Sweet Sassy Molassy

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We’re used to hearing about oil spills and their destructive effects on environments. Hearing about this week’s molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor, Hawaii, billed as one of Hawaii’s worst environmental disasters, gave me some additional perspective on the effect we humans have on nature.

That said, in this video, the ending comment from Dr. David Field, a marine scientist, hit a chord with me that goes beyond ecosystems and environmental landscapes.

“I think there’s going to be a lot more effects down the line that aren’t so obvious, and don’t make such a big impression, as the fish on the video do.”

While I’m not sure if this accurately fits the definition of a red herring, it does speak to the larger idea that we are often moved by what we see, and perceive, right in front of us. Rarely do we look beyond that moment, take a step back from the scene of the crime, and seek to explore what this might mean on a different level.

Granted, some situations are very hard to step out of, and see beyond that particular instance, in that particular moment. And, with attempting to see into the future, the challenge can be even greater, when it is hard to discern what those issues and effects will be down the line, when we seem to have a predicament in front of our eyes.

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Last week in class we started a discussion on demography and emergence where we spent a good part of that day one’s discussion on population. The following image Scott shared with us was one of the economic effects of the financial crisis as compared to the economic effects of age-related spending to 2050.

crisis_of_aging

The financial crisis certainly rocked the fiscal reality of a wide range of people. But isn’t it interesting to see that the buyouts and other big-time figures from this period, pale in comparison to the economic issues we are facing into the future with spending on our aging populations?

Aside from taking care of our aging populations, there are plenty of other things/issues/problems/<insert your word here> to take care of.

What would the world look like today if we started to take an urgent and important approach to consider non-urgent and important issues?

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Today’s image to open the post I found through a Google image search, which resulted in my stumbling on an interesting post by the Rabid Conservative, “College Graduate Sues Alma Mater for Own Inability to Get Job.” Would be curious to find the original artist.

The second imagine, introduced to us in class, comes from a June 25, 2009 article from The Economist titled, “A slow-burning fuse.” The original source of this infographic comes to us from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

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When Words Return the Favor

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Yesterday evening I took a full-on look into Instagram. I added 6 photos, started following a bunch of folks I like who I haven’t had a chance to catch up with in person for some time, and enjoyed every minute. I’m not a very consistent social media’er, but as my foray into writing continues, I have really let my hair down taken a look into what communications is like when living social, online.

And so, after all that, I’m left with one pressing question. Let me explain.

Scrolling through photos is enjoyable. But the best case scenario is when the commentary is equally pleasurable.

Now, most of us are familiar with the quote, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Instagram does an incredible job of delivering this to each account holder by enabling us to easily share with others the photos we take on a daily basis.

And in my scrolling tonight I came to a photo taken by a college friend of mine, Stephen Chen. In this shot a cute dog (maybe even a puppy) sat along side, “The Wisdom of Compassion” by the Dalai Lama. Here, take a look.

While the photo is interesting in its own right, the comment totally made it for me. “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” -Groucho Marx

I know I’m a sucker for quotes and do enjoy good writing, but I’m curious what others think:

Pictures often support as visual aids, but what is it called when words return the favor?

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Today’s image I traced back to the So! What? Social. website.

Answering a Question with a Question

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This past week, we had an enjoyable session with Professor Mikinari Higano on active learning. You might surmise from the title of this post that his class focused on questions.

Professor Higano is the founder and director of the Business Leadership Program at Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan. I love that when he’s not focused on the leadership art of asking questions he plays tennis, cooks Italian food, and travels around Europe.

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of questions. A previous version of myself liked to say things like, “questions are more important than answers.” And with all the conversation these days about the importance of questions, I’ve needed to re-examine how I view, think about, and formulate questions.

The exercise we went through with Professor Higano was smack in the middle of where the simple meets the complex. Basically, think of a question. A problematic question, that is. I urge you to try based on the same criteria we were given:

(1) It must directly affect you (e.g., problems that bother your friend only, no matter how serious they may be, are not appropriate for our purpose);

(2) You must be seeking a solution to the problem immediately (e.g., if you are looking to find a solution over a span of a year or longer, that problem wouldn’t be appropriate);

(3) You must feel comfortable sharing and discussing the problem with the other members (e.g., “having a hard time to find a good date” may be a serious problem and you might be seeking an immediate solution, but if you feel uncomfortable discussing such a topic with peers and teachers, that’s not appropriate);

(4) The problem’s solution must be within a reasonable reach; that is, the problem must not be too grandiose or big in scale (e.g., don’t say you’re looking for a solution to change a country or other similarly great problems of the world);

(5) At the same time, the problem must be complex enough so that you do not see an obvious solution (e.g., problems such as “I’m having a hard time to get out of the bed in the morning” or “I always find myself procrastinating while I’m at work” have obvious solutions and therefore, they are not appropriate); and

(6) Do not try to come up with “interesting” or “funny” problems. In fact, humorous problems discussing which makes it hard for the seminar attendants to keep straight faces have nothing but negative effects on the class.

Given the array of conditions noted above, you might as well wonder what problem is appropriate; nonetheless, most if not all people who are living serious lives do have lots of problems that are highly appropriate to bring. Such problems involve a number of stakeholders with various, maybe mutually contradictory interests (e.g., a solution may satisfy Person A, but it will upset Person B, etc.), and therefore, you are struggling to disentangle the problem and find the best solution.

If any of you are not sure if the problem you’re going to bring is proper or not, even after you read carefully my instructions and check your problem, you are welcome to ask me. It is important because the performance of the sessions, especially in the earlier phases, is affected by the properness of the problem.

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I will likely share with you the question I chose in a future post, but, for the moment, really, take a moment and think about yours.

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When we arrived in class, armed with our questions, only two of us actually had the chance to participate this time around. Going through the process, led by our table’s emerging expert facilitators, Anusha and Promotosh, we spent 50 minutes each to dissect the problem of two classmates.

I had two main takeaways:

The first – while I love asking questions, it can be hard to only ask questions in response to anything anyone says. Now, the problem presenters (as they were called) could share insight with us based on the questions we asked them, but the rest of us participants were required to use questions to move the discussion along.

And you know what? There was an interesting energy around the discussion that I had not quite considered before. Many people like to tell it how it is: to share their knowledge, their perspective, to give advice. And what if we did all that, by communicating this knowledge, perspective, or advice via a question?

The second – the first problem presenter lamented her lack of participation. She found it challenging to speak up, to ask questions, to be an active part of conversations, especially in larger groups. And she wanted to explore why.

Now, in the second session, I think her question was probably the most important question of the entire 50 minute discussion. While I can’t remember the exact question now, I do remember how I felt when she asked and the conversation shifted.

And now that we have the takeaways, where is the action involved?

1 – next time you are in a conversation, what would it be like to reformulate a follow-up comment into a follow-up question?

2 – in a small to larger group setting, by always keeping your questions inside, might you be depriving others the opportunity of hearing a conversation-altering question?

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In searching images based on “answer a questions with a question”, I didn’t come up with much that struck me on Google images. Further exploring through a “question design” query, I made my way to something designed by Brandon Kauffman here on logogala.com. It looks like Brandon has more of his updated work on his self-addressed site here.

Table Games and Change

tables games in class

I arrived to class a bit early this morning with our teacher, Scott. He takes a look at the room, feels like the tables are a bit out of place, and we start to move them.

Not quite sure what to do with the last table, we start to explore a slightly more radical change in configuration that influenced some of the other tables. As my classmates started to roll in, I was surprised at the responses.

Let me back up for a moment. For the last three-odd weeks we have been used to sitting in clusters of 6-7 people. Imagine each unit: two tables side by side, the length at least twice the size of the width, where 8 people would sit comfortably if each place at the table was taken. This configuration creates a nice little half-circle for conversation, yet still allows us to comfortably take in the powerpoint presentation during class.

Back to the scene:

“What are you doing?!” appeared to be the most popular response.

For those who did not join in the table moving, there seemed to be more than an inkling of an aversion to change. And for some who did, there was a desire not to be associated with the outcome. “I have no idea what’s going on, this is MCK’s idea.”

And the interesting reality for me, is that I wasn’t even the leader of the movement. I was just the first follower. Within minutes of starting, I was already starting to be labeled as disrupting our peaceful classroom seating chart.

Why was there such a reaction to a few tables situated differently for a lecture that would not last the rest of the morning?

A number of thoughts ran through my mind during and post event, but my major takeaway from this impromptu exercise was the realization that despite being in a program about leadership, where change is not an insignificant topic of discussion, even a group like ours can be averse to the smallest of aberration to the norm.

What does this say about the general landscape for change?

From East to West

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Nine years is neither a significant, nor insignificant, period of time. Though it sure is close to 10 years. No matter if you are for, against, or just repeating a misquote about the 10 year or 10,000 hour rule to expert’dom, it makes for interesting conversation and even a nice infographic. And can there be a right answer?

Either way you slice it, I’ve spent the last nine years since graduating from college in China. It has been an incredible experience. And with the recent completion of a contract, I was given a gift, a chance to go anywhere.

I chose to spend more time in America for a lady. And since May, I have spent all my time in America, save two weeks back in China.

This time has enabled me to look back and reflect on the past, but more importantly, to reflect forward into the future.

This means I have been able to reflect on who I have been and who I am. It has also given me the chance to make sense of what I have done and where I might go from here.

Three weeks ago, I arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii to start a stint at the East-West Center as a Professional Associate in the Asia Pacific Leadership Program (APLP). For the next four months I will spend a significant amount of quality time with my 30 classmates. In the five months to follow we will disperse ourselves back across the Asia Pacific to continue our learnings as we return to our communities or make inroads into new communities.

We 31 range in age from 25-45 and hail from 17 countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kyrgyz Republic, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Tonga, and the USA.

APLP is a self-titled leadership program, and one of the many ways the program has been further described to us is as a collaborative educational experience that also promotes individual outcomes.

From day one we started the conversation recognizing we are a diverse group. Diversity, or difference, is not just based on our countries of origin, since many of us have experiences far beyond the borders of our birth land. Similarity does not start and end with being in the same room and everyone speaking English.

A diverse, informed, and collaborative community of action, requires a common language. To use the same words of the same language does not mean we understand them in the same way. And, to date, we have done well to prove this.

But it has been through the conversation, thus far, as we get to know each other and start to develop our common language, that I am so excited to see what will come next as our journey together continues to unfold.

While I have spent roughly the last 10,000 hours of my adult life between China and America, accumulating a diverse set of experiences, I don’t consider myself much of an expert on anything. But I am starting to recognize that to make a difference today is not necessarily dependent upon being an expert in the niche.

The leadership we exhibit through the duration of this 9-month program – and beyond APLPland – will have much to do with the approach we take to navigating an increasingly complex world. In this world, our challenge will not only be how we connect the dots, but also how we make sense of the dots, the lines, and how they relate in every way imaginable. And to do this, we need to be prepared to ask the right questions.

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I’m quickly realizing that one of my favorite parts of the post-writing process is searching for images that compliment my posted prose. Through the process of browsing for images and learning more about where they come from, I find fun and interesting ways people have chosen to visually verbalize a topic from a different vantage point.

The image above (and below) is from a designer named Yang Liu who was born in China and has spent a significant amount of time in Germany. Learn more about her through an interview here. See more of her East Meets West imagery here. While this link includes a few repeats, it also includes Yang’s take on the evolution of transportation over the last three decades. I think the below is an interesting take on connections and contacts.

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Same Same, but Different

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Having broken the Facebook routine once it was blocked in China, more time in America has further piqued my interest in how communication plays out on other platforms, such as Twitter. After reading, “Why Twitter’s new Conversations view is a big deal and why it matters for its IPO” by Om Malik, one question came to the surface:

As we become more interconnected, and express ourselves in a more similar way, what does this mean for our differences as people, cultures, and communities?

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I found the image above on Fontspring.com through a google image search for “same different”.

I also really liked the image below. Same Same but Different is an exhibition collective comprised of Brooklyn artists Jay Gaskill, Fabian G. Tabibian, and Amanda Valdez. Learn more on their Tumblr or their official website.

Same_Same_but_Different_design

Meaning through Movement

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Two months to the day of starting this blog, I came to the realization that I had a great run of three posts for the first three days of July with nothing since. Why?

After pushing myself onto the road of daily writing, I quickly derailed. Why?

While I don’t put myself in the category of people who need to be sure of their destination before they begin, I would put myself in the perfectionist category. So, as long as I’m committing myself to do something, it might as well be perfect, no?

Falling back into the desire to produce perfection, I told myself things like, “No one will read if it is not a masterpiece.”

But let’s be honest, aside from a few family and friends I’ve shared the link with, nobody is reading anyways. So what is my problem?

One the one hand, I don’t know exactly where I’m going, and I’m okay with that. On the other hand, I’m somehow trying to control this unknown outcome.

What I need to do is just let the process unfold.

Many of us do this quite a lot. We ask questions of ourselves and the others around us, “Where is this going? What does it mean?”

But how can we find the end goal or the answer when we’re not moving at all? Standing still, pondering the meaning of life, won’t help us get anywhere. And the thing is, we don’t know, we won’t know, and we can’t know, unless we get over ourselves and take action.

At the end of the day, things have meaning because we give them meaning. Questions and their answers are a means to move, to get to a better place, rather than a means to merely acquire knowledge. Because once you have that knowledge, what do you do with it? What meaning will you attach to it? The answer – for better or worse – is up to ourselves.

Today I’ve decided to get over myself, get back on the horse, and start writing again. I will commit to writing each day because finding my voice is about exploration and the continued search for meaning, not perfection before I even start.

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Credit for the image above goes to Dan Cassaro, a Young Jerk (http://youngjerks.com/). I originally found this through a google images search “movement” that took me to some work of his featured on FormFiftyFive. Shortly after I found my way to his Tumblr.