Forty Two

There was a period in my 20s, where it was as if “Human-Centered Design” was my family name.

In other words, “Human-Centered Design” was a significant part of my identity. So much so that I felt an implicit sense of responsibility on my shoulders. To the degree that I took “Human-Centered Design” as if it were as serious as the continuation of my own family’s reputation & lineage.

Although… It wasn’t like “Human-Centered Design” behaved like Darth Vader who went “I am your father~” (You know?) So one could wonder why I had felt the way I had felt.

Well, after realizing empathy with my past self, I realized that one of the most important needs I had was to feel a sense of belonging. Without a sense of belonging, I had found it difficult to withstand the pain of loneliness and confusion.

To be clear, I wasn’t aware of this back then. At the time, my conscious thought kept claiming that I was merely trying to “(positively) change the world.” Given the popularity of the phrase “change the world” in the late 90s and early 2000s, this is as cliché as it can get. But I was sincere.

At the same time, what I also see now is that I valued the experience of contribution. I felt alive when I could see that I was contributing to someone’s life. I also see that I had a need to shed the seemingly less-than-worthy identity of a “student.” I had a need to belong to a seemingly more significant and meaningful tribe. A tribe which could bestow upon me a more worthy identity. A tribe to which a number of older pioneers also belonged. Pioneers who made me feel the love and validation that I needed, but couldn’t feel in relation to my own father. All of these lay underneath my subconscious.

This isn’t to say that I think I was wrong to have felt the way I did or to have pursued “Human-Centered Design.”

No.

In fact, I cherish and take pride in my 20s.

I did the thing that brought life into my existence. That was amazing! I also did what I believed would fulfill my unconscious needs. Did it work? Unfortunately not. But I did do my best. And that’s enough for me to cherish and take pride in my 20s.

At the same time, I do find it important to admit that I had not yet attained the requisite maturity back then to confront the eventuality of our humanity. The vulnerable existence we are, once we get to know ourselves, despite how strong and stoic we may try to come across at first. Especially since today is my 42nd birthday.

Because what we do not admit stays in our subconscious. What we do admit rises up into our conscious. And it is only at that point we can design our relationship to and interaction with them.

The need to belong and to feel like we matter is a critical component of the human condition. It is as normal as gravity. There is no shame in such admission. In fact, the earlier we admit and attempt to understand it, the more we become capable of design. The design of our thoughts and behaviors. In contrast to becoming a slave to our suppressed emotions and unfulfilled needs.

In my research, I had learned that art, despite looking like a journey of creating things, is ultimately a journey of creating relationships. Relationships from which value, meaning, language, and identity emerge. Entrepreneurship is very much the same.

On the surface, entrepreneurship may seem like a journey of mere product and service innovation. But ultimately, entrepreneurship is a journey of innovating our relationships. Relationships to our customers, investors, board members, employees, co-founders, or even our so-called “self” and our family. These are all part of the same trail we are blazing.

I know many of you on this list are on your own journey of relational innovation. For some of you, I am also an explicit participant in your journey. So I want to take this time to tell you how proud I am of you all. Not for having achieved certain things or to have done great deeds. But for your willingness to admit what most would not dare admit. For your willingness to attempt to understand what most would not bother to understand.

Our humanity, that is.

Thank you.

I love you.

I’m proud of you.

Slim
August 19th 2019


Photo credit: Belinda Novika

Not Knowing vs Knowing Not

We often say
that the journey of innovation
is a journey of not knowing.

Sort of.

Innovation
often starts with a fragile feeling
that “there’s something here.”

It’s true.
We don’t know what that is
exactly.

But if someone asks us
“Is it this?”
We confidently answer
“No, that’s not it.”

Because, we do know
what it is not.

So yes,
the journey of innovation
may involve
numerous back-and-forths
between
“Maybe it’s this,”
and “Nope, that’s not it,”
until it becomes clear
what it was you were after
all along,
but could not express.

But no,
this does not mean
you know nothing
or that you’re crazy.

May we not let others
convince us otherwise.

p.s. Much thanks to Artist Yong Joo Kim & Dr. Paul Pangaro for inspiring this post

Being Strong

At our first session,
she would habitually use the word “strong”
to refer to herself.

“To be strong,”
she said,
“I should
Stop worrying and,
instead,
Focus on problem solving.
I should
Stop blaming my employees and,
instead,
Blame myself,
the CEO.”

On the surface,
these sounded wonderful,
virtuous, even.

But after a month
of realizing empathy with herself,
she discovered
that by “strong”
all she meant
was “numb to pain & discomfort.”

There’s a world of difference
between following advice
and realizing for one’s self
by leading through a journey of innovation.

A journey
through which we learn new
or unexpected choices.

Without the journey,
“stop worrying,”
can merely mean “repress stress & anxiety.”

“Focus on problem solving,”
can merely mean “focus on eliminating fear & concern.”

“Blame myself,”
can merely mean “lead with unconscious shame.”

To frame this phenomena
as someone’s “fault”
prevents a deeper exploration.

More valuable
would be to recognize what happens naturally
when we lack
a sense of choice
or proper support.

When Do We Mature?

Child psychologist Lewis Lipsitt once said
“We mature, when what we once assumed to know
takes on more subtlety and nuance,
thus changes in meaning.”

The word “making art” used to mean
Being stubborn or egocentric
enough to get away with bullshit.

So I used to despise art.

But after 4 years of realizing empathy with artists,
the word changed in meaning to
Letting go of our ego
to learn from others
on how to uncover & express our sincere honesty.

Words necessarily change in meaning as we mature.

Words like
parenting & leadership
will change in meaning
as we mature
as parents & leaders.

So will words like
children,
engineers,
millennials,
or marketing and sales.

This is no coincidence.

Moved to Chicago

I’ve moved.

To Chicago.

Until I was 21,
I not only moved every ~2 years locally,
but also every ~5 years internationally.

To a child,
moving can bring great grief into their lives,
leaving behind many emotional scars.

B‍‍‍‍‍‍ut I’m ultimately grateful for the pain.
They helped me mature and innovate my “self.”

I don’t know many people in Chicago.
I have nothing planned,
nor do I have business lined up locally.

All I have is an intuition,
That this is where I’m meant to be now.

Am I being impulsive?
Perhaps.

Yet intuition is what’s guided me on my journey of 41 years.
A journey of maturing and innovating with others.
Not alone.
A journey of empathy.

It’s served me well so far.
I trust it.