The next ‘N’ is coming to Thailand, and this is why

'N' is coming to Bangkok
‘N’ is coming to Bangkok

A FEW PEOPLE ARE ASKING ME ABOUT the next ‘N’ event, since there will be 15 more to make to complete the series ’16N’.

The first one, ‘N’ Phnom Penh, took place at NUK Cafe in April. It was a test, of sorts. In today’s “Culture of Maybe” I’ve been feeling a little lost when it comes to creating events, and even when attending other people’s events; mostly, I think there’s a lot of great stuff that happens in real life, live and on stage, or when we are partygoers ourselves and enjoying the simple act of randomly bumping into those whose paths we may never have otherwise crossed.

PEOPLE HAVE FOUND CONNECTIONS that led to new housemates, romantic love, and even new jobs at some of the events Design Kompany has hosted in the past years (2006-present). But that’s not the objective, it’s just a natural outcome. You do the work to show up and you tend to meet other people who also think it’s important to do the work to show up. Most often, they’re curious. Open. Engaged. I know, I know. I’m biased because I like to host these kinds of parties. But even in Ireland, which pre-dated our time as Design Kompany LLC, even in West Cork, our party there, the dessert party on the farm in Shepperton? Maybe you were there. Maybe you remember. What a mix-it-up and what great craic.

Making space for great conversation to happen—spontaneously, in the round, and with a personal invitation that comes from a real person who thinks you’re just right for it—that’s what ‘N’ is about. Bangkok, being a stone’s throw from DK’s base in Phnom Penh, is the next place to head to because I adore this city. The theme is NOW.

I’d love to give you the password to this page, if you’re there, and interested in talking more.

I could expand, if you’re interested? Especially if you’re in Bangkok this summer, (or Copenhagen or London after that), do get in touch. Here’s how: Contact DK >

Hello London: ‘N’ is coming your way

Tickets are getting made. Invite-only. Just 16.ARE YOU CURIOUS about what it is? No details will be posted here, but if you are open to something different and very new, I am open to receiving a note from you. Contact DK >

Meantime, making tickets. And a guestlist. Very jazzed.

LOOKING PRESENTLY FOR THE RIGHT SET OF EXACTLY 16 people to invite, personally, to ‘N’ London. This would be part of an international series, ’16N’.

Colleagues in London are also helping make this happen, and we’ll together share more in the coming weeks.

‘N’ London, whose theme is very nearly fixed (sitting on it, running it by people, seeing how it feels to say and hold), is making confident, happy, coming-to-England plans.

Are you curious about what it is? No details will be posted here, but if you are open to something different and very new, I am open to receiving a note from you. Contact DK >

Meantime, making tickets. And a guestlist. Very jazzed.

Tickets are getting made. Invite-only. Just 16.
Tickets are getting made. Invite-only. Just 16.

Designing the next ‘N,’ a 16-way conversation installation

IT DOESN’T HAPPEN EVERY DAY. It doesn’t even happen every year.

But it does happen, it can happen, and it will happen.

As long as you persist and keep trying things, right?, as long as you let it go and see where it runs, you will find the thread and the poetry in the weaving of fabrics that make a picture.

Somehow, you trust this process. You go with it. You let the wave take you where it will.

And when it drops you off, eventually, in a spot where you’re completely stunned to be, you will know that feeling.

What… what… what is this? Now, wait a minute. This! This feel right on! 

For us at Design Kompany, there has been a lot of playing in the sandbox, building and rebuilding, breaking things down or surrendering to outside circumstances that break them down for us. But, we are still here. The blog is open again. Why? Because of ‘N.’

‘N’ is this thing.

A celebration of everything we love: randomness, improvisation, chance, experiential learning, making space, co-discovery, design (but not like in a magazine, more like designing the experience), serendipity, people, and conversation. In ONE moment of CONNECTION. Designed space for getting past all the riffraff and cumbersome back and forth of making time and effort to ACTUALLY get together. ‘N’ is pushing back on the Culture of Maybe. So you don’t have to wonder, “Wait. Is this happening?”

‘N’ is on.

The next ‘N’ is getting designed, planned, sketched, and collaboratively organized because ‘N’ is about, in part, the ‘us’ (and not about the ‘I’). Towards that end–

Guest posts to follow from people connected to this story, including Aske Pedersen in Copenhagen, and ‘N’ Phnom Penh guest Carly Nugent.

If you are wondering what ‘N’ is about, you are on the right track

'N '
‘N ‘

THIS IS A LONG STORY, but I’m going to try to keep it to less than 200 words. Hard, for me. I tend to like to ramble, something that, well, I’ll stop there with the intro.

Now, what is ‘N?’ You may be wondering. Perhaps you saw some images. Online, like on our FB or twitter. Or maybe I told you about it, in person. In real life. Real life is part of it. A big part. More importantly though is CONNECTION. As in, really looking at someone in the eye and seeing who they are there, not just these profiles we absorb in a passive way, but really relating. Relationally. Relatively. All these things are going to be explained in time here at this blog, but for now, I’m going to ask you to just trust me. Trust not me, that is, but trust the process. Experiential learning, some humanism, improv and play, creativity and innovation, some Jung stuff, there’s a lot here, but I don’t want this to become overly intellectual. I want it to be fun. Let’s play?

What to do now

I AM LOOKING FOR 16 people in 16 cities in the world who are open, curious, and ready to meet 15 others also interested in adventuring out of the comfort zone for a relaxed, easygoing evening of conversation. I’m also l looking for venues and co-designers to think with me on what kind of theme makes sense and what sort of setting, for the people in those cities. Every city will have its own theme, for example: Phnom Penh’s was NORMALITY, which we hosted April 26, 2015 at Nuk Cafe, and Copenhagen’s, this fall, will be NEARNESS.

Sound intriguing? There is more… Get in touch, and I’ll be happy to share. I’m learning as I go already that ‘N’ is far more than just a pushing back on the Culture of Maybe. I know it started there, but like ‘N’, the vector goes as it does and how it does. Secret: the line isn’t straight. Nothing interesting, however, ever seems to follow the linear path. Meandering is part of creative stuff, by design. —DK

Frictionless, boundless at the edges of frontiers

SURE FEELS WEIRD TO BE BLOGGING AGAIN. I swore when the laptop got stolen there would be an end to it. The blogging, I mean. The whole idea that you throw things into the aetherspace (which feels like wilderness, but is even more ambiguous and vaporous and vacuous and all of those things that beg the mind to go into the zone marked, unremarkably, “uncertain”)… Yes. I was trying to quit. Is blogging like drugs?

Normal Distribution Curve
What ‘normal’ looks like, to some.

These things happen, somehow, and DK is now based in Cambodia. Asia. Big time. Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, India, Thailand, and now, here.

WHO KNEW THAT THE TRAVELS that got you started would be the very ones that made you who you are. (Well, a lot of people who are way smarter than me and who have more experience in the ways of the world and in the trusting of the journey, too.) Theoretically, I got it. You have to go and do the thing you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt said that, right? And there were more fast quotes taped to the walls of the apartments that I’ve lived in for ten, maybe twelve years. Dorms, before that. Shared houses.

A lot of moving, a lot of movement. Sometimes you have to go through the blurry to see that hey, waitaminute, I like this life. I like the motion. It feels good. It fits. Way out past the three standard deviations, things feel loose, and good. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. That’s the stuff. Cool stuff happens, at the edges. Frictionless, boundless, there is so, so much more to explore. —DK

What George Bernard Shaw said about circumstances and how it connects to ‘N’

16 people x 16 cities.
PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS BLAMING their circumstances for what they are, said George Bernard Shaw. “I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the ones who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them.”

Sixteen of us are making ‘N’ Phnom Penh happen. (See 16N). For real. A theater, of sorts, a collage of ideas. The theme is ‘Normality,’ the agenda’s being writ. Intentional. Specific. On its way.

‘N’ Phnom Penh, the kickoff in a series of 16 to come in cities around the world (preferably with one N in them, 2 Ns is better), is a week away now. I’m lucky so many are showing up to vote on days based on having already committed to ticket-getting. Some of them, I haven’t even met.

Just sixteen people, though. Sixteen is the magic number for high quality conversation spacemaking, I learned from Origin, Beauty and BKK SELF. I’ve made a promise to my guests–that there will be 16 of us, that there will be high quality conversation, that there will be designed moments for connections. Now, I have to just get things in a line, and press the button, and you know what? The people… who come, who trust DK to hold the space and to make the thing that is the thing. The people! ‘N’ Phnom Penh guests. We haven’t even gotten started yet, but I already know. They’re really where the magic happens. And now, I’m fully committing. To my guests, for N Phnom Penh and ‘N’ elsewhere. I’m gonna show up, really show up, for ‘N,’ for all of you. Which is exactly why there are so few ways to join (invite only) and why there are only 16 invited. Funneling attention, closing some channels, clearing the riffraff. For only one end goal: designed moments of true connection. In other words, high-quality.

IT ISN’T SO EASY TO LOOK AT A THING AND CRITIQUE IT WHEN, upon deep inspection, you see, *gulp*, your own reflection.

The thing I was critiquing was the Culture of Maybe. Of how, when you really stopped to think about it, people were going all crazy about saying they were gonna do something and then totally not doing it. I would go all high ground and say, “Well, there’s this thing. It’s integrity. In business, in all functional relationships, you have to show up for the thing you say you will! It’s… trust!” Yes, I complained. A lot. I had an autoresponder on my email for a while that an old friend said was “a disconnect” and “obnoxious.” I mean, really, it’s okay to be obnoxious and stuff, but when you’re writing people about how you feel like no one’s really connecting and talking deeply and then the next thing is they get an autorespodner from you saying, “I don’t care about your ‘sorry for the late reply’,” well, it um, grated on some people. I can see why. I wasn’t clear. And I certainly wasn’t doing the work to show up for others, either. Meaning, not just in a passing way, but in a real, focused, and intentional way. But you know what? There was a reason for that. I’d become, in a word, flooded.

The culture of maybe and the reality of overwhelm

BACK IN THE 1990s that I love to go on and on about to with the young people who are on their devices not-making appointments and not-making real life conversations, well, we just didn’t have that many options. We didn’t have things like ways to stay connected with people we’d met on foreign travels or even a state away for summer camp. Besides letters and the old telephone, which meant you had to call someone’s parents and they had this big awareness that you were doing that and it was really hard, a big deal, because it meant something.

Calling. Writing.

That was HUGE. Well, maybe it’s because we were teens ourselves back then, some of us, I mean, those of us I talk to about this the most, I mean. And we just didn’t have other ways to talk, meet, and exchange little bits of “Hey, I think I wanna talk to you some more.” Now it’s like, “What’s your preferred social media?” And people like me, people who used to call and write, well, we kind of think it over and sometimes shift and that’s howcome I’ve been wishy washy about this. Deleting whole accounts and thinking that would help me focus on the quality conversations. But you know what it really did? It made me think, “This is stupid.”

I mean, why do I have so many loose ties, and so very few quality ones, anyway, in the first place? I got all crazy about the importance of relationships, and started reading a ton about these things in various places, and even wrote my whole ramble about it at DK’s profile on LinkedIn. LinkedIn was trying, wasn’t it, back in the day? But what happened? LI claims, claims!, “Relationships matter,” but when you’re on it, you sure don’t feel like LI cares about you.

Waking up and switching stuff off, to focus

SO WHAT TO DO. There’s just too many ways of meeting people now, and even more ways of connecting with them. Staying connected isn’t the problem. The problem is CURATING the connections you REALLY want to have. Where, over time, and with intention and specificity, (see? This is a design problem!), you can engineer high quality exchange.

That, at least, is the theory.

‘N’ is already teaching me things. And more important, the people I am meeting by chance and circumstance here in Phnom Penh, are teaching me things, too. (Thanks for that, PP.) —DK

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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’ 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—”


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'

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 >

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 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…


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?

There’s something cool about you

The only TED talk I would point you to, ever. Brene Brown on the Power of Vulnerability.

YOU GROW UP IN YOUR TEENS THINKING, “I gotta be more ___.” So people will like me. So people will think I’m cool. Teens are always going through that, aren’t they? And that was the thing a couple of us in an impromptu conversation last night started really getting into.

Started talking about, in general.


What is normal? Why do we think so?

You couldn’t help but bring up adolescence.

Way back when everyone and everybody would tell you how you were supposed to look, act, dress, and be. The magazines. The ads. The people on the television in the shows. American shows. American culture that was all about pushing other people down, humiliation, and one-upmanship. Born and bred in this culture it has taken one heckuva long time to remove myself long enough to see just how damaging that is for all of us. It’s a culture of wondering if you’re ever, ever going to be “enough.” But knowing how to accept your SELF, as you are, is exactly the first step that it takes to get to “happy.” I’m not making this up. You get to be a Buddhist by osmosis when you keep gravitating this way. (Japan in the 90s. Sikkim in India last year. Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in 2013, Cambodia for a year, where I’m based now.)

There’s a million and one ways to be

HAPPINESS. Isn’t that what everyone’s trying to bottle up and sell in America? Buy more now more now do this and you’ll have it, eureka!, the cure to everything. The perfect job, partner, lover, house, second job, new everything. Shiny shine shine.


What the?

If we can’t accept ourselves as we are, and this is the hard part about being a teen or a young adult in America, or even a grownup who never really got a chance to mature properly because our culture rewards narcissism and narcissists can’t do empathy and that means you never get very far in the high-quality relationship department… not just with a partner in life but with anyone, well, what happens is, we’re all walking around trying to think of snarky things to put online and get past all the self-loathing that really ultimately is the only reason anyone puts someone else down.

Why else would you?

Why? I keep wondering this. Why it feels weird to get to America is because you never really know if you’re doing okay. You feel like you’re on thin ice, all the time. You feel like you have to “improve yourself” because you’re not able to calmly state, “Hey, you know what? I don’t really give a crap what you think. I like myself as I am, just as is.”

Truth is, everyone has something cool about them. It’s true. And! There’s something cool about you.

You, me, and everyone else

FINDING OUT WHAT that is takes time and work, and maybe your twenties and thirties. Granted, it’s hard, and no one is gonna show up out of the blue to help you because that’s not what the Western culture is about to promote (or Eastern, come to think of it, over here people are just as influenced by the chase for “things” and material status to get where they think they want to be). Ugly, really, all of this. This weird ambient feeling like you have to conform to some arbitrary, top-down, American ideal of “the picture.”

Hm. I’m not buying it. No two point five kids, no property, no giant bank balance, no car, nothing like that out here for DK. The only thing that matters is relationships. True connectivity. Because as Oscar Wilde said, “Who, being loved, is poor?”

As cliche as it sounds, you can’t really love anyone fully, until you love your self.

Not teaching metaphysics

A PERSONAL CONFESSION: This whole giant two-year trek around the world started when someone somewhere in Asia offered DK the opportunity to teach metaphysics. A nerdy way of saying “self-awareness.” Relative to the world and the universe, sure, but the first bit, about SELF, that’s important. And DK would teach this to a specific population: teenage girls. I kid you not. The idea was to reach out and connect with a very youthful but highly influence-able age group. Show them that they don’t have to listen to anyone else’s ideas about how they “ought” to look, act, dress and be.

That they could decide.

That it’d be okay if this took time.

That no one else is going to be able to validate you.

That only you can do that.

Metaphysics. Being, the power of noticing “beingness.” All these texts on the subject, scanned at a library, mailed to a DK account somewhere that I’ve somehow lost the key to. But it doesn’t matter.

The intention—knowing and trusting that your voice counts, that your unique voice is just as important as the aggregate so-called “ideal” that they are pumping at you through ads, motifs in movies, TV shows, and elsewhere that tell you you’re not pretty enough, skinny enough, or attractive enough…. wow.

Let’s change the channel, shall we? —DK

Exploring themes of “normality” in May and June at S. P. A. C. E., an eZine. Read more >

Getting nervous but I believe in ‘N’ and this is why

Click to view animation '16N'

WELL, SURE. We could do better.

All of us. We could be better about how we talk to one another. And, of course, in how closely we listen.

Everyone would like space, for more and better quality listening and speaking. Dialogue and stuff.

Everyone could use designed space to connect, I think, in meaningful and engaging ways.

Back in 1999 when people were starting to open their hotmail accounts (mine was “dkompany”), I remember how exciting it was to be able to open a folder and see one or two little names in bold there in the interface. People who you knew! There, mostly, I saw my cousin’s name—RS. He was one of the first people I knew to pick up everything tech I knew, and he worked in the Silicon Valley for a long time, and now I think he still does but I can’t be sure about it, because you know what? We lost the thread. I used to have this stationery set that I’d use just to send letters to R, but after it ran out, so did we.

Losing the thread

Noise got in the way. Lots of it. Clutter and noise and banality and the digital spaces that we all thought were so exciting began to rub away something. Something that used to be there. No one could quite put their finger on it. But it was going, it was going back then in the days when we stopped talking to each other in real life, and then when we got cell phones that became “smart” and in the process made us dumb. We talked to pixels, we uploaded stupid things, we made this picture of who we thought we should be or how we thought we should be perceived. We overshared. We talked too much about our mothers. Regretted photos. We cried online and splashed the world with our innermost musings that, my God, you hoped no one would look at through the Way Way Back Machine.

And here we are, all this time later, pushed into a way of talking that is unbelievably anti-human.

Look familiar?
Look familiar?

We are overwhelmed with noise.

As the 80’s and 90s kids who grew up on this stuff age, they kind of exponentially’ve been adding crap to the internet that the 70s kids uploaded and their parents learned how to do, later, too, and now there are the 00s, and we have EVEN MORE of this stuff to sift and that’s why it’s okay now to not reply to email because who does email? Just the sellers—they’re the best at it and you hear from them even when you think you’re unlisted. (If I emailed you in recent days, I’d bet a bunch that it went into your spam because those other guys are winning at getting through filters and the normal people, people like us here at Design Kompany, who just wanna say, “Hey. That’s cool what you’re doing.” And it’s all, “WHY are you TALKING to me?” So to make it uncreepy, say, you have to find someone to introduce you to these people but then, they never get around to it, and if you’re used to networking you’ll do something like go on social media and ping and wait around and then ping again and maybe follow up. Circular nothingness. So we never grow, we just stay where we are with whomever happens to be around, but… we’re bored. How are you supposed to meet people? Tinder???? No, thank you!!) So different from when I was a reporter. It was all, “HERE, here. This? This is my direct line.” And they’d underline it in red and stuff like that.

And who uses the phone, now? I used to think this was our way to staying off all this stupid media channel stuff, but nope. I’m wrong. There is voice mail. And that’s the standard, now. There is no way to do what AT&T said they existed for. Reach out and touch someone. Do you remember that? Who remembers that? If you do, you’ll probably also remember that it was an amazing thing that happened when the flip cell phone came out and people started looking important and stuff. Now they have Bluetooth and Google Glasses (or did that get recalled completely?), and you look ridiculous.

Waking up to the picture of how things REALLY are

IN SHORT, I HAVE BEEN noticing the trend of how this all got really normal. This not answering stuff. This “I’m not listening” stuff. This “hey, send me an email and maybe I’ll follow up if I feel like it” stuff. I’m not saying you need to go and do all that, that’s not what I’m saying at all. What I do think, though, is that it’s important to be choosy. Selective. Quality relationships and quality conversations are way, way easier to work with. This is where ideas are made, born, given light, exchanged, thrown out into the wide world, batted and bettered. I’m into that. Bettering. Not just cluttering.

That’s why modern communciations baffle me. When DK got started officially as an LLC in Seattle (2005), our newest prospective clients or even brand new friends would set up, cancel, reschedule, and cancel again all sorts of conversations that never happened. I was coming from Skibbereen, Ireland (2000-2004), so we just didn’t have that kind of thing going on there, then. At least we didn’t in those days, things are probably different now. Mabye cancelling is the new thing. Maybe not really meaning anything is just okay for a lot of people. But it’s not okay with me.

This sort of nonsense of beating around the bush (just say “no” or “yes,” please, and if you’re a “maybe,” then you can just take a number because there are so, so many people in the world and so, so many engagements and quality conversations to be had, and life is short you know? Let’s not waste our time, mutually.) So yes. I’m being honest here. All that stuff really bothered me.

I wanted to connect. I wanted to feel something, more than just write notes on digital spaces. (MA knew this about me more than anyone, miss her and our doodling draw-up conversations.) I haven’t been the best at this. I have a hard time relating to the very people I see the most and care about deeply, because we are in the gutters and shelves of the media channels and we have forgotten how to look at one another. Really look. No, I mean, really look. Eye to eye. And to listen.

I have met some amazingly dull people lately. They seem so cool online, but they are boring as dead toads. (Just walked by some old toad skin on the streets of Phnom Penh, and yeah, I can attest to the fact that they are terribly boring.) But it’s not that these people are really boring, to be fair. They’re just pretending to be something that they’re not. And that’s not easy to deal with when you show up, thinking, “What are you making now?” And they say nothing, because they’ve exhausted their digital archives of the very best of what they have, and then, when you meet them, look them in the eye, which is youthful and looking for you to say “great job!” and otherwise sad and lonely and full of stuff that makes you feel “forlorn” and wish that old good stuff of the 1990s that yes, nostalgia and other things are muddling the essence of but still, that stuff, the sparkle and the spark, that used to be there would come back, that’s when you know.

You have to do something about this.

And if you turn it into a design problem, it’s really not that hard.

Applied design. Designing space for REAL LIFE. And not ‘maybe.’

Designers, however, need constraints.


Enter 16N.

Sixteen cities. Sixteen people in each city. Meeting me by sheer chance. In venues that start with ‘N.’ To talk, really talk. One moment. Once.

Because that’s the thing that I am craving from the old days, pre-hotmail and my cousin’s notes and the avalanche of fragmenting of the powerful notes that we’d share through letters or talk together with in person, on the phone, late into the night East Coast and West Coast on what we used to have as land lines which never needed juice, just call and there you are. Sunup and I’m still talking to my cousin. Sunny day ahead, because he gets who I really am. When’s the last time I had that kind of conversation? Hours-long and intimate because we did the work, over time, to truly listen to one another. Does it matter? Of course it does. At the end of our lives we will regret not keeping in touch. Don’t believe me? Just Google “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.”

16 people. 16 cities. Let’s see what we can find, together.

Who wants to know more? Say ‘hi?’  —DK 

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Pushing back on the Culture of Maybe

FLAKY. IFFY. TOO MANY CONFUSING WAYS OF INTERPRETING A BLANK STARE. Arrgghhh. Too much. Too much of too much wondering if that’s a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ It’s probably just a ‘maybe.’ And given all this new urban vocabulary about how easy it is to talk about that thing that happens when someone doesn’t do what you thought they were gonna do, well, that just tells us how pervasive this culture of maybe has gotten to be.

Icky stuff, if you ask me. I’m Gen X and biased, of course. Sure, whatever, but you know what? Lately, I’ve gotten a really low tolerance. If I get even a whiff of maybeness, that’s the end. That’s when I walk away. Why? There are just way too many other people in the world, and I meet a lot of people, mostly quite randomly, and that means being choosy is the only way to create anything of high quality at all. Seriously.

I know, I know. I got my head full of irritation about this kind of problem when I lived in the Pacific Northwest for six years. (I left because of it). But you know, I found out later, it’s not just Seattle. Crossed over to the whole other side of the country, to a little patch that I imagined would still be the way I left it. But no. It was flaky, iffy, and there were too many confusing ways of interpreting blank stares. What happened after that? Moved around, tried new things, got to know more people. Landed all the way on the other side of the world, in Cambodia. Where, guess what? Same. Thing. Awkwardness abounds. (I will talk all about it in a new book, coming from a new press, in some matter of weeks.) But for now, let me tell you more about this whole thing that’s going on. The maybe thing. How did this happen?

These days? I can’t be bothered. I don’t want maybes. I want yeses and nos. I don’t mind if they’re either, I just want to know. Firmness. Completeness. Let’s find out so we can get on with the business of doing good work, shall we? Isn’t that the more important thing, after all? And I can’t focus on something that’s hazy and gray. Not at all. I can focus, and I’ll give my one hundred and fifty-seven percent best, to the people I care about. Caring doesn’t come easily, though. I don’t just start caring about everyone I meet. I care about the people who start with a firm answer, a yes, and show up.

So now, with that, I want to tell you about how a new series of events is getting conceptualized and planned.

Designing space for intentional moments

HOW MANY COFFEE DATES does it take to get to know someone enough to start to talk about Real things, as in, for Real? For me, it’s sometimes infinity: I feel I can’t quite “get there” because we’ve gone too far down the road of the mundane day-to-day. And I would really rather be by myself if I have to be honest about it. If it’s about making friendships with people who aren’t gonna be people who do what they say they will, well, I’d rather finish reading my copy of You Can’t Go Home Again, rereading Flatland, writing my columns for various places, or dusting around the house. No, really. I like listening to my music and dancing around the apartment.

THEME for ‘N’ Phnom Penh: NORMALITY. What’s normal? Why do we think so?

Here’s the craic. Can we design space for true moments of real insight? As in, gain self-awareness in a flash because we suddenly have room and “safe space” to talk about things that we care about? I’ve been playing with this idea through some experiments in 2014: conversation installations. (See Now I want to get a little more focused and create 16 specific events, where I invite 16 people personally, because really it’s about the eye contact and “I know you a little but I want to know you better” kinds of feelings that I have that make me want to select certain people to bring into this space.

In other words, ‘N’ is about creating MOMENTS of CONNECTION. As in, when we meet other people in a Designed Space that is conducive to deep conversations. I want to really engage people in a conversation space that will have a style not unlike some of the workshops I’ve hosted in the past, but also, lots of room for improvisation, too.

The culture of maybe and why it’s ruining stuff

I AM REALLY DISCOVERING that the culture of Maybe is ruining great conversations, getting in the way of quality relationship-making, too. I’m not quite sure how it got this way, but I’m determined to try ‘N’ in order to combat it, at least a little.

When we say “Yes” I’d like to believe we mean it. When we say “I hear you” I’d like to believe we are really listening. When we are talking together in a way that lets us not only truly listen but also feel heard, we can discover something new that we perhaps didn’t see before.

The thing that exists between us all, the collective “wisdom,” you could say, that’s there… it’s so beautiful when we can simply feel, in some way, that we belong to something. But the culture of Maybe and the things that we are Consuming (visually, emotionally), well, they don’t make it easy to do this thing that we can do when we meet and simply talk.

Maybe it’s my grandmother’s words, about how when she walked down the street from her apartment in Delhi, she felt like she could sit and have tea with a few other ladies to vent a bit and make sense of their experiences, together.

How did we lose this simple thing? This sense of community… this sense of connecting because we are in the same place, the same time, the same cultural surrounds.

Even if we are from very different places (ages, nations, philosophies), we can still connect… That’s why the tickets I’ve made for ‘N’ are collages. A small part of me is in a part of you, and a part of you is in a part of me. So we have the bits from pages distributed through the 16 unique invitations.

More is cooking, more is coming and definitely there will be more to talk about as this gets underway more fully. But for now, I want to just let you know a little about the ‘why’ of all this N stuff. The whole thing is coming together in a way that nothing ever has in our work here at Design Kompany. Is this because it’s coming straight from the heart, as a kind of installation art thing, and a conceptual work, rather than a for-a-client commissioned piece? I’m not sure.

I can honestly say I care a lot about the commissions we take on here lately, because, in part, there are very few of them and they’re very carefully selected. Do I think we’ll be a good fit? Do I think I can deliver what’s truly my best work to you? Do you think you’ll be there to receive it, which is let’s face it, the hard part to know way up front at the start of a thing. But ‘N.’ ‘N’ is for all the 256 people I haven’t met yet. In the 16 “moments” we’ll be creating, together.

Pretty nerdy, right? Ah, that’s okay. I’m learning to embrace my inner nerd.

Gonna do this. And if I say I will do something, that means I will. For sure. And not maybe. —DK

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