Meaning, purpose, ZAMM and bottlenecks

Update: This post was about an issue of S P A C E I published last year, and I’ve updated it with more context, as it’s part of messaging work to understand how to flow with ‘creative thinking’ which just means, I think, setting up your mindset to be cool with going somewhere new.

Good morning from Phnom Penh. The sun is just coming up and I am settled into my usual spot for writing and reflecting on the work of designers, the idea of design itself, and what happened this week in S P A C E. In a nutshell: people talked with me about a lot of things and I wound up saying the same thing in reply. Which is: what is it you really want to communicate? What do you want to say?


Messaging 101: What do you want to say?

That’s me and my friend on the phone last night, talking. Him asking me, ‘What do you think I should do about my new website?’ Me saying what I’ve been writing about here all these fifteen years. A website is a space to communicate with the world. But what you want to say is really the key here. Name it. Clearly. For me here at my various online spaces, I think I have a couple of messages. For DK’s site, this one, it’s ‘let’s play. If it’s not fun, why do it?’ Optimizing for ‘fun’ was what, after all, brought in the best and most extraordinary conversational exchanges all these years while Design Kompany played its way throughout the city of Seattle over six years there, and before that in Ireland and Japan, and after that in Durham NC and Ho Chi Minh City and sometimes Phnom Penh when the moment is right. For the event that stages itself like a popup conversation installation, an art show, a salon, a ‘happening’ as they say in Finland. We go where we go, because it’s fun.




‘That’s it. That’s the whole thing,’ as the refrain goes in R. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. ‘That is the center of it.’ It took me two tries to get through ZAMM, and the second time I was readier for the message.

The message being, ‘Quality is what you like,’ or some subjective take on that, if you ask me, personally.

The whole quest for quality is something I can personally relate to, having gone around hills and up mountains and for moonrise viewings or paraglides just to see what it is that’s there, that could be discovered further. OK, I’m getting philosophical and I promised to cut that out here and move it here. Happily writing eBooks under the label, ‘Kismuth.’ Works for me.

On the call with my friend, I would have said, had our call not cut off at the free Zoom limit of 40 minutes, a lot more than ‘What do you want to say.’ I would have added, and I could have, because we know one another well and talk regularly and there is trust, so I could go on and on, and if I had, I would have expanded thusly. ‘Figure out what you like. Then figure out what you care about. Then what you want to do. What drives you.’

So many people say that. It can take a lifetime to unearth even one thing you like. If you find two or 7, cool. You’re doing well. You’re on your way. Here’s a question, though. Are you doing those things? If not, why not?

There’s not that much time left. 


Quality is what you like

Figuring that out is a huge first step. If you’ve done it, great. If not, work with me to find out what it is you really want to say through Design Kompany’s process that walks you through the questions that will help you gain the clarity on this. I know it sounds hard, and it is!, but it’s worthwhile for those who make the effort because after you know this, suddenly, so much other stuff simply falls away. What to do on Saturday when you have free time, for example, is easier. If you’ve identified your why, your sense of purpose will intrinsically drive, and there’s really no stopping you if your heart is in it. We see this a lot with those who persist. You make it because you didn’t quit, and you didn’t quit because you couldn’t not do the thing you were doing. It was in you. You were intrinsically motivated. So that’s the first thing. Know thyself, and all that jazz. Here’s a link to my post ‘Figuring out the big question’, for more on that.

Issue #193: S P A C E | ‘Bottlenecks’

In a previous issue of S P A C E, called ‘Bottlenecks’, I interviewed over email Ben Brearley, who has a podcast ‘Thoughtful Leader,’ and who has been a consultant for managers who want to become better at what they do. ‘I started my coaching business because I was unhappy with the state of leadership in our workplaces,’ he wrote, when I asked why he does what he does. Coaching is something he says he has been doing for more than a decade. 

The bottlenecks episode of his podcast was really good. I had listened to it, then got curious about getting more clarity on what kind of people get in the way of processes and flow. Maybe they know they are doing it. Maybe they don’t. But, these are people who hold up workflows. I wanted to get more details about the realities of power dynamics at people’s offices. In listening to Ben talk about ‘bottlenecking,’ I wanted to know more. Specifically, I wanted to inquire about the idea of certain personalities or behaviors stifling flow, and thereby causing headaches for the people who work for them. So I reached out to start a conversation.

Dipika: How common would you say bottlenecks are?

Ben: Bottlenecks are extremely common in my experience. Especially when leaders feel insecure, or are under-resourced.

This means they may need to make do with fewer people, encouraging them to get more involved in the day to day work and you’ll see more experts or “single points of failure” arising.

Dipika: Predicting something is hard. But I am wondering if there are ways to ascertain what’s coming.

What are the telltale signs to watch out for that this is starting to happen in an organization?

Ben: Some telltale signs would include ‘leaders who say “nobody else knows how to do it”.

You will see this if you notice that they don’t train others to do tasks, rather, they continue to do it themselves.

Another indication is a micromanaging leader. Someone who won’t delegate, needs to be involved all the time to review everything, and has difficulty letting go.

Dipika: What is the opposite experience from bottlenecking, from the employees’ point of view, would you say? How does it look when things are in flow?


Ben: When things are in flow, then I would say that team members have the “right” amount of autonomy and accountability to perform their roles and feel motivated, while the leader is appropriately involved in the work of the team, without overstepping



And there is some redundancy in the team – so that people understand each others’ roles and can assist where needed. As with anything in leadership, it’s difficult to get it perfect.

Dipika: It sounds like the need for power is at the center of bottleneck instances. Wondering if you would agree. Or if that’s oversimplifying.

Ben: I think power is accurate as the reason, but in my view it’s also important to understand the reason behind this.

For example, do they crave power so they can achieve greater things?

Control people?

Or do they crave power because they are fearful of their circumstances? If it’s the latter, then creating a psychologically safe environment may help them to feel less threatened and you may see a shift in this behavior.

For those leaders that crave power and authority for achieving their goals, this may require a watchful eye to ensure they don’t start to create a toxic work environment in the pursuit of their goals…

I think people should be able to enjoy their work, rather than put up with bad leadership.

Dipika: Thank you, Ben.




To get this issue of our zine, S P A C E | ‘Bottlenecks’, you can download the PDF from our shop. Then, you can print out the 4 double-sided pages, fold each in half, assemble, and carry off the paper version to your favorite place to quietly read… on paper. Discover more about the ‘why’ behind this lo-fi publication, at its crowdfunding page, which is Dipika Kohli’s #spacethezine.