Can new definitions open new possibilities?

This facebook post on Design Kompany got the Origin conversation started…

YESTERDAY IN A SHOP I HEARD ENGLISH. It had been a while since I heard my own accent, clear and steady. I looked to where the source of this was, and caught sight of a young girl, maybe 9 or 10. She switched to Khmer when two smaller girls sidled up to her and took either of her hands.

Were they cousins, I mused?

Had she grown up with parents born in Cambodia, had she learned the native English of a land like England or Australia, complete with their own slangs and facial cues and other things you learn only when you are raised in that place?

But what about ‘place,’ anyway? Why should it be defined by the border of a nation, an ethnicity, or even a language? Watching the children together, at play, it was clear. They were ‘from’ the same place… maybe Childhood.


They were from, let’s see.

Let’s get creative here.

In how we define bounds.

They were from ‘a world that invites,’ ‘a place of connection,’ ‘a universe where laughter is joy, and joy is currency.’ They were from, that is, let’s see… ‘a community that holds hands, smiles, laughs and engages with that which might be interesting, that which might invite sharing of stories, making of plays and jokes.’ They were from… ‘Humanity.’

At this awareness, I got happy. There might be hope for us as we all explore our identities, and how we’re more alike than different. These little girls were all smiling, all three of them, skipping about beneath their mothers’ elbows, pointing at frilly dresses, testing out the oversize shoes the way any little girl in any place might.

Does this resonate with you? I’m going to keep posting bits and pieces from now through 21 April, when we will host our last conversation salon in Phnom Penh on the topic of ‘fromness.’ ORIGIN will invite anyone who identifies with this topic, anyone at all. Perhaps you grew up in #PhnomPenh. Or outside of it. Maybe you’re ‘from’ Kampot Province, or somewhere else. Maybe you want to just discover who else is curious about this idea. Join us in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to mix and connect, to talk and discover what it is that outlines your own sense of belonging. Come and share with us, Where are you +local+?

Come play. 21 APRIL in #PhnomPenh is Origin.

The Art of Not Knowing

Art of Not Knowing by Dipika Kohli
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A NEW ESSAY COLLECTION, by DK’s Dipika Kohli. It’s about many, many things but most of it is about uncertainty. How we can’t possibly know a thing before we start, and how we simply must investigate our way towards what feels right, and how that even works.

First release will be 1 June for members S P A C E. Then, pre-orders will be released 1 July.

Read more >

A new plateau

LEGACIES ARE MADE AND BUILT based on the learnings we can articulate clearly, and share. Dialogue makes us gather our ideas and respond to those of others, too. Perspectives can shift and whole rooms of internal awareness can open, if we allow ourselves room to reflect. It’s why I am always taking pictures like this, I think. I like to make the space for zooming into quiet. Processing ‘N’, which just happened on Wednesday here in London. No pictures. No social media. Just quiet space, to feel what it was, and reflect. Quietly, alone.

There are a few things coming together for 2017 for members of our online community, S. P. A. C. E. A different kind of thing than me posting blog entries, much more interactive: both real-life spacemaking events in cities like San Francisco and Bangkok, and conversation forums in online ‘rooms.’ The big idea is much like the 16N experience: connecting us to new and different others, making space for us to reflect and better tune in to our own selves, our own hoped-for legacy, whether we’re conscious of what it is or just open to ambling our way towards something bigger than simply existing day-to-day. I came to London a year ago to see George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman. In which similar questions of existence and purpose and meaning popped up. I can tell you where all this is going, but only if you are interest in hearing more. Are you? If yes, leave me a note.

The beginning is half of every journey

I AM WRITING FROM MY ROOM, and it’s morning, and there is a rooster telling me so. Except that rooster isn’t the first one up, usually. All of the other people in the house are already out. I heard that there was going to be some commotion, later in the morning. That people would be coming by to pick up some stuff, and move it out. Somebody else’s stuff. That’s been here since before I was, because this is a new living space.

This is a new chapter.

I guess you could define chapters of your life in that way, huh. By places where you’ve lived. Not just cities. Cities are great, cities are fantastic, but cities, I’m realizing the more I write about the things I care about from them, are no longer the same places they used to be. For me. I can’t speak for everyone, and I certainly can’t pretend to know something. But my particular experiences have led me to see that the city isn’t where, long term, I personally want to be. I think I had a hunch about this in New York City in the late 1990s when I was looking for the big road to the gold and the art world. Just writing that now seems funny and strange, and a little bit embarrassing, too. Growing up on the East Coast, though, New York was ‘it.’ Where you wanted to be if you wanted to be anybody in the arts. That was the programming. That was the conditioning. And now, I think about all that and pore through the pages of The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, which my boss loans me, and points out the stories that are very good (‘Did you read “A Dog’s Tale?” Did you read “Is He Living or Is He Dead?” I go and read IHLOIHD and I laugh out loud and then blink: it’s the plotline for Posthumous! Then I read ADT and absolutely cry of indignation. I burst out my most bursting-out voice and the boss looks at me, and this time he blinks. Slow. ‘Some rich people are good,’ he says, sagely. That is the thing about bosses. They just know things, somehow.)

But the changing of chapters is where, I think, the good stuff is. Was it on the internet, or in a QM book, where I read: ‘Life happens on the edge of a change of state.’ Like, water boiling into gas, or gas turning into ice. Change of state. Transition. Life happens there. I remember being in Japan, this would also be in the 1990s. When I was studying in Kyoto. I remember Japan, because it was before New York, and I had never even been to NYC before I’d been to Tokyo. The falling-in-love with the city happened there. I know. A lot of people are like, ‘Tokyo?’ But the skylines and the things there were to draw with the line and photograph with the eye were multitudinous and out of my usual scape of seeing. That was why I stayed on, for a little while longer than I’d meant. Got to know the city well, got to hang out in Ueno often, got to see people and build a small life and meet people, and then meet them again, and in this small way, turn the place I found intriguing into a sort of a village. A place I could relax, a little, even if it was extremely lonely, most of the time. That was before internet. I can’t imagine what it must be like, now… I guess the internet is great though in some ways because I can live in a not-big city and run into people and run into them again and meet over time and then feel, in some way, a sense of connection and belonging. Even if this isn’t my town. Even if this isn’t even ‘my’ country. Less and less claim on the boundaries, now. I don’t have to wonder about the ‘where I’m from’ question as much as dive more deeply into the more important one, for me. The ‘who am I’ question. Which, obviously, can rustle people up if you start asking all about it. Who are you? What do you care about? What makes you move, sing, fly, dance, love? These are too big of a place to start with so many people, of course, but I am deeply curious about people and asking is how I learn, so that’s why I got into writing, and that’s why I got away from Tokyo. I couldn’t ask anything. I got away from New York, too, for the same reason. ‘Who are you? What do you want from me?’ F, f, f. So I went home and found the rest of the story waiting for me in the cupboards of the dusty room where I used to be when I was a pre-teen and then a teen and the magazines I’d collected. And then I started cutting them up. Bit by bit. The programming, the conditioning. Snip, snip, snip. The way women are portrayed, the way they are showcased, objectified. Men are also showcased, successified. There is something wrong here, I think, but not in words. I just cut and paste and write little things in comics and wonder if anyone will laugh along with me, but I’m cutting and pasting all winter long and then part of the spring, and then my parents ask me when I’m going to leave, already. So I do. I go away, not sure where. Without a plan. No idea. Thinking about how to turn DK into something ‘else.’ But not doing it, not until I find the right mode, the right impetus, for the thing to come. The change of state. Not just to Washington, but this time, further. Asia. Like, for a while. Like indefinitely. I go on a tour.

Book of Time

SLOWLY, THROUGH THE DISTANCE, the fog clears. This happens in Gangtok. It’s October, probably my favorite month. October 2013. I write a piece called “Cloudy feathers in Gangtok” and describe pigeons on roofs and the feeling of the mist on my face, and the way the light pinkens the tip of Mount Kanchenjunga, sending me into the tizzy that will not let me come back, not ever, to believing in anything I can’t see with my own eyes, or feel anything I haven’t felt in my own heart. There are sweaters in the suitcases in Delhi but those are heavy and far from where I am, and we are, because I always travel with Boss. Obviously. We are carrying around the people and places that matter most to us, no matter where we are. No matter where we go. Going is part of the work, though. Just like we are doing all this emailing to people to ask if they might like to come to ‘N’ in London and Copenhagen and later, Hanoi and Bologna and New York (see the pattern there?) is work in the other kind of way. Practicing the art of being there, showing up. Saying hi. This is hard for me, especially since 2016 has been, so far, a year of introversion. I mean, really. It’s actually not very good. I am the kind of person who needs new input all the time, so that is why the City was so appealing. But trips to Europe in recentish months have shown me that the City of old, the one where there is ‘energy and buzz and cool art,’ is really not that anymore. It’s just a marketplace. All reduced down, in that way, in my opinions. Everything is an opinion, though, that anyone writes. And media isn’t media anymore, or maybe it never was, and social media isn’t newsy, because I followed someone’s recommendation to the wrong part of the city for a snatch of breakfast and it was weird. It was like, ‘So now what.’ And then you go back to that old awareness. Nothing is for real, everything is subjective. An observer, observing a system, changes the system.

MOVERS CAME TO THE HOUSE AND TOOK HALF OF SOME STUFF that’s been stored behind the grand staircase away. I had wondered about it. Because the blockage of the front passageway in a home is bad feng shui. I’m not schooled in feng shui, but I do design spaces, and I’m sharing some of what the feeling of my ‘rooms’ for conversations and the installations and the once-off ‘events,’ which are really more, in my opinion, like ‘happenings,’ which are about people and connection and the shape of space, and the conversation, and the moment and the whohappenstobethere and not overly designed but half improvised, half make it up as you go, those are where I am learning how to place things and create the lighting and set the stage for these great moments to happen. Because it’s design. The architecture of the interstitial. Whoa. If that’s not esoteric, I don’t know what is. And I would never, ever block the front passageway. That just stifles. That stiffens, stagnates. It’s not a good thing. I open the windows of the room and let the air cross-ventilate, when it’s not raining so hard the drops poke their hands in and get on all my bajillions of scraps of this and nostalgia snips and the cut-up magazines from glossies that adorn most any of the many rooms and rooms of the chapters and chapters of the where I go, where I am, looking for Self in the Other, discovering the Stillness in the attentiveness to the Shape of Space. It’s getting there. Slowly, surely. I’m learning and changing, every day. To the journey, then. To boss-men, new old classics, text and the story to come. I don’t know where will be next.

But I’m going to investigate.

And learn. And think about the Next.

Because of course there will be one, and not in the too-far future. The only thing that will need to happen is the deciding and doing part. The beginning, as they say, is half of every journey.

Trust the creative process, find the art and magic

A CONVERSATION TODAY with North Carolina ceramics artist and a personal friend, Ronan Kyle Peterson. Here is what he had to say about our theme this month, amongst a few other things regarding work, cycles, and practice.

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

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

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

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

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

DK: Why do you do what you do?

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

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

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

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

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

DK: What does rhythm mean to you?

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

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

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

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

Discover more about RKP at his website.

Get S P A C E

Toe selfies

‘EVERYTHING. Like crossed feet at the beach or in front of the pool going on instagram. Those.’


Today I Love You // By Dipika Kohli 2012
Today I Love You // Dipika Kohli 2012


‘Oh, well, that’s a bit better. But you can’t call it the other thing.’

‘What other thing?’

‘Didn’t you say lifestyle design, earlier? I mean, you can’t do that, no way, not now. Two years ago, maybe. Because today, it doesn’t mean what you think it means.’


‘I just mean, to you and me, design is about how to make our life better, how to create the life we really want by looking for opportunities and, ideally, creating value for other people so we can make a life doing what we’re good at and what we’re getting better at as a—‘

‘Like that Warren Buffet thing?’

‘Yeah, yeah. Anyway, to you and me design means one thing. It’s about the way we think about how to create the life we really want. Once we examine, that is, what it is we care about. Remember how you did that event, Big D Design?’

‘And no one came, except Sipheng Lim. That was cool. What’s he doing now, anyway? I haven’t seen him around.’

‘He’s making films. You haven’t been around. Are you listening?’

‘Hm. Uh-huh.’

‘Yeah, but it was just too big a concept, you know? Design is, to most people, about photoshop.’


‘So you can’t say that. Lifestyle design, I mean, you can’t say that.’

‘But that’s what it is.’

‘But that’s not what it means anymore.’

‘Whaddyou mean?’

‘I mean, it’s been co-opted. The word lifestyle design doesn’t mean using design principles as a tool to make your life better.’

‘It means pictures on the beach of people’s feet.’

‘Feet pictures. Yeah, those.’ *Shrugs* ‘I guess people like taking those now. It’s not my thing, but you know. Feet.’

‘Toes. Toe selfies.’

‘Okay, okay. What if I just call it, SIMPLICITY. Set it up for early March?’


‘Too esoteric?’

‘Just, yeah. And you’re always wanting to just press go on everything so quickly. Oh, well. It’s you, I guess. So do it, try it. Gotta say, you seem to have a knack for this sort of thing, sometimes.’

‘What sort of thing?’

‘Seeing what people really want to talk about.’

Sometimes. But I have a good feeling about this one.’

*Looks dubious*

‘Simplicity. Simplicate and add lightness and stuff. Design-y, but not overstated. Overstating is such bollix. Leave it open, so people who come can help design it, you know? Open it up. Eco and stuff. Open works.’

‘I never could finish a page of Eco.’

‘That was a good idea, though. Co-creating. It’s just not hot right now. It’s not a popular way of doing stuff because people are obsessed with me-ism.’


‘Everything. Like crossed feet at the beach or in front of the pool going on instagram. Those.’



‘Toe selfies.’

‘I wonder what people would think about those.’


Against boredom (and the boring, and that thing called ennui)


The more risk-averse a person is, the more boring that person seems to be, too.

Think about it. The most intriguing people you meet are the ones who took a chance on something. Right? And they didn’t stop trying new things, even in the face of humiliation, failure, or becoming the butt of other people’s jokes. The most important thing for them was to continue to press forward. Tenacity. Grit. It’s what you have to have, if you want to arrive at anywhere vaguely interesting.

But boring people come from that world that stays ‘safe,’ even when most of what we are scared of is inside our heads. Anxiety. Will drive you mad. It’s kind of the way it’s going, in the world, isn’t it? If we’re really honest with ourselves, the Western world seems to be heading down a long, sad road… one that leads to ‘safety,’ but is swathed in same same boringness. In other words, the status quo.

I detest boring.

Inviting the mesmerizing

PROBABLY THIS will only connect with people who are, like me, tired of the banal. It’s just to everywhere. Complacency is driving us into herd, and the herd isn’t going anywhere but to the slaughterhouse. Isn’t it? Let’s be honest, shall we? If you continue, that means you’re feeling that we should talk about things, out loud. Here, in the open. Okay. Let’s. Oft I’ve thought this: ‘Yeah. Here I am, stuck in this place, listening to someone talk about a banal, nonessential dilemma or simply complaining about life.’ I remember when I lived in a country whose people loved to one-up each other on the piling-on of how mundane and hard their lives were.

I know this is a first world problem, this thing about ennui.

Didn’t mean for it to happen, but on a whim, sometime toward the end of the summer last year in Phnom Penh, I asked a few people to meet me. To talk about it. Ennui. Five of us convened. Aside from me, they didn’t know anyone. So there we were. Total strangers, for the most part. Discussing the big question. Why do we have this angst? Where is it coming from? What can we do about it? How do we want to feel next?




Something made me invite this set of four others. Out of the blue. Something made me think, ‘Time to have a conversation salon about ennui.’ Why? OF course because I was feeling it. Personally. It happens like that. I get this idea in my head that I want to discuss something, because I have been going through some personal stuff and there’s no one to relate to about what it is. The internet is a one-Internet conversation that has nothing to do with how I feel, right here, in the space of where I am. Hyperlocal, and tightly focused—these are the important points for a conversation salon to really work. And by ‘work’ I mean to move from the space of general banter to true dialogue. Not quite intimacy, that’s a whole other level, but somewhere in between strangerness and closeness. I’ve been designing the ‘shape of space’ pieces, slowly and quietly, outside of these salons. Making notes, keeping myself posted. What works, what doesn’t. How to keep improving on the last one, in the next conversation salon.

ENNUI. Was such a fantastic event, for me. I’m so very glad I did, because we hit on something brilliant, together. In a small space of time (I like to cap these things at 2.5 hours), we got immediately past smalltalk towards the interestingness. Why do we have ennui, what is it anyway, how did it get there, what does it mean? We asked one another questions. We talked about our families, and our homes. I won’t go into the specific details, those are private and confidential for all of our events in S P A C E. But the big general idea was that we had a chance to connect, like, for real. Short and sweet, but beautiful. Art is conversation. It really is. For me, it’s beautiful when we can make the kind of space that allows for this magic to happen. The noticing of one another. The inter-relating. #relationalaesthetics

To date, it’s been in the aetherspace, me and the people I met, mostly. But I want to get offline more. I want to take it to the dimension of real life. Going slow. Small steps. It’s not easy striking up smalltalk and trying to move, quickly, to bigtalk. I have to set these things up, and that is taking time and learning, and practice. Of course. You meet new people and you talk about the weather. You talk about banalities. It gets immediately boring. I hate parties for this reason. I hate going out on Friday nights. It’s always the same thing, the same sort of conversation, the same expectation, the same frustrations that nothing interesting happened, not really, and as a direct result, increase of ennui.

What is to be done?

You know, I’ve been asking this question to myself for the time ever since this group dispersed. I wrote some thoughts up and tried to make sense of it by creating a little collaged book, with our combined writings:

The Book of Ennui. A co-creation, S. P. A. C. E., Phnom Penh 2015
The Book of Ennui. A co-creation, S. P. A. C. E., Phnom Penh 2015


I haven’t shared this publicly, nor do I plan to. I hope to distribute pieces of it to the participants, if we cross paths again. That would be cool. Mix it up, shuffle. See what new insights might come of the disruption of logic and leaving things like discovery up to games of chance. Why not? They did it with the quantum physics stuff, they got it figured out with Boltzmann’s uncertainties in the mix. Max Planck, I mean. Max Planck, who said, ‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’

PROBABLY BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT mixing it up, changing how we look at things, changing what we can create, and co-create, together, I’m intrigued by the idea of making a bigger space for a dialogue. Not just about ennui. Not just about any ONE thing. And certainly not confined to one locale. Thinking about this out loud, right now, but just wondering if anyone else is reading along, if anyone else wants to connect, to talk deeply about myriad and thick topics, not just the ones designed to lampoon or roil up others, not the ones that ‘big us up,’ as NT, DK’s colleague in London, would say, but really, about how to do the big work of looking at things in complex, rotated spaces. Perspectives, shifts, discoveries, hits upon ‘a-ha.’

The artist knows this.

The innovator, too.

Where do we begin?

Many conversations are beginning. Send me a comment, if you want to connect, in S P A C E.


Jai Ranganathan: ‘Sharpen and heighten’

OFFLINE CONVERSATIONS lately are turning to the process itself, and, to take it further, discoveries that happen on the way to ‘making.’ Maybe it’s in the air? Looking back on what creative people have told me about this work of making, I recalled something I learned from science podcaster Jai Ranganathan. (Find him on twitter at @jranganathan.) We had met at a science conference in NC’s Research Triangle Park. That was the kind of place where bunches of people convened to share tips on making science interesting to a general audience, more or less, and I discovered Jai was set to instruct scientists at University of California Santa Barbara on how to use social media.

Conversations about sharing discoveries inspired this interview with Jai Ranganathan.

DK: What do you need to think about when opening a wide-open project like a podcast? That’s a pretty big blank canvas.

JR: First, define your purpose. Then, what’s your scope? Do you want to be a local brand? Have a national audience? If you want a large audience, people really go for video.

DK: OK. So if you know your purpose, then what? Any tips?

JR: Sure.

  1. Think about where can you add value. Ask businesses, ‘What’s a problem you have?,’ and then share, ‘Here’s how we might solve it.’
  2. Give your product away so people want to know more.
  3. You can do latest tips. Interviews. You could have seminars.
  4. Just get started. Do it frequently. Keep it short—2 minutes.

DK: Wait, so you just have to be prolific?

JR: You don’t have to be flashy, or always funny, or the best-looking. But you have to be compelling in your voice. Be engaged, animated, and interesting.

DK: But what about talent?

JR: Talent is overrated. You have to be interesting/entertaining first, or else it doesn’t matter what you have to say!

DK: How do you do that?

JR: Boring podcasts are that way because people are checking boxes off a how-to list, as opposed to doing something that’s really them. Anything creative like this—podcasting, video, or writing—is about deciding what you want to say, and what’s your way of saying it. How to make that your own is key.

DK: How did you get into this?

JR: I was doing my postdoc in conservation biology. If you’re not a scientist, your job is to write papers. I was disenchanted after a while. How likely was it that what I wrote would lead to action? So as a hobby, I started interviewing scientists. I’ve always really liked radio. Someone found me and offered to pay me to do this, so now I have $2,000 broadcast-quality equipment and I make a good living. But, I had hoped more people would listen.

DK: What can others learn?

JR: It takes a while to figure out what you’re doing and why the heck you’re doing it. Don’t make it too scripted. You can have a script, but don’t read it. Imagine somebody giving a talk and reading a script–it’s death! And you know, you have to like doing it. And keep doing it, that’s key. Don’t wait to get good. No one sprouts out of the earth fully formed.

First published in S P A C E

American schools and business: ‘No thanks, Creativity’

AMERICAN BUSINESS and education needs to dump today’s cubicle and classroom.

The way we’re taught drives us to focus on a task until it’s completed, then move on to the next.

Sounds perfectly reasonable, right?

But truly, we can only focus for three minutes.

We also slice the world into parts that we can relate to.

“That’s how the visual cortex works. We think we see the world, but we only see a very particular part of it,” said Duke professor Cathy Davidson, whom I went to see read from her new book, Now You See It, at the Regulator last night.

“Our ability to pinpoint a problem and solve it — a skill honed by years of school — may be our limitation.”

If work and school want to catch up to momentous change in how we communicate, interact, and think, we have to toss outmoded ideas like you have to concentrate on something for an hour and you have to finish x before you start on y.


Because if you’re too narrowly concentrating on one way of thinking, you miss out on a million other ones that float right by.

“The more urgent in one way of thinking, the more oblivious we are to others.”

She tells of us an experiment where people are asked to count basketballs in a room, and only a tenth notice a massive gorilla walking by. Academics failed to note the gorilla more often than non-academics, she said, because “they really like to do well on tests.”

The system of testing and idolizing “correctness” misses the point.

The point is being able to see what else is out there.

Other ways of thinking. Other people’s points of views.

Americans tend to devalue the intelligence of children, people with disabilities, and people of other cultures, Davidson said. But a project like the “Human Library,” where children can “check out” an elder for a day and walk around asking any question they want, can really open the eyes of young and old.

End of grade testing

“KIDS, TEACHERS, and parents everywhere get nightmares in March.”

But the best teachers, Davidson said, have a kind of cynical optimism. They run creative programs through the year. They do their best when March comes, and it’s time to teach the test.

Being allowed to explore just isn’t part of the American business and school curriculum.

Rather than insist on your way of thinking—and trying to argue your way to persuade others—a better way to be is open.

Look for possibilities


Unlearn the patterns of focus and attention that have corded your ability to see what else is there.

Figure “a way out of your own mind,” because attention limits perspectives.

Here’s what’s hindering us:

  • Limited perspectives. The inability to see what’s outside a given boundary hinders the kind of creative thinking we need to replace what’s rote.
  • “Attention blindness.” Focus on one problem can only last three minutes. During that time, we’re so particular on getting it accomplished that we tend to miss potentially more interesting things that float outside that frame.
  • Outmoded approach. Lesson plans and tests are designed for today’s kids’ great great great great grandparents. Davidson said in her time, you had to stand when a doctor entered the room.
  • Truncated ideas about the nature of work. “When one is not gainfully employed, one is not important.” Teachers aren’t valued. People who aren’t in a role of “job” are not considered.


In the whole of human history, never have we been able to talk to so many so fast. Yet our ways of approaching teaching and the layouts of offices don’t reflect the novel shift.

The Internet shift has created millions of opportunites for people to create their own work environments through virtual connections. Yet the mindset of most Americans continues to be “You don’t count unless you’re gainfully employed.” (Akira is writing a blog about the coworking option at Gin & Watercooler.)

President Obama nominated Cathy Davidson for the National Council on the Humanities. She teaches interdisciplinary studies at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University. She co-founded a “collaboratory”, which claims to be “a network of educators dedicated to new modes of learning for the digital age.”

Several dozen teachers, psychologists, teens, and the likes of DK came to learn something new.

Teachers in the crowd who were retired, or parents with kids newly in school, complained a lot about school system. This reminded me of a talk by neuroscientist John Medina on Brain Rules. Play really matters. Recess is where learning happens for kids, he’d said.

I wanna break free
‘Just what is it that you want to do?’ ‘Loaded’ by Primal Scream


In a pre-DK life, I taught.

At Durham Tech, I taught basic math.

In Ireland, I taught older folks about the Internet and a middle school boys about porn.

Just kidding.

About Photoshop. (I had to get their attention, so one day one I go, “What’s the most widely searched term on the Net?” And one kid, who had given me a hard time about my accent, goes, “Porn, heh.” And I said, “That’s exactly right!”)

Wait, you missed that?

You mean you weren’t paying attention when I said PORN!?

(Hey, do I get a bunch of hits to this site now, since I said PORN?)

The dialogue

I’m very excited to hear someone pointing out that thinking about solutions from multiple angles is really important. (And that this person is someone other than Akira Morita, my partner in life and work here at DK.)

But I feel the book might be trying to brush over too many topics at once. I’ve focused on just one aspect here–the need to be able to think creatively—but there was a bunch of other stuff like why people who are Internet users don’t need as much antidepressant medicine, how older people find community online, and some stuff about Movable Type.

I wouldn’t recommend buying the book. It might be a little convoluted when it comes to exploring one topic with depth and clarity.

I’m also a little miffed Davidson seemed to misattribute a famous theory to someone who tweeted. “He called it, ‘the butterfly effect,’” she said.

Initial conditions at one place in a system can result in large differences to a later state, like a butterfly’s wings. “That’s just how he writes. Not bad for a retired guy.”

Hmmmmm. You can read all about chaos and the butterfly effect here.

But did I detect a bit of bias against retirees? That seemed to go against everything up until that point about how the Internet community can help older people feel more in touch, important, and valued.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the attitude, too, towards kids in “schools where they had subsidized lunches.”

But I would welcome a dialogue with any of you who think there’s more to say about psychology, work, and play. That’s the big work we’re doing next. Orangutan Swing with Design Kompany.

Just to, you know, let the orangutan out of the bag.