April 25, 2012
I was thinking today, of the creativity process, as framed by Javier Ideami at the Creativity Workshop I attended over a year ago. Little did I know how much that one day workshop would shape my life. Thanks again, Keshav for inviting me.
The process is as followed:
- insight: that seed, that little nugget of inspiration, whether its an idea or a desire
- saturation: think of this as immersion, immersing oneself in the topic area, getting as much exposure as possible
- incubation: this is the tricky part, because it takes patience. but things won’t click all the way at first. you’re not going to learn a new skill, or come up with the best idea if it’s forced and rushed. there needs to be an incubation period for the “seed” to germinate.
- illumination: the “ah-ha!” moment where everything clicks. best feeling in the world.
- verification: the test phase, making sure the idea works, that gains have been realized
The key takeaway here is not to be lazy and wait for things to come to you, but rather don’t get discouraged. Practice practice practice. Seek good mentors that inspire and teach well. There’s a Vince Lombardi quote I like: “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
It’s why my foray into salsa in San Jose tanked while in SF, I’ve become addicted and I’ll be performing in a few weeks. Good teachers make all the difference. I’m taking a web application development class on Udacity right now. It’s very refreshing because the teacher thinks like me, very process-oriented, very easy for me to pick up.
March 28, 2012
Shut up and listen. No really, listening is such an underrated and undervalued skill. It doesn’t matter if you are the most interesting man in the world (hint: you’re not), others like to be heard too. Brands have been figuring this out lately. Rather than putting out content with the mindset of “hey we’re hot shit, look at our products, buy buy buy!”, they’ve discovered that customers are much more receptive when companies actually listen to customer needs and aim to serve those needs. This also works well on a date.. I’m sure everyone’s been on at least one date where the other person just wouldn’t stop talking about themselves, their job, wealth, their friends and connections, what have you. The best conversationalist is one that approaches with the mindset of “no mind” – that is, don’t go in with the approach of focusing on what to say, focus on listening to what the other person is saying and vibe off of that.
Apologies, this entry is harsh but it’s really an admonition of myself. A reflection of a conversation I was having with a friend as she drove me back from salsa class today. I realized too late that all I was doing was talking and blabbering my mouth off.. to her credit she was patient and a good listener but I was annoying myself as the speaker..
Another example: my salsa teacher did me a HUGE favor at the end of Saturday’s class. Each class is structured such that we learn a new routine, a pattern and usually I like to film it at the end of class so I can remember later. On Saturday, he stopped me. He wouldn’t let me film it because I already knew the moves, maybe not necessarily in that order, but my biggest problem was that I was too focused on the technique and I wasn’t listening to the music. My focus needed to be first and foremost on the music.. that’s the glue that holds everything together. The fancy moves can come later. Even in just the two days I’ve danced this week, I’ve noticed a difference when I approach with that mindset of listening instead of focusing on myself..
March 25, 2012
There’s a great scene in The Last Samurai that stuck with me. Tom Cruise is practicing swordplay with one of the samurai in the camp and he’s getting a very thorough butt-whupping. Then another guy comes up to him and coaches him with a very simple message, “no mind”.
This scene epitomizes this blog.. what I’ve been striving for, to be in the moment. Cruise’s problem in his duel is that his mind is scattered, he’s focusing on the audience, focusing on his swordplay, focusing on his opponent.. too much to take in. But by clearing his head and focusing on the moment he is able to succeed and defeat his opponent because his training’s there.. his ability is there.. his ability to execute is hindered by his own thoughts. Our own mind is a double edged sword that we can either harness or let control us.
February 25, 2012
I am not perfect. I never will be. I acknowledge that logically. But in my day-to-day life, that need to be right, to be perfect, still dominates my mentality. Blame it on stereotypes, the Asian American model minority. Or perhaps moving around a lot as a child, always being the new kid, getting picked on for being new and different, not doing things the “right” way like the other kids. Whatever the source, it’s how I grew up, and it bothers me.
Funny, right? I would think that perfect is good, by definition it can’t be better. Yet the world we live in today, is not a perfect reality. Instead I am trying to embrace an environment where “good enough” is the essential paradigm. “Good enough” changes the world, when paired with action. That’s the problem with “perfect”; no matter how I strive for it, I’m never going to get there. I’m coming from a position of negativity, of criticism, what can I fix. Instead, the most important trait I want to cultivate is action. Not blind, reckless action, but “good enough” action.
Of course improvement is good. But that’s the thing, there is always a “better”. Having the presence of mind to recognize an opportunity and take action. It’s a lot of theory right now as I try to coalesce the thoughts swirling in my head. Consider a few examples:
- Ideally, software should be bug-free. But in a world of “now”, striving for that perfect version means falling behind to competitors releasing “good enough” copies then fixing the bugs as they come up. I’d rather have a program that’s 90% useful right now, than have to wait a week for 100%.
- News used to be published strictly overnight, distributed via the morning paper. Now there is live tweets, instant feedback. The emphasis isn’t on perfect, but rather, “good enough” and fast.
- Personal example: I have been taking salsa classes for several months now, but only recently started going out social dancing. A big reason it took so long is because I was worried about being perfect. Even now if I go out with that mentality of perfection, I’m not going to have a good time because I’m worried about getting it right, and my partner won’t have a good time because she’ll pick up on my worries. It reminds me of my high school speech and debate days. Yes I needed to know generally what I talked about, but more importantly was presenting the impression that I knew what I was saying. Owning my words and actions with full confidence even as I improvised.
I think what’s really the key in a “good enough now” world:
- Some kind of background/expertise as a foundation (e.g. 90% working release, journalism background, some dance knowledge)
- Owning the action and the ability to improvise and respond (e.g. acknowledging/fixing bugs as they come up, defending statements made in a quick news release, shrugging off mistake on the dance floor with a smile)
In theory it all makes sense to me. In practice.. well, old habits die hard.
February 4, 2012
America is a workaholic nation. Can you remember the last time you truly took a vacation, disconnected completely from work? If the Blackberry came along with you, that doesn’t count. Blame capitalism. Blame our Protestant work ethic.
What I’ve been realizing is that even though I actively involve myself with hobbies that have nothing to do with my professional life whatsoever, I’m still thinking in a work-mentality. By that I mean, I tend to think towards the future a lot, towards outcomes. I’m not entirely in the moment in conversations because I focus on where the conversation is going, For example, names are generally exchanged in the beginning of a conversation. Halfway through the conversation when I realize, hey I like this person, I also realize fuck, I don’t remember his/her name! And that is because at the beginning of the conversation I’m thinking ahead towards what I’m going to say.
Outcome-oriented thinking works in business. In fact, it’s essential. At the end of the day, Wall Street, your company’s shareholders, only care about the bottom line. Revenue is the key metric, and it matters less whether that was achieved by increasing sales or decreasing costs. In life, or at least, in the areas of life I find personally fulfilling (social interaction, arts, sports, etc), it’s not so much the end result that’s important. It’s the journey. It’s how we get there. I mean, if I want to be morbid, we’re all going to die eventually, so what’s the point of life? It’s the journey.
January 22, 2012
When you think of the word “innovation”, what comes to your mind? The light bulb? The computer, or hell, mobile device possibly, that you’re using to read this? Maybe an i/Pod/Phone/Pad/next-P-device. Sure there are breakthrough inventions, but those are usually few and far between, and often require a good stroke of luck. In reality, most innovation is incremental, building upon years, decades, centuries, of past work. We wouldn’t have any of these fancy modern conveniences had we not learned to harness the power of electricity and build the infrastructure to distribute it. Even the iSuite of devices was built incrementally. Okay, so Steve Jobs was one of those once-in-a-lifetime visionaries who was capable of seeing that breakthrough vision, but to build the technology took a number of years, patents, acquisitions, etc.
What’s the point of all this? Well.. it’s the eve of a New Year, not only in Gregorian terms, but also in the Chinese Lunar calendar. I am admittedly, not great at keeping up with culture (hey, that’s why I have family/friends that are into tradition), so I have no idea if there’s any concept of New Year’s resolutions in Asian culture, but it’s been interesting talking with friends over the past weeks about their goals for 2012. A lot of health-related goals, some that have already floundered (giving up soda), others that are struggling but a work in progress (lose X pounds). As for my own goals..
So far it’s been a good year, but I’m not quite satisfied.. I feel like if I continue with my current trajectory, I’ll slip back into complacency. I want to continually push myself. Remember there’s breakthrough change and there’s incremental change. The problem most people have with New Year’s resolutions is that resolutions are mostly breakthrough change. Things that sound really great, and would be fantastic if they were achieved. Problem is, that’s like telling someone with no outdoor experience to go climb Everest. It’s daunting. I’ve never been a fan of the sink or swim school of learning. Some people love it because you can see results really quickly, it’s high risk high reward. I’d rather slowly build a solid foundation than hope for it to all come together at once. With incremental change, the key is to set small goals, achievable goals, and build discipline and continaully hit those small targets. Eventually the difficulty increases and within a few months it’s amazing what you’ll have achieved. I mean hell, if you told me at this time last year that I would be performing at salsa parties I’d tell you to piss off and sober up.
But enough of the general principles, as a rough sketch of a concrete action plan for myself, I’m setting 3 personal development goals:
1) Create something new
2) Do something that scares you
3) Learn something new
Even these goals, simple as they are, are daunting to me. That’s why I’m going to make it easier for myself. One goal each day. Plotted out on a calendar with a goal assigned to each day. For 30 days. Let’s see where I am in a month.. maybe I’ll ratchet it up a notch then. How are your goals coming along?
January 11, 2012
Preface: This entry, and this blog is me trying to make sense of the world. My personal thoughts, musings, opinions, anecdotes which may or may not be factually correct, but merely my interpretation of the world.
The ultimate double edged sword, and the greatest gift we each have, is our own minds. It truly is extraordinary.. the limits, or lack thereof, of what the human brain can come up. It’s given us countless art forms, languages, taken us to the moon, to the depths of the ocean floor, to the tiniest nanoparticles. Yet, there is a time and place for everything..
See, our minds can also be our greatest hindrance to our bodies. Think about when you were learning something for the first time.. a sport, an instrument, etc. At first, it was very difficult and required a lot of mental concentration. But, as you improve, the mind steps aside and ironically, the less you think about it, the better you perform. How do you get to that point? Practice, practice practice. Practice until it becomes second nature.. from a tentative uncertainty as you start out, to a comfortable level, to second nature without having to think at all. Then in high pressure situations, tell your mind to take a nap. Get out of the way so you can do what comes naturally. In booting the game winning kick, Michigan State’s kicker was taught by his coach to think about brunette girls on a beach. Don’t think about the situation.. the potentials and ”what if”s. Let your body do what comes natural.
Maybe that’s why people meditate.. we’re too much in our heads. Especially now with the cell phone culture, the mp3 players and iPods.. just plug in headphones, wander through your mind.. when it comes time to talk to someone, there’s that bit of awkwardness as we try to come back out of our heads because somewhere down the line, social interaction with other people has become unnatural and interaction with things, with technology, has become second nature. Am I the only one that finds that strange?
January 1, 2012
2011 was an up-and-down year. I met some amazing people. Got involved in incredible things. Moving to SF was a major plus. But the year ended up a huge downer with the events that transpired this week. Ultimately, it was a great year though. Looking ahead, these are my goals for 2012..
Note that these aren’t resolutions. I’m not “resolving” to do anything. That makes it sound like a chore, a burden. No, these are goals that I aspire to achieve. Change that I want to realize. See, the cycle of creating change in one’s life is very simple. Very very simple in principle, hard to actualize. I’m sure I’m not the first person to come up with this but this came to me on the Bart ride home.. what I call the momentum cycle:
Perception => assumption => choice => action/inaction => perception.
Your perception, your world view, paradigms, etc drives certain assumptions that influence the choices you make to either take action or not, and that action will either shape your world view or inaction will further reinforce it.
For example, the kid that’s been fat all his life:
It’s genetic (perception) => why bother, I can’t do anything about it, might as well live with it (assumption) => eat healthy/work out (choice) => inaction => remains fat and reinforces perception
A more positive outlook: It may be genetic but ultimately it still comes down to me (perception) => I can be anything I want to do (assumption) => fix diet, start exercise regime (choice) => action => starts seeing results and changes in body, which reinforces positive outlook
The marvelous beauty of this is that it really is completely in your hands. Each action that you take builds further momentum while each time you do nothing serves to reinforce the status quo.
Unfortunately, changing that outlook is very difficult, because these are ideas that we grew up with, stuff that we’ve been told, directly or indirectly, to be true our entire lives. Usually we need an initial spark, a catalyst to grease the wheels and start the car rolling.. for the fat kid it might be a success story, seeing someone else’s transformation. That said.. my 2012 goals:
Continue to invest in myself: Keep doing things that make me a better person. Continually learning.. both academic and physical, learning programming, dance, working out, etc.
Investing in the future: Grow my bottom line.. whether through job opportunities, or an entrepreneurial side venture. The pipeline must be enriched.
Focusing on relationships: Becoming more of a people person. Actually taking an interest in people, in others’ experiences. Refrain from assumptions and judgments.
Deliver on commitment: Ideas change the world. But it’s not enough to have an idea. That castle in the sky requires a solid foundation and the will to see it through. It’s easy for me to come up with an idea, be motivated to start it.. but I can never finish. I lose interest and set it aside. Let’s see if I can see a project through from start to finish..
Carpe Diem. Seizing opportunity when it presents itself: Most difficult goal on this list. Will definitely require judicious use of momentum cycle to change my current habit of see opportunity, mull over it, watch it wave as it passes by. NO, that will not happen anymore. I want to hardwire into my DNA that if I see an opportunity, I go after it. Unknown be damned, I’ll improvise on the fly.
I’m genuinely curious.. what do you think of this list? And what are some of your goals?
December 30, 2011
This is a real candid, personal entry. Just some thoughts and emotions I needed to vent somewhere..
I was mugged a few days ago. It was only 7pm, I was walking down the street to the bus stop headed for my weekly salsa class. I’ve walked this route often enough I could do it without thought in my sleep. I had my phone out, checking the bus times because they’re always 100% accurate and I *hate* the feeling of getting to the stop and seeing the bus just pulling away, that disappointment and frustration that washes over briefly as I watch it disappear down the street. Anyway, turns out that despite my neighborhood supposedly being very safe, walking around in any part of a major city alone with your phone out when it’s dark is a bad idea.. long story short after a minute or so I was on the ground with multiple bruises and 4 guys taking off the opposite direction with my phone and my bag. Not going into too much detail but I messaged a friend on my computer who called police; they showed up on my doorstep 5 minutes later to take a statement but I’m almost certainly never going to see my phone again.
I’m OK physically.. the bruises will heal, I’m using my old 3G for a few months, and yet.. the incident has forever changed me:
It’s changed my view of San Francisco. I used to walk around with the naivete of invincibility, almost. My perception was that yeah you hear about crime all the time but it’s never going to happen to me. SF isn’t that bad, I live in a great area. But at some point or another, it just might happen to you, and you become that statistic.. Be On Alert. It sucks. It absolutely SUCKS that you can’t even walk around your own neighborhood without taking the proper precautions but that’s how it goes.
It’s changed my view of people. When I lay in bed trying to sleep, I still get flashbacks of the incident. The most vivid image that comes to mind is this black guy in a dark baseball cap and baggy clothing, the yellow light of the street lamps overhead, telling me to hand over my phone while his buddies surround me. I still feel so much rage.. and vengeance. Like that feeling of how utterly helpless I was in that moment, and how I never want to feel that way again. If I were to let the emotions take over, I’d be grabbing a high caliber assault rifle and go all out Rambo-style hunting down groups of minorities. It sucks because my perception was that SF people are super friendly and I had nothing to worry about. It sucks because it directed my emotions, my hate, towards a particular race; every time I see a scruffy black guy my eyes narrow and my fists clench, I want to shout racial epithets and wail on him. And yet, I live with two African American women and they are the sweetest people ever.
It’s changed my view of myself. I’ve realized that the world isn’t all rosy and wonderful. There’s a lot of bad shit out there. Bad people. Good people in bad circumstances. But everyone in one way another, is only out for themselves. And that’s the way that I’ve got to be thinking. There are 3 types of people in this world: spectators that watch things happen, doers that make things happen, and the ignorant that pretend things don’t happen. I’ve been the latter for too long.
What’s interesting though.. is the role of emotions. Emotions don’t just go away, they have to be channeled somewhere, into some kind of action. For me, it’s spurred a lot of thought. And right now, stuff like brazilian jujitsu and learning/buying a gun are very real options. We’ll see though.. expect a 2012 goals entry to follow shortly.
October 20, 2011
I’ve been dancing 4 days this week so far. Going to make it 5 and 6 this weekend.
On Monday night, I learned the basic steps to the Brazilian dance zouk. Tuesday was a follow-up class. Besides learning the footwork and technique the most important lesson I’ve learned is two-fold:
1. Dance is about the physical connection. Sounds obvious right? But it’s easy to get wrapped up in perfecting the technique that you forget you’re dancing with another human being. Being able to lead and follow is about being in tune with with another person and it’s a large part of what makes dance fun. That genuine human connection.
2, When one of my instructors saw my frustration and focus on mastering a part of my technique, he reminded me, “it’s not about you, it’s about her. You want to make her happy. Let her show off.” I let that sink in a bit.
Yesterday and today I went to salsa class. Something felt off yesterday and I couldn’t place my finger on it. I think it was just shaking off the rust and trying to catch up to a faster pace. Today I felt much more comfortable as the instructor pointed out small adjustments that made my feel much smoother. But the biggest lesson was at the end of class.
I was chatting on the sideline to one of the guys that came with his girlfriend/wife when a woman approached me apologizing for last week (I had asked her to dance after class but she wanted to dance with her friend, which makes sense and I had completely forgotten about it). She asked if she could make it up and we danced for a bit. Now keep in mind that while I’ve been dancing salsa for a few months now and I’m not a total beginner, I’m nowhere near the comfort level where time seems to warp. And this woman was breathtakingly good, on the performance team, etc. But she was patient and she went with me, helped me fix a few things and joked around and made me comfortable when I made mistakes, which was.. quite often esp. as the track changed to a very fast-tempo song. In short, she focused on me and made me feel happy. I was literally grinning ear to ear on the way back.
Really, the key to human happiness then, is really simple: people want to feel genuinely appreciated in a nonjudgmental way.
I’m sure you’ve all been in situations where someone’s acting fake or insincere. They’ll say things for the sake of conversation but not actually mean it. And it sucks because it’s like why make the effort at all? I’m not guiltless either, but I am going to start paying more attention because it was such a good feeling. Genuine appreciation. Give and take. Or rather give > take.