnom Penh

Two people came up to me afterwards: one ended up forming her own team, but the other turned out to be a perfect match for me. A recent graduate with a business degree, TT had experience with his family tailoring business that made him eager to help garment sector workers (his sister was one once, before she started her tailoring business.)

We brought in our mutual friends SL and ST, who had professional experiences in media and marketing, to help us.

We found the last member, another ST, later in our video making process.

‘CHAOTIC.’ The process turned out to be more chaotic than I’d imagined. I’d thought, ‘We have a whole month, surely it will be quite simple,’ but I didn’t account for just how busy these young people were. We could only meet in the evenings and on weekends, and two of them in particular had to travel all the time for their jobs.

We had to meet in parts to refine our idea, write and plan the video, then shoot footage and edit in a three-day sprint. Luckily, the video guy, SL, and marketing gal ST had participated in Startup Weekend before, so they were used to the pace, and could deliver on what we needed, which is a video that’s ‘good enough.’

IDEATION IN PRACTICE. Coming up with ideas in a group was the trickiest part for me. I had three idea generating sessions, twice in three and once with just TT, and by the time we came to the final idea it was almost mid-August.

I had wanted the process to be driven by the other team members as much as we could afford to, given the time constraints. I wanted to respect and nurture their creativity. But in the end, I was the one giving more ideas out, and encouraging the others to pitch their ideas in, and think beyond their initial idea was tough. In the end, I had to synthesize the various input I gained from the members into an idea that addressed the needs put forward by TT of creating livelihood for the rural youth, which everyone is happy about.

Once the idea in place, going through a CANVAS process and making sure the idea holds up, and storyboarding the video and planning the shoot, were pretty straightforward, if not necessarily the most FUN part of the process for everyone. I led these efforts and the team participated as they could. We all worked hard to meet the deadline, and I’m very much pleased with the result:

Related: Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5w5QCcbhofY

Lots to say about this. But for now, I’m thinking about how my growth was in learning just how complicated a group collaboration could be, and at the same time, how much fun it is. I was lucky to have such open and friendly team mates and for me the biggest challenge was to forget my default role as a leader, and enjoy the experience fully! —AM

Is it obvious? True validity isn’t about making bank

S. P. A. C. E. is for dreaming.IN THE LAST SEVERAL WEEKS, for the eZine S. P. A. C. E., I’ve been thinking nearly continuously, like a long line from the intersection of Street 63 and Mao Tse Toung Boulevard all the way up to where there is supposedly a well-lit designer-y kind of space that one day I am recommended I ought to go and see. Oh, what have I been thinking on? One thing. VALIDITY.

IN THE LAST SEVERAL WEEKS, for the eZine S. P. A. C. E., I’ve been thinking nearly continuously, like a long line from the intersection of Street 63 and Mao Tse Toung Boulevard all the way up to where there is supposedly a well-lit designer-y kind of space that one day I am recommended I ought to go and see. Oh, what have I been thinking on? One thing. VALIDITY.

Following a hunch

SUPPOSEDLY I AM TO FOLLOW that vertical road’s line one of these days. To the end. Meet a person. Say some things. Do something. If I do, it will be just another opportunity to do the big work of ‘N+1.’ Go outside the comfort zone, see what’s there. Even if that means taking a risk. Getting lost, getting hurt, getting stuck in the rainy season flood, losing my shoe, getting caught out in a conversation that is no fun at all because the other person is a total narcissist, etc. etc. You can always opt to do the so-called safe thing, and stay where you are. But that would not be ‘N+1.’ It would be ‘N+0.’

And that doesn’t sound like it would really be that important, at the end of my life, to have been like, ‘N+0+0+0…’ I prefer growth. Conversations, high-quality, are good ways to make space for that to happen. So that’s what all this stuff is about. The ezine publication. ‘N’ the series of 16. And other stuff too that I’m sharing only with a very inner circle of people who ‘get’ it. It’s easier that way; because life is short and it’s simpler to talk in these embryonic stages of designing a thing that will evolve sooner or later from good to brilliant, to stay low-key about it. To keep it light, small.

Making space for ‘N+1’

I HAVE ALWAYS WONDERED how no matter which city in the world I wind up in, I start to get pegged as ‘that person who does things and gets people together.’ Sometimes, I would do this quite happily and voluntarily. It was nice to be the one person everyone at a party or gathering knew, and that really inflated my ego. Maybe it’s in response to all that overwhelming attention I got personally that I’m not talking too much with my real name. Because in the last year, everything I’ve learned from books, and smart people, and creative folks, and clients, is this. It’s sooooo not about ego. The best things happen when they’re not about you. Which is the case when you’re designing something for a client, of course, as well. You have to really let it be about the other person, if you want it to be truly great. But then, it’s sooooo hard to re-imagine ‘design’ as something that does the big work of ‘N+1,’ even though really, design is about making things way better by thinking them through completely and intelligently. Too often today design = photoshop, and that’s dumb. That’s why even though we have “design” in our name, we never, ever talk about us doing design these days. Can’t. The word’s been co-opted by the people who buy Illustrator and say, ‘Okay. Now I’m gonna do the thing I need to do for my creative outlet.’ Let them. That’s not what we’re doing, here.

OVER THE LAST TEN YEARS, the big partymaking (Dazzle, POP, Sugar, Flourish, Gather, Math+Jazz, etc, etc) have moved into a smaller space. Tiny, invite-only salonmaking. Because the partymaking of old days had happened in a city where people fan the flames, constantly, on the egomaking stuff. They like to collect you. Into their collections. Now its instafame. Then it was Facebook. How many followers? As if one’s inner sense of worth was reflected accurately in those numbers. As if the social proof which is so arbitrary and fleeting and tenuous and not even real, mattered more than everything. (Including actual worth).

So what IS value? What DOES count? Why? How do we think about this, about yardsticks and societies and cultures and breaking free to create our own dimensions of that which we deem to be hugely meaningful. Because isn’t that it? Isn’t value not a number, but a sense of something’s capacity to be interesting? (Our Sept/Oct series of S. P. A. C. E. will take as its—oh, my God! A cockroach! Okay, I have to wrap this pretty fast). Isn’t value about a person’s glistening, true, inner, powerful, capacity to give? To contribute? Is this not worth?

How VALIDITY became a theme for S. P. A. C. E>

TONIGHT IT IS LATE as I type this, and maybe that’s why I’m not going to hold back. There used to be times when I started blogging again here (very recently, as you may take note), that I would think, ‘But that’s more ME and not so much DK, is it? And so, where to put things? Which boxes?’ It turns out that there’s only one box. I really only care about one thing. It’s new. It’s this year. It’s something that I didn’t realize matters to me more than I ever imagined it could or would. It’s about questioning assumptions about what and how we measure as ‘worthy’ or ‘good.’

Turns out there are whole vocabularies around these ideas, and schools of philosophy, too. As a kind of pop philosophy person, someone who doesn’t get all up in the face of people and isolate certain areas of possible ‘issues to be taken with X or Y or J,’ but rather, someone who just wants cool ideas about things to get talked about a little more, and with more verse and rhyme and poetry, you know, well. That. That’s what I’m trying to make and do here.

So when the things got complex about what it is that we ‘do’ at this blog (because now it’s just a blog, like in 2006), what it is that we do became a question to many, I realized it’s quite all right to blog in the first person again, as I always did, and probably always will. First person is real. First person is honest. You can’t hide behind some kind of name (okay, guilty—I’ve been doing quite a lot of that in recent days and weeks and months), but you can’t, in first person, TRULY ever hide. I read somewhere that the computers can figure out your writing style, like in four milliseconds, if they had to crunch it. They could know. They could suss you out because, like DNA, the way we speak and how we write is unique.

What counts, then? What’s worthy? What’s valuable, what’s meaningful, what’s important? I read the best quote yesterday online. It was this anti-capitalist ‘love notes’ series, and one of them said: ‘You are worth so much more than your productivity.’

So when we start to think about what value we can add to the world at large, what we can bring to society in the form of actual content, not just goods and services that people will buy because people will buy anything that is nicely packaged and overly done up even if they can’t be sure what they’re getting inside. People. Buy. Everything. They consume, left and right, and so do I, and we don’t even think about it. Critical things, like where is this food coming from? The way the young visitor who came here and celebrated an impromptu wedding (long story) on the upper levels of the building spoke of. Things like this. How we feel when we literally consume—partaking of chemicals that are buried in our food—didn’t occur to me since the days of reading Integrated Nutrition because I had a low iron count.

What I wanted to tell you that I haven’t yet is this. Work isn’t the only thing. Moneymaking is just one kind of way—a means, to an end. It’s not about what we have in our lives, but who. It’s about who we are, too, not just whom we’re around. You could get more philosophical here. You could even get pop philosophical. But I’ll save that for anyone who wants to meet me in S. P. A. C. E.

VALIDITY is here. —DK

‘N’! It happened first here

'N' Phnom Penh  // APRIL 2015
‘N’ Phnom Penh // APRIL 2015

EARLIER THIS WEEK SIXTEEN PEOPLE who’ve mostly never met one another before converged for ONE moment of conversation in the kickoff of DK’s newest concept, an international series called ’16N’. More here >

‘N’ Phnom Penh took the theme NORMALITY. Adapted from a series of things DK has learned about how to create space for REAL LIFE connection, it was a fun and relaxed evening. That wasn’t the part DK was worried about.

What was?

Making sure people would all be there… and that’s why it was amazing to see the whole thing… actually happen.

Tickets for 'N' Phnom Penh. Just 16.
Tickets for ‘N’ Phnom Penh. Just 16.

Pushing back on the Culture of Maybe, DK asked people to pre-pay for tickets.

We then mutually picked a date together.

Reconfirmed. Tapped a waitlist. Then: sent an agenda.

Everyone came.

More on what happened, coming soon.

Today is May 1. We’re taking a short break.

Readying for Phnom Penh ‘N’

THINGS ARE GETTING ORGANIZED AND IT’S A RELIEF, in a big way, to see that this idea has what we in design like to call “legs.”

The thing is, you throw a lot of things around for twenty years and finally something feels like, yeah, that’s it, that’s the thing that is the thing. I have this weird phrase I like to say, I noticed, speaking of things. I say, “It’s a thing.” Like, when I feel like stuff that feels like at first it’s just a bunch of dust but then as it grows together and congeals a bit and becomes obvious enough that it almost takes shape. That’s when. That’s when I’ll go, “It’s a thing.”

‘N.’

‘N’ is a thing,

Almost there now, kicking off the first of the series here in Phnom Penh very soon. Guests are by invitation only. Ticketed and stuff, so there’s no “maybe” involved. It’s do you have a ticket? It’s did you really mean it when you said yes because if you didn’t and didn’t get a ticket that means no, dude. So you know, it’s a system. Designed to eliminate the maybe and take the guesswork out of who’s really into the idea of showing up for something as obscure as ‘N’ for the first time, and you know, trying it.

Getting distracted from the story, here, but suffice to say, it’s happening.

And that, in our modern era, is news.

It’s happening.

It is on.

Maybe it’s because it’s Phnom Penh, and a lot of people I invited personally aren’t really from any particular place, so the idea of showing up for something vague but vaguely intriguing is a thing. A thing, you know? Of course you get your usual 2% of “WTF” replies, which is starting to make me think, maybe this isn’t about the culture of maybe at all. Maybe it’s just about how we are, programming ourselves as people who respond or don’t respond, who are open and say yes (this is why I like jazz, because you kind of just go with it, you know?), and those who are more than likely to shut you down before you even start to finish the first sentence. “N, see, N! It’s a thing, it’s about—”

“WTF?”

So, there you are. Not for everyone.

The thing that is happening now is that we are starting to talk about this, together, ambiently. Connectedly. Us, the people in Phnom Penh who will be showing up for this. Who are wondering, probably, where we really are. When you don’t know where you are in the world and you come from a lot of places, the idea of connection is very attractive, indeed. But how do you define connection? How do you know if you’re truly going to belong? What does that even mean, anyway?

Philosophy of connectivity

BELONGING. The year of belonging, 2015, now I recall it, thanks to a hearty conversation with VJ. As I write ‘N’ guests are mutually agreeing on a date. So happy that some of us are there, now, talking in this odd way that is the internet, sharing with one another what we think about the ‘culture of maybe’ that I’d been harping about for a long time and through conversations like today’s with not just V but also KM, I got some new insights about. It’s not just other people. It’s totally me, too.

Sorry if I’ve been out of touch. (Much of it is on purpose, though, just to be completely honest. I’ve deleted many personal social media channels so as to focus on the few relationships that truly matter.) But I’m still here. It’s just—communication just got overwhelming there, for a while. I needed to focus on some things, sort some ideas. Get the groove. I’m telling you, this break from blogging (2 years, after 2006-2013) has been craziness, has been journaling and online projects and eBooks and whatnot, but 800 posts from the old days that got deleted by some wacky convergence of hackerism and things that walk off in the dead of night (not tonight, thankfully, or at least, not tonight—I hope), well, there is a lot that happens when one goes away from a comfortable-seeming life of staying put with giant Macs in one’s home office in a town that that very one person used to think, for a long time, was “home.”

I’m not perfect at this stuff, I’m not even that great at writing clipped communcations that get straight to the point. No, I wander. I like to drift, circle around, come back for a bit. Maybe I lose some people in this way, but I like to think, I hope, anyway, that there are a couple who are happy about the style. I hope! But I can’t know, for sure, because… communication! Overwhelming. Meantime, I like to move in flow, which I sat for a while and discovered about with TR. Flow! Wherever that is, and it’s not easy to do sometimes when we are all so focused on the who-what-where-when-why and how. Oh, the how! That’s the thing that is the thing that’s hard to figure out.

Making space for 16N

Click to view animation '16N'
’16N’

MOSQUITOS ARE GETTING IN THE WAY OF PROPER FOCUS. But I want to tell this to you, if you’re there, if you’re wondering what’s going on here, what this ‘N’ thing is about, how it works. It’s an uncertain thing, ladies and gentlemen. Like life, the foray into this big black space of not knowing, this well, let’s just see what happens, shall we? Mode of adapting and adjusting, and I have to say, I rather like it.

True, I have no agenda, no bulleted list of things to accomplish. I have no real purpose in collecting sixteen people met through chance in one moment of time, in Phnom Penh. Except: I know it will be… beautiful.

Because when we connect, we make time for it you know, that kind of connect, when we do that without feeling like, “Maybe this will work,” but rather, just having this intention, like, “Yeah. See you there because we’re gonna do it, we are. Since you made such a fuss about flakiness, and stuff, we will,” and then, there we’ll be. I’ll be really different with this one, from past events. See dipikakohli.com >

Things change. They evolve. They make sense after a time. MOMENTS of CONNECTION that happen… are… beautiful. I know this because I’ve seen this. I’ve seen it again, and again. Designing space for it, that’s what I care about. Designing space for… beauty.

Because all my life I’ve been in pursuit of beauty. And in search of meaning. Sometimes, when I’m very very lucky, I find both.

‘N’. ‘N,’ I’d bank on it, will be just such an occasion. More at 16N > —DK

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What’s normal? by ‘N’ Phnom Penh

NORMALITY. A quality that can only exist in reference to other things – the past, other people, abstracted rules. A quality of the self-conscious ‘I’ rather than the present ‘I.’ As a substitute for balance, it’s a quality forever at war with itself.

Editor’s note: Guests of ‘N’ in Phnom Penh authored this essay, together. Read more about the project 16N here.

IN 2015, GIRLS WEAR PANTS, suits, have pixie hair, tattoos and even chase men. These are now normal.

Other normal situations are validated only when backed up by science, like what is a normal blood pressure? The rest are subjective. As Morticia Adams quoted: “Normal is an illusion.”

But… is it? Normal is something that has already been done, many times. The more something has been done, the more normal it is. Actually, there’s more. Way.

THE NORMAL DISTRIBUTION CURVE IS A GRAPH which shows the spread of random variables, or behaviours, in a population. It centres around the mean, or average, which is the sum of all expected behaviours divided by the population. 99.7% of all values are within 3 standard deviations of the mean. Like this:

Normal Distribution Curve
Normal Distribution Curve

When very recently I met with and tried to explain this concept of “normal” to DK, it was, um, funny. She didn’t quite know what I meant.

She had, I think, her own idea about ‘N.’ She said: “You mean, like the normal vector? Like, 90 perpendicular to the horizontal? And then when 16 voices converge, wham, on a plane, like this, see this animation? Yeah, like that, so when wham, that happens, that MOMENT, that’s when, whoo, you go UP, into SPACE, like 3D, like up the vertical that is the “NORMAL” vector!!! OMG!!!!”

Not quite, DK, but, that’s cool.

Then I thought, Morissey.

Morissey
Morissey

MORISSEY SANG ‘there is no such thing as normal’; a statement I believe and find comforting, in that I repeat it frequently whenever the need arises.

However, in recent years I have become more aware that a CONSTRUCT of normality exists, and if you don’t neatly fit into this, then prepare for questions!

‘We don’t have to agree’

NORMALITY IS WHAT YOUR ENVIRONMENT expected you to do or think, the referent environment mostly has referent expectation. With that in mind, here’s a thought.

We don’t have to 100% agree to someone, as long as we can find a common ground that’s acceptable to both sides. You get yourself an agreement. They said it right when they said: “Better communication skills will get a better outcome.”

May I be frank? Okay, these are my random innermost thoughts. Ready? I’ve never met a person who feels normal. Abnormal is normal. Normal for who? Dehumanizing in any culture is not normal. I don’t want a normal job or relationship. Describe life as vibrant, sticky, juicy, challenging, fluffy… my ideas about normality are negative. Is that my “normal” thinking pattern? Hm. Now I’m wondering.

Maybe it’s this, though. Normal is when we can live simply. Read books whenever we want to without being tested on. Paint because we want to, not because we’ve got something to prove. Enjoy the moment with no place to rush off to. We just want to be, boundless and infinite… Or? I’m still thinking…

—N

P.S. Some other things that came up after the event last Sunday, as I’ve been ruminating. Normality. Like the rest. Falling within a deviation determined by cultural narratives, science and, most importantly, perception. Normal shifts based on country, decade, household… Constantly changing, ever imperfect. It is those ideas and people outside the spectrum – that are abnormal – that are often responsible for greatness.

And this one: Normality. A quality that can only exist in reference to other things – the past, other people, abstracted rules. A quality of the self-conscious ‘I’ rather than the present ‘I.’ As a substitute for balance, it’s a quality forever at war with itself.

What do you think? What’s normal? Why do we think so?