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TODAY I AM GOING TO UPDATE the page that tells the story of ‘where is N’ now? The story is happening. There are conversations going on. This is really exciting now, there is momentum, let’s talk about momentum! Gumption gumption gumption. And magic. Flow. And what’s even better than all of that? Guests. So happy to be hosting ‘N’ for you. I can’t wait to meet you. To the journey!

Coming to your city to host a 16-way blind date


The sharing. The conversation.

The !*. The a-ha.

Call it what you will, I’m looking for it. That snap that happens in an intuitive, time-slowing way is the stuff of what, lately, I’ve been calling in my head, and DK rambled about here, ‘the good stuff.’

It’s not about any particular style, place, personality, or setting. I used to think it was. There are lists in my journals about those kinds of things, the sorts of conversations that are really great happening in X particular circumstances, say, and the noting of that. But what came next, when, after 20 years of looking closely at how to design great space for dialogue, was disappointment. You can’t really engineer everything. Flatness happened. A zen master had warned me, with the scribble in an old, old notebook when I was a student in Kyoto on exchange: ‘You can never set foot in the same river twice.’

Twiceness is impossible.

Tried it. Failed to find the magic moment.


So what, then, about framing onceness?


WHAT IF WE COULD do THAT, frame ‘onceness,’ then? Focus. Instead of designing how the chairs and lights and tables and floor-to-ceiling windows and weather and patio and particularly curated groups of people are arranged, I’m thinking of those namecards some people who like to throw parties will put up on fancily laid-out tables in some setting where there are also carnations and you feel like a wedding photographer might be lurking by. [What are all these lifestyle blogs about, by the way? Is that the way it is now? Bicycle says things are now about food porn and not geekiness, as they were in our day, but still. Food porn? Emojis? Really?]

So let’s do this. Let’s talk about ONCENESS, I said, back in 2015, when there was a mountain in Vietnam and I was on it, week of retreating, without the devices, getting offline and being by myself. ‘Sitting,’ as some say. With the uncomfortable awareness that time is moving fast, and slow, and rivers and currents and eddies and ports and harbors and oceans and flows, flows, flows are shifting and assenting, alighting or embarking and here we are, in the midst. Poised, for a second, or maybe an eternity?, on a rock, there I was. Spacing out. And, that was when it came to me. The idea of making ‘N’. Sixteen people, who don’t know one another, making a commitment. To the other people, to the host (that would be yours truly), but mostly, and this is the important part, which it took me two years to figure out, to themselves. To themselves! Yes. The work of making space is about intention-setting. I had thought this meant laying out a nice theme or topic or picking a great venue. I’d imagined, too, it was about the people who chose to show up, but no. No, no, no. It’s about showing up. And I have been talking about this for a while now, in many unpopular ways, amongst peers and colleagues and acquaintances and strangers. I am doing ’16N’ in a couple of great cities of the world (which have ‘N’ in them) to bring strangers to get her to talk for a short while about a topic that starts with an ‘N’. Yes, these are arbitrary constraints, but they are the frames that bound the ‘bounded box.’

I gotta talk about the ‘quality of space’ checklist to you, or to you if you are interested, I should say. Ask me about that. I can send you the PDF. I am fine with sharing. I like that. But just, more recently, not so publicly. (Can you tell?)

This one’s for the people who are on for it, with me. I’ll show up, that’s a given. I commit. I’ve put it on the Internet, so see? I’m gonna be there. But.. The question is… Are you? Read more about ’16N’: or check out the unfolding story:

Made in S. P. A. C. E.

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

Screenshot 2016-05-30 23.11.47

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Um. I’m not really sure I get it.’

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

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

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

‘Mmm…  um.’

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

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

‘You don’t believe me?!?!?’


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

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

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

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

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

‘Yeah. Sure. And the salons.’

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

‘Then why are you… hiding?’


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

‘Dude. People who know me trust me.’

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

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

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



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

‘Yeah, dude. I know.’

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

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

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

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Pushing through the dip: on process and perseverance, or something

I WANT TO MAKE ‘N’ for London and Copenhagen and Ha Noi this year, and I’m going to just have to keep on inviting people until we find the magic sets of 16 per city. Bearing with me are the guests who’ve joined so far. I’m so lucky and grateful that a few of us are on for new things, for challenges, for learning as we go, for mixing it up, for giant blind dates, and for, yes, the human connection that can happen when we unplug, show up, say hi.

DK’s 16N project gathers 16 strangers in 16 cities. Cities that have an ‘N’ in them. On topics that start with ‘N’. This began in April 2015 in Phnom Penh with ‘N’ Phnom Penh: NORMALITY, then in October that year continued with ‘N’ Bangkok: NOW. We are now inviting new guests for ‘N’ London: NOTEWORTHINESS and ‘N’ Copenhagen: NEARNESS. Here is an update from the series, ‘Diary of N’.

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MAKING MY WAY OUT OF THE BOX. It’s true. I’ve been hiding, sort of. I’ve been avoiding the work of actually inviting more people, because it takes a lot of mental effort and huge emotional reserves. I mean, not like the kinds you would need to go through trauma or anything.

Just—when you are idealistic and hopeful and optimistic and believe like anything in the power of people to work together collaboratively, beautifully, together when they only have a chance to meet and get over their initial seeming differences then yeah, you get discouraged to see that most people, I’m talking about 99% or so, but I haven’t done all the math yet, will not agree with you.

Maybe they’re scared. Worried. Not into it. Don’t think it’s important to ‘go outside the comfort zone.’ Is that what I’m asking people to do? It seems that way. That is what I hear, mostly, in the responses to my invitations—

‘You’re asking me to go outside my comfort zone.’

And sometimes, that is a welcome thing. I guess now that I’ve been hiding for a while I’ve had a chance to regain my enthusiasm for ‘N’. Some cool people are joining and I have made a promise to them, that I will make this happen. I am the kind of person who does what I say I will—it’s a huge value I inherited from my father, who is stout, and stubborn, sometimes keeping us from getting along, but boy, do I love that about my dad: his consistency in doing what he says he will. Later in life, I learned that is the best way to build trust and quality relationships—for work and for personal stuff, too. Show up. Do what you say you will.

I want to make ‘N’ for London and Copenhagen and Ha Noi this year, and I’m going to just have to keep on inviting people until we find the magic sets of 16 per city. Bearing with me are the guests who’ve joined so far. I’m so lucky and grateful that a few of us are on for new things, for challenges, for learning as we go, for mixing it up, for giant blind dates, and for, yes, the human connection that can happen when we unplug, show up, say hi.

I’m sharing the journey in some updates on our blog, but mostly in email conversations with people who have opted in to our mailing list at Design Kompany. (Just go to the contact page and click ‘get updates by email’ if you are curious.) I’m guessing most people are not aware of the quality level I am looking to make for ‘N’.

I AM GUESSING THAT they would see this, initially, as some sort of quick buck thing. They don’t know that it’s actually running at a loss. That is to say, the sponsor that everyone asks me about is actually my own studio. And we’re not rolling in it, like. We’re just… we care about uncertainty, trying things, taking chances, showing up, making something beautiful if we can find people also interested in those things. (Lately, business execs, generation Z, and innovation R&D heads.) It’s not everyone, for sure. And that is the learning, to date. It’s actually very, very few people. But then again, it wouldn’t be worth it if, through this giant maze, I didn’t find my way towards them.

TO BE HONEST, I don’t know how I would respond if the tables were turned. That is, if someone from the internet whom I didn’t know asked me if I wanted to get a ticket to some event that had never been done, with people I didn’t know and couldn’t read up on beforehand, and on a date ‘to be determined’ together by the registered guests, Hm, what would I say to that? Maybe it’s because of the challenge of trying to be more open this year, to say ‘yes’ more, to try new things myself that I wanted to keep going with ‘N’ after Phnom Penh and Bangkok and really try to make it to 16. I’m not saying it has to happen all at once, perhaps a break after the UK-DK tour this year. The rest can wait. It can happen over sixteen years, if it must, because what counts is the moment of it happening, in those places, not the hurrying through… I care about ‘N’. I guess I care about it because it is introducing me to a very neat set of people, (you know who you are), and the future ‘N’ guests to be determined, and it is for them, for meeting them, the chance to know them for a bit, that I want to keep pressing forward, and push through this awkward ‘givey-uppy’ moment, the one that some people call ‘the dip.’

To be continued….

#whynot #sayyes

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On quality and intrigue, a conversation with line and music

A Q&A WITH ERLING SKORPEN, a jazz artist, on what makes something intriguing. ‘When you listen to a concert, and you notice that the musicians are really into what they’re doing. When you can feel the energy in the room, and there exists a special atmosphere there. That’s the feeling that best describes intrigue for us.’

IN DENMARK I got to hear a pretty neat collection of intriguing bands at a weird and fascinating spot in Copenhagen called Mandags Klubben 5e. (More about them, another time—so fun.)

But for today I want to share an interview with someone intriguing I met, whose upcoming album is another thing I’d like to share about in a future post as it has a connection to one of our own pieces of work, The Book of Songs, in an abstract, tangential sort of way. Abstract and tangential, now that I think about it, is exactly what was awesome about being there on that day last autumn.

Let me expand.

Loved the sound of a young group called Gunslinging Bird Quartet, and started drawing in ball point pen and off the page—two new things for me, at the same time. I later asked trumpeter Erling Skorpen about the style of music he and his bandmates play, and why. Free jazz.

DK: Cool show, can you tell me about your band?

EK: Through years of playing and exploring different types of music, we all found a common interest in this type of jazz music. It’s merely a process—we might part ways with this aesthetic in one year or ten years. This is the music we all love, and which inspires us right now.

DK: What makes you happy?

EK: When we are playing music and it really works out. Drinking coffee. Pleasant surprises.

DK: How do you define intrigue?

EK: When you listen to a concert, and you notice that the musicians are really into what they’re doing. When you can feel the energy in the room, and there exists a special atmosphere there. That’s the feeling that best describes intrigue for us.

DK: How do you define quality?

EK: When music is honest and it connects with the audience. When you really hear that these people mean what they do.

MEMBERS OF the band are: Trym Daniel Rødvik – alto saxophone; Erling Skorpen – trumpet; Alex Riris – double bass; Amund Nordstrøm – drums & percussion.

Discover Gunslinging Bird online here:

Arts and culture, conversation and the story

IT’S NOT FOR EVERYONE, as Erling says and which is exactly why I enjoyed being there. Mainstream can get in the way of real connection, in my opinion. When you bumble into the unexpected and find intrigue, there is something *! that happens.



It’s delight these days, I’m convinced, that makes up the aesthetic of a new kind of ‘beautiful.’ And when I say ‘delight’ I don’t mean some user interface or an app. I mean, real life. What is the role of music in society? What is the role of poetry, of design? To make artfulness, I think. To meander, to open hearts.

But what’s your take? Comments welcome. —DK

This post originally appeared in the INTIMACY sequence of our eZine, S. P. A. C. E.

Guest post: ‘Skipping the awkward get-to-know-you-phase’

GUEST POST from a guest of ’16N,’ our international conversation series of salons: ‘When we met, it was like we didn’t have a long awkward get-to-know-you phase, it was easy to chat and talk about less usual things.’

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A guest post today from Sarah Rhodes. Sarah had joined us at ‘N’ Phnom Penh, and reflects on that experience. 

WHEN I FIRST moved to Siem Reap, I was attending a lot of different events to meet different people and try and find my place and friends in a new city.

It was at one of these events where I met [DK], who was hosting ‘N’, an event that sounded a bit interesting, and although we didn’t get to talk directly, it was a few days later that we ended up having a great chat watching the sunset on a rooftop in Siem Reap town.

Whether it was the first meeting or the sunset chat there was no doubt that the connection had been made, so when I was visiting Phnom Penh in April last year and it coincided with the ‘N’ event, I considered myself very fortunate.


It was during this visit that I realised the other attendees of the event had also had similar encounters with [DK], so it was no surprise that when we all arrived for this event we found that we automatically connected, as we had one main thing in common. The way the event was organised was well thought through; from the personal invitation, individually crafted official invitations, creative activities which with facilitated conversation beyond the usual ‘who are you?’ and ‘what do you do?’.

WHEN WE MET, it was like we didn’t have a long awkward get-to-know-you phase, it was easy to chat and talk about less usual things. I met many interesting people that night. I now have friendships with people in Phnom Penh from ‘N’, after all a friendship is formed by first talking with someone, and then talking with them again. —Sarah E. Rhodes (@saraherhodes)

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