REGROUPING, here at DK World HQ. It has been one full month of looking through old projects, discovering connections between them, and having that very intriguing moment of insight when you just feel like someone turned the lights on. I didn’t do the things you would imagine that you should do when going through this kind of overhaul; there were no customer interviews (most projects end, and people move on, and it’s a little weird to go back in time and dig through old contacts and ask questions, all this time later); we have learned a lot about who we are and the work we do, both as a team and as individual members.

Everyone has a specific core competency, and this clarifies everything.

I didn’t know a month was all it would take to gain such insight, but I am very glad for it.


Learning from others…

THING IS, there are a lot (50? seems like a lot to me) of people I have been in close correspondence with through the interviews we are putting in S P A C E, and they are teaching me so much about… flow.

Not necessarily because they are experts, but just asking questions about their revelations, insights, and the things they did to ramp up to those moments has been a kind of study of, ‘How do you get to the next level? How do you “N+1” it?’ for me, here.

In retrospect a few interviews really stand out for me. First was the designer, a software engineer, who makes stuff in Germany and whom I found… on the internet, of course. We didn’t talk on the phone, but the email conversations were good, and they got better with the back-and-forth style of exchange that necessarily involves responding, listening, and asking more questions, the creative process itself is about walking out into the dark, and wondering if anything of interest might happen. Sure, the dark is scary, but so? (What is the point of staying in the box all the time, I feel, and in the interviews that were the most fun, I met others who happened to feel that way, too.) Other people I met and interviewed for the forums included: a woman in her thirties who quit her day job to travel the world and record it in a blog and who was connected with me through a mutual friend when she came to Phnom Penh; a poet who now does readings all over the East Coast in the US whom I met at an open mic in Durham, NC; a cryptocurrency expert who helped me understand bitcoin and why it’s important; a jujitsu fighter who talked with me about choosing how to make your move, or just… more honestly… feeling your way towards it. Like in the Book of Five Rings… have you read that one?

Other flashes of ‘wow, that was great!’ moments were in real life, conversations with tea shop owners (like in Sheffield, Bangkok, and here in Phnom Penh), or florists (one was in San Francisco, happening to drop a bouquet at the picnic table in front of Front).

Or… musicians… a lot of them, to be honest, have helped me learn about improvisation and making it up as you go. Especially jazz, sometimes it’s very interesting. Theatre people tend to be repelled by me; not sure why. Same with other designers. Still not sure. I work well in conversations with complementarily-skilled others, but who value and respect and can also crossover to the other side of the left and right brain divide.

Don’t have to pigeonhole ourselves.

We can play at many tempos, enjoy stanzas of all styles.


Creating new S P A C E…

TURNING OFF HAS BEEN a huge part of turning on to the things that are important to me, personally, and the things I want to keep developing for the emails to come on Mondays for our subscribers and for the people who are participating in our online programmes. (This month we are on to Work, Life & Relationships, next one will be more specifically on Work-Life balance, there are some good Q&As scheduled for the rest of the month, and I have a feeling we will all be able to learn something, together, as we go. (Whatever is the point of taking some kind of random course from a faceless, nameless university somewhere, just so you can be ‘accredited?’ I am of the school of thought that we can self-validate, and we can group-identify.

Surely there is some academic idea around this, surely there is jargon. But for me, the doing of it, the making of space for exploration and jumping off into the void, is the why of our whole being here at Design Kompany.) It isn’t new. But it is clear that the most enjoyable work to date has been with and for others who are also interested in this thing, this philosophical esoteric thing of self-actualization, through the application of thoughtful reflection and that doesn’t mean setting a goal and jumping at it and measuring all the successes, it’s about setting the intention towards a thing. The journey, that is the work. And the joy.

The journey towards arrival, at wherever you go, through drift and wander, but with the clarity of intent secure in your heart… that is it. That is N+1.

(Aside: I will not talk about the people who have helped me learn this, because some of their stories are a little sad. Chasing things that… ultimately, didn’t give them the feeling that something mattered… that there was… well. It’s sad. Performance and productivity-chasing isn’t, ah, satisfying, if the metrics aren’t set by you. I learned much of this during our event, Book of Time || S P A C E, here in Phnom Penh, at the start of the year. Know what we did? Visualized our lives, but backwards. Looking back you get a sense of what you are still carrying around with you. Only by squarely facing that, and you should have seen us, getting irritated at things that happened when we were six, or even four, and realizing, and with realizing also seeing the absurdity of it, but realizing, as I was saying, how those hurts (and resentments) have stayed with us. Crimping us from moving forwards. Again, N+1.)



Letting go…

MOST PEOPLE WHOM I have been in correspondence with through these ten, maybe 20 years, are going into a different category for me now. They are in the ‘Not interested in N+1’ box. And that means, as much as it feels strange to let go, I have to purge them. From my emails, from the correspondences, from so very much more. Mental space must be created so that I can move forwards, personally. As the R&D Director here at DK, it’s important. We are lucky enough not to have to write reports to donors who want us to produce something that is going to make them look good, like the NGO world has to do, here. For better or worse, we have no one funding us, no reserves of cash, and no idea where our next gig will come from. That means always pivoting, as they like to stay in the startup world, but it also gives us a sense of… confidence, now. We have been at this kind of lifestyle for 10 years, and it’s… fun.

Isn’t fun the point? I feel fun is the point.

Which I realized this month, while sifting and sorting papers as well as columns and rows on a certain spreadsheet, ‘Highlights of DK’. I found out something else, too. VERY little of interest (to me) was produced during the years that… guess what? I was in school of working for someone. Isn’t that… something? You do the things that move you when you don’t have to worry about showing up for someone else’s thing. I am looking forward to seeing what DB makes, moving forwards, after he wrote to me about this idea… about daring to try things, outside of those boxes of work and work-related side gigs. It’s hard. It’s good, though. It’s not as hard as it seems. But me saying that doesn’t make people go and do things. Retirement does. Or getting sick. Or losing someone. It’s very… ah. Reactive.


Where this is going…

THIS BRINGS me back to where we started, today. With intention setting. I used to put something here, when I was younger, about how you should sign up for our ___ whatever thing, and get to know yourself, and be more clear about where you are going. But you know what? I can’t make anyone do that. I don’t even care, really, about that, now. The people I care about are the people who are resonating with this idea of N+1, and moving forwards, and they know already that they have to set an intention, first. Who am I to say so? Me? I’m just writing because this was a big month, here at DK. We came up with a new tool, too. Life hacking. I know, here it is, the thing you should get, or whatever. But no. I’ll not tell you about it. The people who will be interested, they will find out, on their own. That is the magical and weird and a little bit awkward thing about internet. Everybody knows; you don’t have to say it. If I’m talking to you, and only you know that, then I’ll see you. See you there… See you in the up. —AS



The narrative of ‘N’ Hanoi, Part 4

At the time of this writing, we have 4 people ‘in’ for ‘N’ Hanoi.

IN THE MIDDLE, that’s where we’ll begin.

At the time of this writing, we have 4 people ‘in’ for ‘N’ Hanoi.

  • __, from the bus.
  • __, from the… um. The internet.
  • __, from a public event.
  • __, from upstairs. Who was first to join ‘N’ Hanoi. A spot that I am always eternally grateful to someone for saying ‘yes’ to. More on the ‘why’ of this, below.

SOMETIME IN THE COMING DAYS I will circle back to Parts I-III. About how it has been going all this time, since I first started to share out in the open about the journey of ‘N’ Hanoi.

From the time we started with having discovered the venue, to when the decision came in a sort of weird inward insight to commit to the doing, to starting the ‘N’ journey in this blog for the first time really talking about all the uncertainty as it’s going on, et cetera. And how I think I found 2 or 3 of us (but, in the end, was wrong about. Hm. Happens.)

Ups. Downs. Movements in between. Still at it, though. Still working towards gathering 16 total strangers for a conversation installation in Hanoi in June on the theme, NARRATIVE. ‘What are the stories we tell the world? What are the ones we tell our selves?’ A low-key conversation, in which no prior experience or expertise is necessary. It’s about the who, more than the where or when, so I am starting with invitations to people I don’t know. Asking them to add their preferred dates to a secret poll online. Asking us to confirm whether we can do this, whether 16 of us can ‘say yes’ and ‘show up.’ The two most important things you need to have happen before the magic moment of ‘N’ can even begin to come within gravitational reach. More about ‘N’ is at the ’16N’ link, in our menu bar at the top of this page. Check it out.

Those things happened, and between then and now Parts I-III of the narrative of ‘N’ Hanoi did, too, and I shared a little with the S P A C E community, which is what? Which is something you can find out about when you click the box here, and so on. There’s so many layers to this, isn’t there?

After the first ticket moved in Bangkok, I got this coffee.




When someone joins ‘N’ for the first spot, I know that the ball is in motion. The onus is now on me to gather the rest of us, somehow. It feels hard, sometimes, like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat. But other times it’s very natural, very casual, very normal. Like today, when I met ___. I hope you will read this, __, I hope you will discover that this is part of an interactive story, not just me writing and blogging and ‘documenting.’ I used to have comments open on everything here, but they are always taken over by people in car sales or something like that, and it gets ugly going through all  the spam, so I don’t do that now. But my comment box is always open here, in case you are reading, or someone else whom I shared about ‘N’ with today (or in recent weeks). I guess I only just started talking about it out loud because I got the feeling, after the first ‘yes’, that there was scope for this, here. Hanoi is on for ‘N’, I think. People are game, I think. People say yes and people sometimes even show up, and once in a while people co-host things with me, too. That is beautiful, when it happens. That is conversation at its upper limit best. Co-creation. Conversation. Making things up, together, as we go.

In Search of Meaning (32): Perfection is the a-ha moment

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

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WHAT DO SCIENTISTS, JOURNALISTS, and artists have in common?

Relentless pursuit.

Artists are in pursuit of beauty.

Journalists (the honest ones, anyway), of truth.

And scientists, of both.


Making sense where there is none

WE EACH WANT TO ARRIVE at the truth of a thing. To make sense of the complexity of the world surrounding us.

To dissect, to question, to pursue and—with any luck—to gain privilege to some kind of understanding.

Art. Artist friends revel in the process of creating. Sometimes there’s a point where you think a piece is finished and then a single, unplanned movement determines a totally new direction.

It is a dance, it is a performance. But the audience and players are selfsame: they are you. Intuition is a guide. Clarity of vision is paramount.

The result can be brilliance: if you’ve stood at the foot of Michelangelo’s David when his crowd wanes and fades, you know exactly what I mean.

Journalism. Lately I’ve been revisiting some of Malcolm Gladwell’s writings. I saw Gladwell speak while touring with Outliers.

I didn’t realize his father was a mathematician, and the inner jacket copy for What the Dog Saw says Gladwell’s is ‘an investigator of the hidden extraordinary.’

I’m no Gladwell, but I was a staff reporter—first for the [DELETED] in southwest Ireland, then at the [DELETED].

In these jobs, I was always looking for the glint of something beautiful and, more importantly, true. If I could illuminate the truth in a thing through a story, I considered it a personal success.

Science. Scientists amaze me. They like to make tables and box their answers. This process of setting up a hypothesis, inventing methods to test it, and evaluating results to arrive at a conclusion reminds me of one of my classes in civil engineering at N.C. State: concrete.

When engineers build roads, they rely on charts and tables. They put in factors of safety. They don’t have any exact solution, but they apply what others have observed and tabulated to be true, and assured it will work the same way tomorrow. It’s inexact. It’s flawed.

But it works, at least enough of the time that we don’t question it or try to invent new methods. Kind of like Euclidean geometry.

Scientists and lovers of science are a curious lot.

That’s why I loved being surrounded by some 250 science enthusiasts last weekend at a conference smack in the middle of Research Triangle Park called Science Online.

For now, I’m still jazzed by the simplicity of the insight.

The a-ha moment

ARTISTS, JOURNALISTS, AND SCIENTISTS are each looking for something.

We mince uncertainty. We peel the superficial layers.

We want to “see” the internal workings of a thing, a process, or a condition of existence.

In other words, we seek—it is our work, our compulsion and even our obsession. Our hands and minds carry us to do the work that we simply cannot not do.

To quest.

Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist style.

Seeking discoveries and brilliant moments along the way.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty / That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. —John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

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