I’m in a cafe with old men greeting each other and sitting together having their usuals, it looks like, and I’m in the back, as far from the outside smoke as I can be while still managing to catch the wifi signal. In my zone, kind of an old schoolhouse-looking thing that reminds me of rural North Carolina and the elementary school I had had to go to there, with its attendant brokenness and dirt and crusts of old stories that may or may not speak of pain, all that, I am having a mango smoothie. It’s not a smoothie like you think it is if you are used to ‘smoothie’ and its saccharine, overpackaged, too much neon, brand-picture in the United States.
It’s a sinh tố xoài. Damn good, this.
Simple, everyday things.
Today I shared a few pictures of foodstuffs with my newly reconnected with acquaintances Stateside wondering what the hell I am doing in Vietnam. It has been a year. I guess it’s been a year for everyone, but yeah.
A year of silence amidst a global pandemic that seems to have no end in the near future… ?
It’s been a year of solitude, like seriously, for me. I’m cut from the place and people who know me in the way that you know people when you have a history with them. For better or worse, this is my situation. In many ways I am relearning, re-assessing and coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really need to integrate into the models that have been imposed by, say, colonialism, or racism, or misogyny, the patriarchy, social hierarchies, different cultural norms, immigrant thinking, ‘nationalism,’ religious beliefs, et al. In short, all the lines that get in the way of just being… who we really are.
Who am I? [deleted]
The work of art is to show man who he really is, I heard, spoken on the stage of a giant theater in London, maybe around 2015. I forgot the year now. The year is blurry. I just remember the line. I remember it, and I remember thinking, That’s right. Still feels right. No popping over to the UK to speak English these days. Just laying low, studying the language here, passing through digital archives of my old travels to publish new things, with our programs, in S P A C E, Papers, and the Cojournal. My hangouts, on the web.
A year of solitude, though, and I also know something new. There is such a thing as art for the sake of art, art for an audience of… One.
Is a good moment.
Interesting first segment. Of an article that I found about why the role of ‘discovery’ is so important for innovation. Design isn’t just pixels. Design isn’t a bechance portfolio. Design isn’t a ‘sick’ or ‘boss’ social media feed. Design is a tool. For making things that make us live more happily, that’s what I think.
This article had one item that really stuck out, for me. (Disclaimer: I don’t know them, so I can’t vouch for their work, and no one asked me to post this for them or paid for this link.) The article is by some people who talk about innovation, and I liked that they put ‘discovery’ in there, in their list, right at the top. The article is called:
How Can Innovation By Design Be Implemented?
Innovation by design can be implemented in eight simple steps:
- Discover: The is the step where exploration needs to happen. It is time to find out what consumers’ unmet needs are. The best place to start is choosing a specific topic or area of interest and then gathering data.
- Reframe The Topic: Once you have started down a path with a topic or idea, you need to take a deeper look at it and find any insights or patterns that you can. Throw out any assumptions that you may have about a particular problem, or the solution to previous problems, and reframe your point-of-view.
- Incubate: This step takes patience. You need to unleash your creative side by doing things differently, looking at different stimuli, and acting accordingly. Let the idea grow…….
There’s more, steps that continue this, very straightforward and the usual things that people in innovation consulting will say. But yeah. I liked this part at the top.
Of course you can take things to the next level once you have had time to discover, think, and look at a thing you are studying quite deeply.
Rather like something else, isn’t it?
A lot of conversations happen at an ‘N’ and this time was no different. We are ready to share, meaningfully and not trivially, in the online follow-up sessions. They’ll be virtual so our ‘N’ guests from ‘N’ HCMC, which *happened* in the magic way only ‘N’ can, can see and discover others in our S P A C E programs, as we network, together, one designful moment at a time. It’s been fun, HCMC ! Thank you.
As to the doctrine of the Circles it may be briefly summed up in a single maxim, “attend to your Configuration.” Whether political, ecclesiastical or moral, all their teaching has for its object the improvement of individual and collective Configuration*–with special reference of course to the Configuration of the Circles, to which all other objects are subordinated.” —E. Abott, Flatland
The book Flatland has been an influential work for DK since we got a copy of it in an experimental high school geometry class that was called ‘Explorations in Geometry’.
‘Learning’, et al
Real learning, what is it? Certainly it isn’t in textbooks, according to me.
To me, it starts with critical thinking. That itself has to begin with awareness: there is something missing. And waking up to a bombshell: the moment you discover that your own perspective, based on the things you’ve been taught to believe, are not necessarily “true.” Plain ol’ experience is staring you down saying that X thing you’ve been taught to believe is true just isn’t “true.”
So what are beliefs, then to us? What are past experiences? Enter J. Krishnamurthi. Just google him. ‘You are the world and the world is you…’ he says…. it’s amazing and articulate and on-point, and so I listened to lots of his podcasts this year.
Waking up to new realities
So getting back to ‘waking up.’ (Did you see Waking Life?) Anyway. The things you thought were true turned out… they weren’t true. You found out one day. So then, the natural next question is. What’s real?
I started thinking about this and made posts sometimes, under the category ‘S is for Sincerity’. Meantime, thinking about what’s real. Thinking: okay. That wasn’t.
So what is?
Dunno. But you can sense… ? Maybe… Well. Okay.
Such awareness can come from things like, for example, multi-country travel, over time, or from growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK. Or meeting and being open to understanding more about other perspectives, even if you never leave your own town. Books, too. Books can open worlds.
I got lucky, personally. My sophomore year of high school I applied to and got in to an experiential learning high school, the N.C. School of Science & Math. It was different from usual school. It’s had a few scandals in the years since I’ve graduated, so I wouldn’t send anyone there, to be honest, but for me, at that time, it was a huge gift from the universe to get out of a rural and provincial school with zero opportunities. One of my most amazing teachers, though, was at that place. She knew. What I was going through. It was clear and plain to her. Maybe that’s why she worked so hard on a three-page single-spaced letter of recommendation. I still remember the feeling. Someone was paying attention and wanted better for me. Someone bold, strong and caring.
I got in. I don’t know who was more happy. Me, or her. HT CB
You got to live at school, which was, you know, the chance to have support and encouragement, from your peers. And teachers.
[Aside: Maybe this experience was why I started making experiential learning workshops for people to explore, in snippets, what I got to, at this school, and probably more meaningfully for me, the summer before that at the Governor’s School East program in Laurinburg, NC. That was what all Govvies know it was, and what it’s too hard to put into words. But I like to create S P A C E for people who have no idea what ‘Govvies’ means to have a chance to simply feel the experience that helps us uncover who we are, without labels or agendas. There were no grades that summer. There were philosophy classes, for small groupings of us, and we sat in circles… so many things.]
Getting to go away to school was, for me, an amazing chance to learn so many things early on, and I don’t mean ‘book learning’. I mean taking risks. I got to take ‘Explorations’ as well as a few other experimental ones: something the teachers were testing for a new course in precalculus, for example, and also, the first-ever section of that school’s Japanese language program. (I went on. to study the language for the next ten years, inspired by my teacher there HT KM.)
Perhaps best of all, I also ran for and won the position to be my school’s Vice President of the Student Government Association. The newness, all around, as well as a chance to enjoy a leadership role before even graduating from high school has richly inspired me, from those years forward, in making and achieving some exciting personal goals.
In Part 2 I’ll elaborate on the book.
Innovation, process, and the role of ‘Discovery’
What is innovation?
I mean, for real, not just as a buzzword on a grant application or something for a CV. I mean, for real. Yes, I said that already. Realness is highly important to me, and in this era especially, so I don’ tmind underscoring it.
I didn’t know this but it was an organic process that led DK to become an innovation consulting boutique, around 2013 or so. Before that, DK was kind of hacking it as a design outfit. No one we worked with, except for our three lovely interns, that is, was formally trained in Graphic Design, yet, magically, people paid us tens of thousands of dollars to come up with smart, clean, modern and classic designs.
They trusted us to make it happen, and deliver strong results that encapsulated the essence of their ‘brand story.’
Why did we know how to do this? Why did we get commission after commission in Seattle, leading to a flourishing studio, a world-class set of people who came and went through our doors sharing their knowledge and stories as collaborators, co-creators, subcontractors, fellow designers, and more? (Realness, I bet that’s why. DK stands for meaning things that DK says it will do, or that we care about. Me, personally, I don’t make promises lightly, nor commitments, and I do what I say I will.) The whole thing was really lovely, now that I reflect, all these years later, here, from this perch on the other side of the world. It was a party, kind of.
Actually the buoyant atmosphere that you could see if you walked by our giant window during a client meeting was exactly the reason we got hired, sometimes, by neighbors who passed or saw our sign or saw that I was curating and hosting a popup art show or party. Stuff like that. Stuff that I love to do even today.
One client had said, ‘It just looks like you guys are having so much fun,’ he said. ‘I want to hire you and see what it’s about.’ This was 2006, in Seattle::
‘I’ll have what she’s having’..
So let me come back to innovation consultation, now, because that is what our Phnom Penh story has been about, largely, since 2014. The brand identity design we had created for NUK was the last chapter of design in that old way, in many ways it just felt like time to stop making things in the old modes since the world was quickly shifting.
Who needs ‘a logo’ in 2020?
You need clarity about who you are, and what you stand for. That hasn’t changed. And that is what we are the best at helping people figure out. ‘Who am I? Like really, for real, when I take away all the mirrors and stop listening to what society says I should be?’
Sound familiar? Well, yeah. You wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t somehow resonating with what we are interested in: self-actualization. Not. For. Everyone.
So let me share with you something I found that has to do with ‘discovery’, and how it relates back to ‘innovation.’
Lots of people are talking about ‘innovation’ right now and I’m going to venture a guess to say the reason why is because, as some of you may know already, the way things are always done is not always the best way.
Sometimes its ineffectual but no one can really say so because of standing hierarchies or hard-baked beliefs.
Sometimes it’s just boring.
There is more to say about all of that, and part of the reason we are writing this blog now (it’s changing, this year, quite a lot) is to look, listen, share, and inform those who are interested in what discovery learning can be, how there’s an actual theory here, behind these movements here at DK and the ways we are bringing people whose paths might never have crossed to intersect, by design.
But briefly. In the moment. There is the poetic moment, of course, that is part of it, but more and more it’s becoming clear that there is way more to the picture than meets the eye, even to us. Because innovation needs to happen if we are going to solve, together, completely listening and learning from one another, to solve, I was saying, quoting and paraphrasing J. Krishnamurthi, who knew this and tried very hard to tell us all to stop being so caught up in our ways of thinking and break free of old patterns and see things fresh, every day, anew. If we can, we can hear each other. If we can do that, we can ‘solve, completely, all our problems.’
Today, an excerpt… it’s from Northeastern University’s blog post on ‘Innovation Process’. I had reached out to the author to do a more full Q&A, but there wasn’t enough follow-through on both ends so I’ll just leave you with this. This bit is what started me off reaching out to the author to ask more…..
The discovery phase is the one companies should spend more time and resources on.
It’s during this phase that ideas are generated and vetted by potential users, and where teams work to discover whether they’re tackling the right problem.
“Where you have a gap right now is to do the upfront better,” Tucker Marion says. Marion directs of the Master of Science in Innovation program. “That entails giving employees the skills to better understand opportunities, to apply different methods of getting information from potential customers, and to achieve better ideas. Simply put, you want to vet more of the best ideas and kick their tires, so to speak.”
This is where ideation techniques, such as brainstorming and prototyping, can be used to a company’s advantage. Ideation—the creative process of generating new ideas—is an important part of the design thinking process, in which organizations focus on uncovering the non-obvious pain points their customers are experiencing and developing new products, services, and business models aligned to their needs.
“We are encouraging firms to put early prototyping back to where it belongs: in discovery,” Marion explains. “By the end of the discovery phase, if I did my homework right, I’ve already tested early prototypes with customers and have a good idea of what my business model is. That’s going to better set me up for this development phase.”
Note: DK have no association with the university, nor are we endorsing them.
Atelier S P A C E // HCMC is an Autumn 2020 project of DK’s that is co-created by photographer Van Tran and DK Creative Director Dipika Kohli.
‘Studio Day’ by Van Tran / Ho Chi Minh City, Oct. 2020
.. this page used to be a notebook for a grant application that I was going to apply for…
There are so many important questions that pop up when someone who knows how to ask you if the thing you’re making is deserving of wider attention can ask.
Atelier S P A C E // HCMC’s collaborating team is loose and changes, and the people who come bring what they like to the tables. We started to share more there about ideas, mostly philosophical things related to space, time, distance. A-ha!, that’s it. Questing.
If writing is all rewriting, then… is this true:
Design is all redesign.
If it is, cool.
I’m gonna redesign this one.
It’s an update to the old story, ‘Unnecessary Jackets.’ One of our best, from the Vietnam series. It will release on Tuesday, next week. We always run our issues on Tuesdays. But you can pre-order it now.
Here is a link.
I’m finally going to write about what I do for work.
It’s taken me a little while to figure out what I wanted to focus on, for 2020-2025. I have this five-year plan. They always ask you that in interviews, right? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I just went back and thought about all those five-year milestone moments, when I’d reflect, and find out what it is that the journeys have taught me. ‘Say Hello to DK,’ ‘Experiments in N+1’, ‘Practicing the Unknown, Uncertain and Different,’ and ‘Design + Discovery’ have, so far, been five-year blocked themes.
(See examples of projects completed in each of these phases, they’re listed towards the end of this page.)
I am focusing on the next five years on another theme, which I’ll talk about now. ‘Creativity + Innovation.’
Creativity + Innovation
Why this? These are just buzzwords, right? Actually we’ve come to a place where they can’t be, anymore.
This is why.
The rest of this post is at my personal site.
It’s this page: https://dipikakohli.com/what-i-do-best-is-this/
Last night, I was reading a bunch of extraordinarily boring articles online, which made me very tired, and also, reminded me all over again that the internet contains a lot of junk, written by clickbait-seeking who-knows-who, and their poorly paid ‘gig economy’ freelancers who are ‘finding my creative outlet on the side.’ This is sad. And this, too, the feeling that you couldn’t find anything really good to read without being bombarded by popup ads (2000s) or advertorials masquerading as ‘This is my honest opinion’ affiliate-link people, made me feel like starting my own mini-magazine. Which has no endorsements, ads, or BS.
Such a dearth of real-world, real-time information that I could discover, on the spot, also made me feel like hosting parties to get people together and seeing what we could find out, in the real world dimension, too. So that’s part of why I began to convene people in very small circles, in my conversation parties. It used to be really large-scale, but I found out I prefer simplicity. Depth, substance, and progressions over time. With just a few. This is why I make a membership-based thing called S P A C E. It’s so that we—we as in me, and the people who, like me, want what I want, ie quality–could get to the work of talking about things in ways that don’t waste people’s time.
Curating as I go, I’m putting together an August series for Papers, which is going to be about innovation, not in the business-speak sense, but in the live-it-and-talk-from-experience-of-actually-trying-things kind.
It will be published in S P A C E. It’s a special edition of S P A C E. It’s members-only. Memberhip costs. You can find out more about how to become a member of S P A C E at this crowdfunding page, under ‘perks,’ see ‘Basic Membership.’
Here’s a link.
Welcome to DK.
We invite you to try it.
For people who welcome, and value, that kind of thinking, as they look for new ways to approach old blockages, in an exploratory quest for: fresh approaches, unexpected perspectives, and dialogue through ‘discovery’ to precipitate ideas. Not everyone resonates. But about one in a hundred really do.
Creating space for remarkable and meaningful connexion is what we love, and why we do it is because it’s really fun to engage with people who truly enjoy the soft, social space that exists within three-d and even virtual bounded boxes of time. In which new and different other can connect, and interconnect, for an unexpected moment of deeply relating. We have done this a hundred times, in small and large settings, formally, informally, at home and for work. It’s just who we are. And it’s the sort of jam we love to be in, and so, we design to make it happen—to optimize and host for that. In short, the aesthetic moment.
DK is Design Kompany.
It was founded in Seattle by and Akira Morita in 2004.. Currently DK operates as a boutique, and is based in Phnom Penh and Saigon.
Today, the same core team are independent consultants in: innovation, design thinking, and experiential learning program design.
They assemble when it’s time to make something new.
A. Spaice is our research and development director.
Jas Plac handles all outreach and communications.
Make stuff with DK..
Current projects and membership opportunities allow people we have discovered to connect, and interconnect. In the cloud. See next opportunities and how to be part of this, at our crowdfunding page.
Here’s a link.
That was cool, getting in touch and sharing, and hearing from you. Thanks! Been fun, conversing as we do, now and then, all this time.
When we met, I was in one of my many, many borrowed rooms assembling this issue of S P C, (left), which was the first of the series from Latvia, Poland, and Slovakia.
So many cool people, and connexions, and conversations happened on those roads, and I was grateful for the opportunity to get there, HT AM!, and to enjoy them. A different world now, right? Difficult to move about so freely. Guess I got lucky, going when I did.
Something told me… why not just go now ? Some timing though, really. Those were places that sort of left quite the impression. I was a little surprised with myself to prepone my trip by like a year (the writers’ residency I’ve been invited to be part of in Ventspils at the International Writers’ and Translators’ House was due to happen in November 2020). Not sure when I can get back for that, or if, so yeah. Glad to have gone and met you and others ! Lucky timing. (HT, another friend whose first initial is I…)
Who knew we would all be dealing with lockdowns in various spots around the world and a pandemic, at this time ?
I’m in Vietnam.
Currently in Vietnam..
Well, here I am, doing exactly the same work as I was when we had met. Good people are around me, here, too, and I’m lucky as heck to get to assemble new writings from their points of view, and images, too, which some have shared (like this cover!), and this time, some cool stuff: spatial organic design. I’ll put together all the credits, for sure, on the day we launch, and share more about each of our contributors, then. ;)
That’ll come out on 30 June, with the issue, ‘Start with Something Simple.’
Always happy to reconnect with you, I.
[Moving the rest of this to a protected-page.. I’ll post it tomorrow. Will send passcode then!]