Find Your Peers

What kind of person do you want to be? Perhaps the shortest road is to hang out with these people.

If you read Fast companies and envy the Silicon Valley entrepreneur at fancy lunches, raising 25 million dollars deal and selling companies in record time. You better be there because you need those conversations.

If on the other hand, you hang out with people who are running soup kitchens. Or you hang out with people who are counselling. Or people who are getting deep into what it means to be human. Chances are, the business you build is going to be more human.

Certainly. Choose your circle and it will change what you dream about, what you notice and what you engage with.

If you hang out with people who are going really slow because they don’t want to make a mistake. Well, you’re not going to make mistakes, but you’re going to go really slow.

If on the other hand, if you hang out with people who are going really fast and have figured out that the mistakes aren’t going to kill them. The next time you see them and you haven’t made any mistakes, you are going to be embarrassed.

Who you choose is entirely up to you. There are many happy, smart and successful people. It takes work to find them, help them and support them. The kind of work that pays dividends. The kind that you’ll remember on your deathbed.

Choose your circle. Choose your outcome.


P.S. If resources are limited, you can find these people in books, articles and interviews. They can hardly replace actual interaction, but they might just be better than the jealous cousin.

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The photo is taken at the beach in Hualien, Taiwan on a road trip with new friends from the hostel.

Hiding in Plain Sight

That would be you.

Last week, I went to a documentary film screening of Dieter Rams, a famous product designer. It was followed by a panel discussion with difficult questions that touch the nerves of the audience.

How do you balance minimalism and capitalism? How do you persuade the client to embrace minimalism? How do you implement these design philosophy in the real world?

There was no straight easy answer from the people on stage.

The ones who should be seeing this documentary were not here.

Social media is so addictive. Lawmakers are not acting fast enough. The takeaway packaging is still plastic.

We broke into smaller groups and continued the discussion over drinks.

I threw around some ideas. Should we delete our apps? Should we start a petition? Can we buy your friend a Spork?

The more ideas I gave, the more problems I received.  My roommate accepted being slapped in the face by her boyfriend. The small town people in India don’t watch enough TED videos. Coconuts are wrapped in plastic film.   

Well, perhaps you don’t really want to solve these problems. Perhaps we just want to talk about them.

Because perhaps the answer starts with you. Not someone else, you. You need to put yourself on the hook. Each one of us needs to.

Do you really care enough about the problems to sacrifice your money, your wit and your convenience to claim those problems and take ownership of them? 

Because the alternative is easy. It is to hide. It is to blow up these problems, so big that it doesn’t involve us. It is to blame other people. It is to find more fault than solutions.

It is perhaps harder, and more generous when we change ourselves before telling the world how they should act. To change one person then change the world. And because real change happens only when you decide to take the first step. Not them, it’s you.

Consider when we noticed ourselves faulting the world, perhaps it is better for everyone if we use that momentum and be a part of the solution.

Thanks Roshni and Roslyn for editing help.

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The photo was taken at Ban Heng Long Trading, a local wood shop where I go to replace the door of the Little Free Libary.

Free isn’t free

Here is a free newsletter. It’s free. You should sign up for it.
But what about the email that you give in exchange?
But what about receiving junk that you don’t need?
But what about the spending everyday deleting that email?

There is a free ice-cream giveaway. It’s free. You should go get it.
But what about the calories you will gain?
But what about the time you spent waiting in line?
But what about the uncomfortableness when someone comes to harass you about their latest product?

On the contrary, air is free. It’s everywhere. You use it every day. You can’t pay for it even if you want to.

Just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s worth it. It is our job to understand the people you seek to change. The calculation that people make in their head. This is what it means to empathise. The seductive of free might be an easy way to get people to consider but it’s never a way to delight them.

Before demanding that people should do it because it’s free, ask yourself if it’s worth it. For you and for them.

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The photo was taken at the Wonderland exhibition, ArtScience Museum Singapore.

True Understanding

When you search the dictionary for money, this is what you get.

  • Any circulating medium of exchange, including coins, paper money, and demand deposits.
    paper money.
  • Gold, silver, or other metal in pieces of convenient form stamped by public authority and issued
  • As a medium of exchange and measure of value.

But what could also be money?

Money is a store of value.
Money is a unit of account.
Money is the flow of power.
Money is a story.
Money is also the root of all evil (and this is also untrue).

True understanding is not just about what the dictionary says – that is just one of many ways to understand.

True understanding is built from the basic with an unbroken chain of logic. It is about how things relate to each other.

Someone who uses a lot of fancy words is just really good at human naming things. It is the mark of a charlatan to teach simple things in complicated ways. It is the mark of a wise to teach complicated things in simple words.

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The photo was taken at Jo’s Cafe along South Congress in Austin, Texas. If you are there, go to the back of the cafe to find the owner’s favourite quote: “Don’t break your tenderness”.

The Right Idea

People mistakenly believe that being right is enough. A good idea is all it takes. Hi, I have a good idea. I am right. Follow me.

In the 1800s, Ignaz Semmelweis could have been the man of his time. Ignaz found that hand-washing reduced mortality to below 1%. “Hey, I’m right. You’re wrong. Follow me.”

Some doctors were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands. His ideas were rejected by the medical community. He suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to an asylum, where he died at age 47.

Aaron Swartz is the co-founder of Reddit. He could have been the hero of our times. He helped develop the RSS feed and Creative Commons – he helped shape the internet. When JSTOR is impending the academic world, he doesn’t like it and starts hacking away. Too bad for him, he got caught. In the midst of sentencing, he hanged himself.

A righteous idea is scary. You are in a danger exactly because you are doing the right thing. In your eyes, you see a major error, but to others, you are rejecting their way of life. You will be hated, not just by one person, but often by a great many. That hatred is so strong it has caused those great figures to be shunned, abused, murdered and in one famous instance, nailed to a cross.

Know that if you are looking to plant an idea, make an impact, and change the culture – it might take you a lifetime. Make sure it is something worthwhile for you to be unhappy about for a very long time. You learn from the past, from those who have done it, then maybe, just maybe you might have a shot at it.

Good luck.

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The photo was taken in a community garden at San Francisco – where I found the castle using geocaching.