Agile publishing

[UPDATE 10 January: Try the COJOURNAL experience to see what this is like. You can do this from anywhere if you have an internet connection. We’re getting started on 31 January.]

FOR A LONG TIME I used to be like most of the people I know who claim to want to write. I mean, I wanted to get picked up.

By some kind of an agent, or a publishing house.

Then, get toured around the world.

Splashy dinners, press conferences, lots and lots of people asking me about my stories… all admiringly but of course asking the same repeating questions.

But. But.

Fancy ashtrays for my splashy-splashy. ‘You smoke?’ ‘Of course I don’t!’



Got in the way of that.

Not because of drive… I had a lot of drive, back then. I guess I’m a Gen X slacker in other ways, but I do like publishing and I will do it, and blogging is a kind of publishing, and even though I haven’t been writing here very much for the last three years it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing and sharing.

Just not in public, like this.

I preferred small, private circles.

I still do.

Some of the time I wrote for newspapers, first freelance and then as a staffer. Then I got into magazine stuff. Then I decided it wasn’t for me, that piecewise thing you have to do (read: pitching) and not experimenting with the medium, which is way, way more fun. Thanks to a couple of internet friends scattered in timezones near and far, I’m able to connect more deeply through writing (but only with some people, of course. You can’t share intimately with everyone.) Maybe this is why I don’t care so much about getting famous, now. It just doesn’t matter. What matters is hanging out. The quality of the conversations. The people I meet, what we discover together, what we learn from each other. How we grow.

Not famous


I had this thought about fame, though. A lot, probably, through most of my early twenties. Back then, mostly in those big cities with yellow stuff pasted onto walls around subways, I picked up flyers about going to get my correspondence writing course started, and then, I left them behind.

I don’t know why.

Someone I just met said, it’s human to want to be famous. I’m not convinced that this is so true, though. I think it’s narcissistic, sure. And yeah, the Western cultures have a thing about that. But living in Asia for three years (and counting) will do something to you. Will make you think, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Who cares?’

Heidegger: ‘What is Metaphysics?’


Next steps: writing and publishing

THINGS NOW ARE INCREDIBLY NEW, and the old-school model is still nagging at the artists. Why is this?


Who cares if it’s ‘popular?’

JS wrote: ‘Do what moves you.’

Something about pining for fame… (JS is famous, by the way)… as much as this is so normal if you grow up in a place where fame is worshipped,… But well, something about the pursuit of #1, and that alone, seemed dodgy, to me. Who decides on the criteria, for one? What do you consider to be interesting, intriguing, alluring, mysterious? Because most likely, it’s not the stuff that’s going to top the pop charts. Well, at least, if you’re like me. I’m into other things. Philosophical stuff, going to the edges (literally, sometimes), looking out and over, maybe even taking a jump (literally, again. Like in India’s Himachal Pradesh, at Manali.)

Not saying you have to do it this way or that way.

Paying attention to the way, though. That’s important. Because along the way you’ll find the things that add to your story, the Book of You. (More about that is coming, but only for the inner inner circles, in mid-January, through the emails.)

Voicefinding is underrated, you know. Taking time is, too. Discovering, messing up, finding your way, the way again, there it is. Why are the Westerners so outcome-focused? I noticed in recent weeks that I had this one outcome in mind about a thing, and it didn’t go exactly as I had pictured, and on the one hand I was so disappointed I teared up a bit, but on the other, we had something else in its place. We had a different kind of thing. Another way. And it was fine; in its own way, it was beautiful all exactly as it stood, unjudged and unexpected. Is that the thing, then? Letting things happen?

Finding one’s voice, I felt, seemed like the most important journey, to me, when I was watching everyone follow the pack. The herd mentality is pretty crazy. Human, of course. But we gotta watch that. What are we doing, and why? It’s necessary to pay attention to this. Intention.

Even in my younger days, I knew that to experience life would be more important, than to try to make sense of what had happened, so far. There wasn’t enough of it behind me. I wanted to go. See. Learn, make, and do.

Of course people said that was stupid. These were the people who later went into investment banking and got houses that are now ‘underwater.’ They also told me that I was a ‘free spirit’ and wasn’t that just lucky-for-me, but twenty years later they are still looking for a weekend off to ‘go and write my novel.’ Yeah. A weekend.


Traveling opened it up, though, got me away from those people and their poisonous don’t-can’t thinking. (Total opposite of N+1. More about that in a bit.)

First job I got enough to save some to start this habit.

That’s how I got traveling. To East Asia. Southeast Asia, South Asia. Europe, too, of course. Moved there, even. Started things out. Made it all up as we went along. Slowly, surely.

One step at a time.

It became a kind of method, a sort of dance. Go, see. Suss. Learn, then make the next decision.

You know, the more I think about it, the more this isn’t just about a way of life that has nothing to do with wanting the praises and accolades that, I think, many many people that I would have known when I was, say, yeah, twenty-three, would have said they wanted.

The thing is, I met a lot of those people, along the way.

People who had made it. Were on the book tours. Were traveling the world, on other people’s dimes.

But they didn’t have the one thing that I had, in so many giant waves and troves and uncertain amounts, seemingly indefinitely.

They didn’t have time.

‘Hello, internet. I’m doing fine without you.’

Phasing the Book of Time

THIS THINKING caught up with me, just this morning. I was writing and thinking and writing some more, and gearing up to set up the co-writing page for BH to join me on, soon. (B, yes, it’s coming up, on Tuesday). I’m going to write there, now. Co-writing. It’s certainly not a new idea, this. Many people have been doing it through the ages.

I don’t know when it went from writing because writing is fun, ideas are playful, and we can make anything when we do this together, to something else.

Everyone becomes a bit of a corporation.

You have to go around and PR yourself to pieces. Literally. I remember the writer in the mountainside, who looked wistfully after me as we made our parting goodbyes, and said, ‘I wish I could go and sit and write and look out of my window and just have no one in the world to answer to. I’m jealous.’

You don’t have to be jealous, I thought, right then. Just go and do it.

Shutting down the devices and cutting out the reception. Letting go of the has-beens and moving on to the next-ones. It’s part of my process, this closing of doors.

Opening new email addresses, dumping old ones. Starting new conversations with strangers, forgetting to respond to the ones who became less-strange, but more distant, with time and space and lack of correspondence and the thing that happens when that happens, loss of interest.

That’s okay.

Editing is a thing you learn, the longer you’re at this game.

Editing is beautiful.

White space. Yes.

Copying Neils and morphing, too


I’m going to write to B and ask if he’ll work with me on this new thing. The Book of Time. (Did you know Neils Bohr, my hero, had 400 correspondents? Yeah. He just wrote all these letters. I’m so into that idea. I think I’ll start with 1.)

Neils Bohr

But did I tell you about agile publishing, yet?


Oh, man.

The cojournal, a precursor to S P A C E

THE COJOURNAL PROJECT that started all this writing into the void, into S P A C E, and other online spots, well, that was 2014 and wow, it was amazing.

I got to know a handful of people, and I got to know their writing style even better. Sometimes it was someone I maybe met just once, sometimes it was a colleague. Yeah. I know, right? I did this and I learned and we talked, and we shared. The growing came of the sharing, the process was the important bit. Sure, there was an outcome, there wast he PDF anthology that I’d sent out as a New Year’s Gift (with everyone int he projects’ permission, of course). Rounding up permissions sure takes some admin time, man. But I did, because I wanted to share that short eBook. It was nice. So then, after that, it was done. But some people didn’t want it to be done, so we carried on with a few of us for another year.

And then that morphed into THE FORUM, and it’s still going… And now this is growing up, too… but I have to have these small stairsteps.

I have to N+1 it, because not everyone is ready to go that far with the writing-together thing. It starts with inertia, of course, with convincing one’s self that yeah, it’s time, I gotta do this, I gotta write… Help me make it happen, DK.

That’s what used to happen.

But, no.

I won’t.


I have other things now, that I want to do.

Playing with the boxes.

Arriving at N+1

BUT TODAY, just now, I was walking away from this cafe where a lady asked me what I was doing here, what I was doing for crust, as they say, and I said for the first time, ‘I’m not sure yet.’

Because this is the last day of the year.

And that means, this is the last day of the offerings of Old.

If N=2016, then tomorrow is N+1.

And that’s where the good stuff is. And that’s where I’m going. —AS

More like this, and exclusives…

IN 2017 DK are changing quite a bit about how we connect with people, and we want to share more about the process of making and doing. It’s been quite a journey these last 20 years, but the best-of highlights and learning is what we share with a small, inner circle. These are our patrons. You can discover more about how to become a patron of DK through this link

[UPDATE 10 January: Try the COJOURNAL experience to see what this is like. You can do this from anywhere if you have an internet connection. We’re getting started on 31 January.]

Let’s meet in real life in Phnom Penh

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, because… living in Cambodia? Crazy thought. Yet it was… so simple. A business visa. A new gig. Things seemed possible, again. So, in my usual style of getting excited about gathering people to talk about real things in remarkable ways, I organized a conversation salon. Called it 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.

Origin. Hm. A question posed, so casually. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘No, I mean, where are you from, originally?’

What is fromness, anyway?

A burning question in your heart is one of the best indicators that it’s time to set up a salon.

So I did. Using a technique that some of you might know, called Open Space, and coupling it with the many conversations in client meetings, workshop style and open-ended, that I’ve learned are the way to inviting people to open up and make a space for real connection. Journalism and architecture are things I worked in before, so that helps design a frame within which we can do the work of good dialogue. It’s great.

DK’s salons in Phnom Penh 2014-2017

ORIGIN became the first of a series of salons on topics like: BEAUTY, ENNUI, MATH+JAZZ, ROOFTOP PHILOSOPHY, DISTRACTE, CHOICES, and dozens more. Always these we hosted in the ‘unconference’ format. Later I hosted these as ‘S P A C E’ events, lighter in intent and smaller in scale. These were for both public conversation salon spaces, as well as invitation-only ones. I realized that curating a guestlist can be just as exciting as the super free form that is the kind I share about publicly. Both are nice. In this way, DK began to grow a small community. Very small. But still. That felt right. Small is beautiful, as they say.

How do the salons work? Very simple. When the participants 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 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. Most importantly, this: it’s real.

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:

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?’ The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ I keep making these for the few people who say ‘yes.’ Like all good things, things that have a specific quality to them, it’s not for everyone. 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 traveled to other countries and gathered people in different cities, specifically to try this, just to see if maybe saying ‘yes’ to open-ended conversation salons is dependent on 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.

And so it is.

Revisiting ORIGIN

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. (If you don’t have a credit card, you can ask me through the form below how to sign up 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? Advance bookings only, please. Limited seats.

‘Wait, I have a question…’

OKAY. Here’s a form you can use to connect…

‘Yes, I’m in! How can I sign up?’

REGISTER TODAY through Eventbrite to secure your spot.


Seeking interesting people in Berlin and Hanoi


A short note.

About ‘onceness.’

And ’16N.’ I’m looking for interesting people to invite to a 16-way blind date. ‘Interesting’ has a lot of definitions, I’m aware. I guess for me, the kinds of people who would say yes and show up to something as wacky as an ‘N’ deems theme exceptionally intriguing. I can tell you now, why.

Making the magic moment *happen*

DESIGNING MOMENTS. Two years ago, I was sitting in a cafe in Phnom Penh wondering if I would ever meet Person A again. The conversation had gone so brilliantly, but it was just a passing thing. Wasn’t it? Yes. That was fine. Not everything has to be eternal friendship. But… what if it could’ve been a different kind of setup? As in, the stage-setting for the two hours or whatever it was, so that the actual time together was *better*? That is the work of designers, isn’t it? To make things *better.* So I started drawing on a napkin, thinking about nothing. I made an ‘N.’ It was weird. I put a vector sign over the top. Now it was ‘N’ vector. What the? Geometry?

And then, weirdly, it hit me.

What if 16 vectors crossed just ONCE?

What if 16, which is a nice number, people who’d never met were invited to join in on a once-off conversation salon? Of course the theme would start with an ‘N’. The place? A venue with an ‘N’. In a city with an ‘N.’ Just for symmetry or maybe poetry, 16N events in 16 cities. Yes. That. That is how ’16N’ got dreamed up.

Salons on topics like BEAUTY, ORIGIN, and ENNUI from 2004-2015 in Phnom Penh, Seattle, and Durham NC have been experiments to discover what works, what definitely doesn’t, and how to enjoy gathering people in bounded boxes of temporal, ephemeral space and time. Skilfully designed. For highly present guests.

The first ‘N’ events were in Phnom Penh and Bangkok. (NORMALITY and NOW). Next was London (NOTEWORTHINESS). Continuing. Making it happen. Improvising as we go.

Can you help me discover people? New and different others…

The kinds of people who’d be open to enjoy a short evening of playful conversation, some improvisation maybe, and ‘let’s just see how it goes.’

Know anyone like that? I hope yes.

Introductions are very welcome. All the instructions and updates are on this page:

Discover more about 16N at this page.

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