Managing Measurement – Just a Numbers Game?


You’ve heard people tell you this before – you may have even told yourself this before: you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

So what’s so different about this mantra today over any other day?

Nick Ganju, that’s what’s different.

Over the past few months I’ve developed a taste for the podcast world. And while I still need to write about the podcast that has made me into a semi-rabid fan of the medium (thank you Alex Blumberg, Startup Podcast, Matt Lieber, and Gimlet Media!), I have my buddy Hsu to thank for introducing me to Tim Ferriss‘s experimental podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, at a time where there were a few episodes out there with things that I needed to hear.

This morning I listened to two excellent inbetweenisodes and then happened upon the Nick Ganju conversation.

I’ve been intimidated by math, numbers, stats, etc. for as long as I can remember. Unlike Tim, while I had some a great teacher in 10th grade (and beyond), I just always had a tough time getting my head around that stuff. And I completely gave it up when I got to college.

These days, even though I’ve come to be a believer in data-driven approaches to decision-making, that doesn’t mean I’ve always been equipped to determine what should be measured on the way to reaching goals and supporting dreams to come true.

Because if there’s one thing that should accompany the mantra, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”, its that, “Not all data is created equal.”

These are the kind of things I appreciate talking through with others. It’s not only for the purpose of bouncing ideas and getting to a better place as a team, but also to move beyond my own numerical insecurities. Sometimes we all just need a little hand-holding.

Although there are many great things within this conversation including a note on the probability of one sharing a birthday with another (if interested in this, see below), it was two lines that encouraged me to immediately write this reflection.

“The big secret of mathematicians is that everyone started from 1 + 1 = 2 and built their way up. Each step is not a big step once you understand the previous step.”

How often do we make things much more complicated than they need to be?

How often do we take steps without truly understanding the previous step?

And how often do we measure things that actually don’t matter in the context of what we’re looking or aiming for?

Let’s go a bit further on this.

You’ve heard of SMART goals, yes? Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely goals.

But do we take the time to make projected assumptions based on specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely criteria? (Or should I have asked if we make any type of project assumption?)

Do we follow-up to compare assumptions with the actual results? When and if we do, do we explore how they compare and seek to understand why we’ve arrived at the results we have today?

For all the time we put into the things we believe matter, why do so many of us not put in the due diligence and/or the right structure for a more appropriate framework by which we can judge whether we succeeded or not?

“Lose weight” vs. “Lose 10 pounds in 100 days” is a very simple version of this. We have these “goals” without anything to hold us accountable – be it to ourselves or others.

But generally speaking, in business and in life, many of us just decide on “goals” (myself included). We haven’t done the underlying math. Or really enough structured thinking about it.

It’s great to have goal, but then you need a plan to execute. And the follow-up, the accountability piece, might be just as important than the original goal.

Besides, how do we know if we get there / don’t get there? How do we choose if it’s a good idea to keep going or stop?

So I’m a perfect example of someone who has fallen into this lack of specificity and due diligence in setting goals.

Actually, it’s only been recently that I’ve finally felt the confidence to even set and articulate these goals to myself.

It got me to thinking, how can we articulate out-loud and to others if we can’t even tell ourselves?

Even more dangerous, what happens when what we tell ourselves is not honest?

Though this is tricky.

Because even when we think we’re being honest with ourselves, sometimes, we’ve elected to not do the due diligence in thinking about what really matters.

Do we know what motivates us to do what we do, on the road to going where we want to be?

One last quote from Nick, “The mark of intelligence is to learn from your mistakes and change your attitude about things.”

I thought I was quite good at this before. But maybe that was my problem.

At my most unsuccessful, it was usually because I knew the problem and solution rather than seeing myself as part of the problem and the solution.

I recognized a need for a change in my attitude on certain things. This has taken space. This has taken time set aside for active thought and reflection.

Only by taking a step or two (or three or more) back have I been able to move forward with a renewed sense of confidence.

You know what it was, I was afraid of “the wrong answer” before. Of “making a mistake.” While this wasn’t with everything, it was with the biggest most important things in my life.

Intelligence for me started to become less about knowing the answer and more about finding the answer with the people interested in the same or similar questions.

Besides, if I believed there was only one answer or way of doing things, then I’d just be deceiving myself.

How about you, what mistakes have you learned from lately?

And beyond just knowing these mistakes, did you give yourself the space to reflect and allow for your attitude to change?


Hear more from Nick and Tim’s conversation here.



Interested in the birthday vignette mentioned above? You came to the right place.

At around 21:00 minutes Tim brings up the birthday problem / paradox as a part of their discussion of probability.

When there are 367 people in a group there is 100% probability that 2 people will have the same birthday. Easy, right?

More surprising, though, might be that in a group of  23 people there is actually a 50% probability.

Nick pointed out that it’s not that one of those 23 people could walk around and ask the other 22 if they have the same birthday and likely find a match, it’s that any two of those 23 people could have the same birthday.

What happens when data is presented a bit differently? And how do we start to see the world, the issues around us, and ourselves differently?


Today’s images –

Numbers – from designer and animator giada_ghw, which I found on the Continuous Business Planning site. giada_ghw has some other fun cartoons on there, as well.

Happy Birthday – from the Soylet blog of all places. Posted by user gambit.

Google image searches sometimes take me to the most unexpected places.

Astronomy (on Tap) is Out of This World

Last Monday I went to find something new at the Astronomy on Tap event at Bar. Also, some pizza.

I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, jokes and puns abound, and just how relate-able the entire evening was to even the most average of minds (*ahem*, like mine).

Beyond funny questions people like Michael Faison will ask his students like, “How many martinis could you make from this cloud?” I had two major takeaways that I’d like to remember.

1) We are not who we were yesterday. The same is true of our interests and understanding of the world. (Michael Faison)

The world is always changing, as are we. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that. No matter how big or small, old or young. And to keep this in context, the youngsters out there (in the star world, that is) are 1-2 million years old. Wow. And speaking of…

2) Stars cluster when young and spread out when they age. (Jonathan Foster)

This got me thinking – perhaps we humans are not so different from our starry counterparts. We do practically the same thing in our young – we are clustered, spending time with larger groups of people. And as we age, we spread out.

Do you feel the same way?

If you’re interested in a little bit more of a synopsis of the evening, take a look at this article from the New Haven Independent or AstroOnTapCT on Twitter.

And a thanks to Steph LaMassa for putting together such an interesting and accessible event for people who are well out of their league when it comes to things out of this world.


No photo today. I already made a nice little faux-pas on Twitter when I mixed up Astronomy and Astrology. If you’re not quite sure of the difference, take a 2 minute look here.

Though the quick story – Astronomy is about things that are out of this world. Astrology is about those things that are out of this world and how they affect us on Earth.

Form and Freedom


One thing I have grown to appreciate and absolutely love about learning Chinese language is the structure.

Today, I learned that Chinese traditional painting has an equally useful structural starting point.

Take a look at the picture above. What do you see in each of these elements?

From top to bottom these traditional Chinese artistic building blocks represent the most basic patterns in nature – waves, tree leaves, rivers/streams, pine needles, clouds, mountains, rocks…

No, they are not all perfect, this is just practice.

But it’s by practicing these basic patterns, with a healthy amount of consulting the dictionary of brush strokes, that early students learn to follow the rules.

And the next step? Painting a classic landscape with all the important elements.

So what makes me so excited about this?

First, I think the elements are beautiful. And the color is quite nice, too.

But, what I love even more is the idea that structure gives way to focus. And focus means freedom.

Though we may start with a full set of constraints, slowly and ever so surely, a mastery of these brush strokes, these elements, these rules, will allow the artist to ultimately find their own voice and style.

Welcome to the ultimate form of freedom.

Auto Communication

I’ve never been much of a driver. From the beginning, I was not in a rush to get my license. I learned for functional purposes.

When moving from point A to point B, I generally prefer to be a passenger whenever possible. Be it by plane, train, or automobile, I enjoy time spent on the road, traveling alone, surrounded by strangers. On the road is where I do some of my best thinking. It’s right up there with the thinking I do while washing dishes or folding laundry.

If we were having this conversation a year ago, I might have told you I hate driving. But with more time spent behind the wheel over the past year – for functional purposes – I’ve seen the finer sides of driving, and appreciate it for the different type of quality time it provides for me, myself, and I.

While on a 2+ hour drive just yesterday, I got to thinking about driving as one of the most solitary social activities I know.

There’s something about the focused solitude of driving, especially when driving for distance. Yet there is a slightly interesting social aspect. On the one hand you’re completely cut off from everyone else – at least verbally – yet everybody’s in it together.

As drivers, we don’t talk, but we do interact. It starts with the car we drive – the color, shape, and make – to how we change lanes, the speed at which we drive, the way we maneuver with more cars around, and how we accommodate others. This all contributes to our driving personality or attitude, a reflection of us. Naturally, this may fluctuate and even change over time.

I had an interesting conversation with someone today, who told me how her driving job changed her. With a significant influx in alone time, she had a great opportunity to think and reflect. With more frequent and longer stretches behind the wheel, she more closely observed how others drove and  how she drove, which led her to consider, “what kind of a driver am I?”

She was not aggressive and thought of herself as a rather courteous driver. But after she started driving for a living she chose to be more proactively courteous. Why be that driver when she could be even more go with the flow?

So what kind of driver are you? Beyond getting from A to B, what does does driving do for you? And what does your driving communicate about you to others?

Magenta for Me, How About You?


Mobile phone service is excellent in China. In fact, every visit back to the US, I would count my blessings that I did not have a phone here. I usually found it challenging to hear the person on the other end of the call, not to mention wonder why there would be so many dead spots, even in the middle of a city. I wondered how America was so far behind the rest of the world. I was used to great mobile service coverage from the depths of the Beijing subway to the heights of the Himalayas in places like Tiger Leaping Gorge (even in 2004). Wasn’t China still in the “third world” 10 years ago?  

Having returned to the US last spring with the intention of spending a bit more quality time here, while I immensely enjoyed life without a US phone number, I ultimately had to explore contract options from the various players in the wireless carrier market.

And from the start, T-Mobile blew me away.

My first experience was in the Flatiron district of New York City. I had a day in the city, was meeting a friend in the area, and happened upon an AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon store all in close proximity to each other.

When it came to the difference in store environment and service experience, it was like night and day. AT&T and T-Mobile stores were bright and full of energy – both their physical space and their staff. And living an international life, it was hard for me to imagine signing up for a multi-year contract with a service that would not allow me to switch SIM cards.

As I was about to spend the next few months in Hawaii, I was not ready to commit to a plan, but the person I spoke to at T-Mobile was super helpful. He was happy to help me, but thought the folks in Hawaii would be in a better position. The person at AT&T was great too, though I found myself waiting in a pretty big line.

Lines aside, when it came down to it, I was uncertain how long I would need my plan for, did not need a contract and was going to get more for my money to choose T-Mobile over AT&T. Why pay an extra $10 per month just for fun?

Upon arrival in Hawaii, several folks in my cohort were interested in phone plans and I shared my recent learnings with them. A group of us embarked on an adventure to find the closest T-Mobile store to campus.

Shopping for a cell phone plan with my new international friends, I was having much more fun with this than I ever would have imagined. While they thought it was helpful to have an American with them to navigate the scene, I wondered if I was really that useful. Sure, thanks to all the aggressive advertising done by these companies (especially during football games during winter holidays), I could never have forgotten who the general players were in this mobile carrier space. But at the same time, I felt like a foreigner as much as they did.

My first big thanks goes to Brinton from the T-Mobile shop in Honolulu where we signed up for our family plan. While the basics of the T-Mobile service are pretty much a no-brainer, he was an enormous help and took the time needed to answer all of our questions (which extended a good deal past the store’s 8PM closing time).

Last month when our family was set to head in a variety of directions and ready to break-up, I spoke with a couple folks on the phone, and another super knowledgeable sales rep at the same Honolulu retail store.

Back in Upstate NY for the holidays, and hearing about the cell phone bills my mom and sister were racking up on their own individual plans, I thought it might be a good idea to share some of my super experiences with T-Mobile. Maybe we could take our actual family status and update to a family plan with the same wireless carrier?

My mom has had the same phone for a handful of years. We thought that meant it would be easy to switch as she was already out of contract. Turns out these days T-Mobile Offers to Pay Everyone Else’s Termination Fees. The big question was whether her phone (see photos below) would be usable on the T-Mobile network or if she would need to upgrade to a smarter phone.

The experience we had with Bobby at the 18 Wolf Road T-Mobile store was so good that I felt compelled to share my customer experience over the past five months. Bobby is super knowledgeable in all things T-Mobile, direct, and has a great sense of humor. He was not only extremely helpful , but we had a great time while in the store. And aside from the great deal on family plans, it turns out small business customers get some pretty stellar service – a few bells and whistles beyond all the uncarrier perks that normal folks and family-planners enjoy.

And just around 6PM, as we were just about to wrap up, Bobby shared with us, hot off the press, the new break-up deals that have taken over the interwebs these past couple days. Pretty unbelievable. While my sister is already a T-Mobile customer, looks like some strong incentives for my Dad to say goodbye to Verizon.

Back in Honolulu, I walked out of the store back in August thinking T-Mobile was leading a mobile wireless revolution. I thought it unbelievable to learn last month you could text, for free, from 100 countries back to the US, which came online just two months after I had signed-up. Now it looks like something mind-bending is happening every three months. I wonder how long this can last?

Over the past day or so, it’s been interesting to explore the past couple years in T-Mobile history and how big magenta has started to create the disruption it has over the past year plus. I’ve enjoyed the evolving story as told by Sascha Segan from PCMag. Most of the articles below are his.

T-Mobile Offers to Pay Everyone Else’s Termination Fees (1/8/14)

Exclusive: T-Mobile CTO Talks Carrier’s Journey to Fastest LTE Network (1/6/14)

6 Reasons Sprint Shouldn’t Buy T-Mobile (12/13/13)

T-Mobile Cuts the Bulls**t, But Can it Win Customers? (3/27/13)   

T-Mobile Names Former Global Crossing Chief as New CEO (9/19/12)

T-Mobile CEO John Legere‘s Twitter feed is also worth a gander.

At this point, T-Mobile has very clearly stated their vision for the future of their industry and “the other guys” are almost making it hard for people to not switch. Also, the “Break Up Letter” campaign is more than a little funny.


And I’ll close with an interesting post by a guy named Louis Grey that I stumbled upon yesterday. At the time of writing in November of last year, it appeared that the question he put forth, “Are the Big Phone Carriers ‘Good Enough’ These Days” was logical enough. I wonder what an update of that article looks like in a week or two? How about November 2014?

Startup Weekend UH


I just finished as a participant in my first Startup Weekend. It was a blast. Thanks are in order for PACE (The Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship) at Shidler College of Business at University of Hawaii, as well as Joey Aquino, our Startup Weekend Facilitator.

Before I knew Joey as the excellent facilitator I know him to be now, and before we even began the weekend, he said something to a group of us that I was not expecting: this event is more about experiential learning and building community over company creation.

Should I have seen this comment coming? Maybe.

At the time, I wasn’t expecting to fully participate in the event, and planned to be just a spectator. But as the dust starts to settle on a fully immersed weekend, I come away with a fantastic experience and some takeaways worth noting.

1. Just Jump In

Standard advice, but Startup Weekend hammers this point home. I was on the fence, I was not planning on staying past the pitch portion of Friday evening, but of all the good ideas pitched, I saw something extra interesting between two ideas that happened to set up shop next to each other during the round of mixing: Show Aloha and a Futures game concept, so I started to explore by asking if these two ideas could be combined.

And then I ended up in a conversation with two guys (thanks Daniel and Alex) dreaming about a new type of pants who needed a third to stay alive. My classmate, Robson, was about as close as I was to calling it a night. And then we went all in for the rest of the weekend.

No regrets.

2. Too Many Opinions, Too Little Time

Conversation the first evening was relatively fluid and, in hindsight, of course it was easy to get a great start. We had a short window and would have more time to go into detail on Day 2. During Day 2, our ideas started to run all over the place.

The first best thing we did was to develop a common set of questions to better understand the good, the bad, and the ugly when it came to people and their pants. We did a couple of interviews together and then spread out, which enabled us to cover more ground and come back together with each of these insights.

Then the coaches came. Folks from the community with diverse backgrounds in business were great to talk to. They pointed to problem areas and had good ideas to share.

Sounds like a lot of great exchange. And the problem is…?

Essentially we were starting to have more and more ideas sharing and floating without the chance to reflect. We were not doing a very good job as a team of setting structure for ourselves. We were not proactively working to come back to what was most important.

3. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything & The Power of Outside Opinions

Coming back to what was most important is a challenge in and of itself, and especially hard if you don’t attempt to define what is most important. We had a tough time processing all of the information inputs because as a group we allowed ourselves to see the merit in many of these ideas and be overly influenced by them.

And sometimes it seemed as though our group took the approach that the coaches had better ideas than we did, as opposed to seeing how our ideas could be empowered by ideas brought up by certain coaches. Can we relate this to the value that companies place on the opinions of outsiders over the opinions of their own?

Where and how do we balance these opinions from inside and out?

4. Holding On Because it’s Hard to Let Go

There were several points during the weekend where it felt like we were moving in a good direction together, and then we somehow reverted back to the very beginning and an idea that I just couldn’t get behind. And despite advice – both internal and external – to move away at various points during the weekend, we still kept reverting back.

Just a couple of hours left before presenting, it became clear that we had arrived back at this familiar juncture. Thing is, it probably felt different on some accounts because we were attempting to fit this old idea into a new potential market.

But feeling strongly that the idea was not the right one for us, I wondered aloud if we were trying to fit the market to our idea or the idea to our market? Instead of coming up with potential new markets for this idea, why did we not come back to problems we identified in markets we knew how to better articulate our ideas to and connect with?

Our Founder had originally conceived the idea based on his discomfort with the way in which pants raised his body temperature. And all of the questions we asked of people lead to answers focused on issues with “comfort.” This was related to size, fit, and our major sticking point, heat.

If there was any mention of how hot it was to wear pants, this seemed to dominate discussions. It was our comfort zone, the place where we kept returning. But the majority of people we interviewed seemed to be frustrated most by the fit of their pants. Why were we holding on?

5. Listening is Important

Should this even be a point of learning? Isn’t acting as a good listener a given in any conversation? Through the weekend the important distinction about this point of listening for me was distinguishing between listening for what you want to hear compared to what is being said.

Having a hypothesis is fine, in fact, encouraged. It’s best to have an idea of a general direction we’re going in and what possible answers could be. And developing good questions to help us learn more about problems and pain-points, as well as current solutions and areas of satisfaction is invaluable to the development of our ideas… if we choose to listen to what people are telling us.

But what about vision? What can be said for being completely stubborn about an idea that you truly believe in and want to take to the next level no matter what anybody says?

6. The Influence of Shared Vision

What does it feel like to participate in a vision you do not buy into?

This was my weekend reality. And part-way through the weekend I found myself almost ready to say goodbye. My concern was that our Founder was blinded by his vision. Dreaming of pants made of board shorts came out of the desire to stay cool in a pair of pants that could be worn in multiple settings. I admired his interest and commitment to this problem. He cared enough to buy two pairs of board shorts and find a way to sew them together into a pair of pants.

The issue for me was two-fold. The first was that we were not letting a good idea evolve into a great one. Going back to the point above – I felt we were not listening to a larger group of people. Our choices were determined largely on what resonated with “hot pants.”

The second was that the vision was continually articulated as college students who did not want to change clothes for different uses.

As a bonus, surf culture was the marketing linchpin.

Let’s be clear, I’m open to being swept away by surf culture at some point during my stay in Hawaii. I also think that there are a critical mass of people out there who are trying to find a pair of better fitting, more comfortable pants. But if we’re building a global pants enterprise (okay, let’s even scale it back to domestic), how many people want to buy a pair of pants because a famous surfer that only 10% of our target market has even heard of? How many people are tortured by the heat produced by wearing pants? How many people experience pain from a wardrobe change involving their pants?

You probably got the vibe that I’m not ready to line up for this product.

And the first question we received from the judges after giving our presentation was rightfully sarcastic, “Is changing clothes a challenge?”

Or am I drinking my own kool-aid by pointing out this first question?

Great businesses have grown out of personal agitation. But I wear pants just about every day. And wear them comfortably. Bottom line here is that I became increasingly turned off by a vision I didn’t connect to and really was unsure what additional value I could provide.

7. Limited Time Supports Decision-Making

But I stuck with it. I tried to be a better listener myself. And we were coming up on crunch time for our pitch, so we had to make some decisions.

In working through our presentation, the time restriction became our biggest ally. We continue to refine our slides, and it became pretty clear what we were missing. And the next question was whether one of us were in a position to provide the answer.

8. Are the Right People on the Team?

In these crunch time moments where we had to complete our slides, our team was momentarily distracted by a guy outside who seemed to be taping himself doing some sort of freestyle walking.

I thought it was fun for about 20 seconds. While I am not sure what Robson was thinking, I saw our two other teammates get extra excited and went to encourage this guy to wear our pants and get some footage of him practicing his craft.

Looking through the slides, we had plenty of ideas that focused around “marketing” and telling the story of our product. And we did not have a finalized target market, which meant we also did not have a slide on the market size, expected revenue, or anything else of numerical value. This is why marketers sometimes get a bad rap – big on talk, small on substance.

Three thoughts came to mind –

First, freestyle walking footage in our board short pants would be fine, but how many people in the room (especially on the judges panel) would connect with this? Are stories that are interesting to us, the same stories that resonate with others?

Second, even if the judges panel connected with the pants idea and loved the quick video of freestyle walking. How will we answer questions around numbers without any in our presentation?

Third, as a marketing major in college these days, what are students learning? Is the full picture taught, but are most students just not as interested to recreate it in their own works? Finances are an equally import part of the big picture as they connect to the who will buy, why they buy, how they buy, where they buy, when they buy. I know the financial part of the story is where I hope to improve, myself.

If we are all best-suited to storytelling, but not identifying facts behind market segments, are we the right team to tackle this problem, or any business problem?

9. Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Having moved beyond a number of our issues, we had our eyes on the pitch and Daniel and Alex’s presentation, and went outside to practice.

After two plus days of talking through these ideas, even pitching to Robson and I was a challenge for our teammates. And working through this challenge together we found some incredible energy.

It was at this moment that we were completely in alignment. We had defined our roles. We were producing a specific deliverable. We were attributing value to what we gave and what we received back to the process. We were all committed to one vision, giving the best Smarty Pants presentation we could muster. And for the first time over the weekend since the first night, it felt like we were one.

And we come back to Joey’s point – learning over creation. That said, creation is very much a part of the learning process. It was through this experiential process of creating that we accelerated our learning process into the span of a weekend.

Perhaps none of these takeaways will move mountains for you as a reader of this post. But having a full blown review session that brought together each of these ideas was very powerful.

No matter how much you “know” the principles, it is helpful to be reminded. And no matter how much you know the principles, it is not necessarily easy to work them out in practice.

We faced plenty of real world problems this weekend, that are not exclusive to the business environment. It is a challenge to have many opinions swirling around you looking to you for structure and setting priorities. And if you don’t stand for something, you may fall for anything.

Flexible can be good, it’s a lesson my parents instilled in me from a young age. But flexibility should also have a purpose. In APLPland we talk about the difference between flexibility and adaptability. Flexibility in my mind has come to  mean you can start somewhere and end up anywhere. As counterpoint, adaptability means you start somewhere, have an idea where you’re going, and then enable that idea to guide you to a destination that is different, but related, to where you expected to get to when you first set off.

I think Robson has done a better job than I in articulating this difference:

“Maybe the difference between the two are how easily you can change your goals and that is connected with having a vision. A flexible person or plan can accept easily a change due to some fact along the way, for example, instead of going to the movies you can easily accept go to a restaurant. There was no big vision to hang on to, meaning that the goal itself was open or not very well defined. Being adaptable means that your goals are clear and that you accept minor changes along the way but the goal itself is unchanged. If the previous situation was framed as “to have fun” instead of “go to the movies”, that person would be an adaptable person, because the ultimate goal was reached, independent of which activity was performed. When people say you should be adaptable and not flexible, maybe that is what they are trying to say. Have a clear vision, have your ultimate goal clear, and go for it, even if the path you planned is not possible anymore.”

But back to the point, admittedly, it can hard to let some things go. Sometimes it is about listening to your inner voice where you balance the various voices around you on the road to making decisions. Without being a good listener, whether it is to yourself or to others,  it may be challenging to keep others connected to you – to what you’re doing and where you’re going. And at that point the question both for you and for them – are we the right people to be supporting each other moving forward?

And at the end of the day, perhaps the next question is what is holding you back from starting?


Today’s image is relatively self-explanatory.



I wonder if you’ve heard about this before? A little movement called Movember. It’s a month dedicated to gaining a better understanding and appreciation for issues in men’s health.


After spending an evening reading up about the event, which led me to forgo my longest beard growth of 4 months for the cause, I found so many fun blog posts, videos, and images centered around this month-long event.

For starters, how about this campaign from TWBA\Singapore from back in 2010?


While simple creative ideas like the above serve as reminders that a moustache can turn an ordinary person into a historic figure, there are also a number of educational resources to offer ideas on How to Grow a Moustache (this video is with Nick Offerman).


The Movember team has done well to find like-minded partners, as evidenced by the nature of the collaboration with Tom’s Shoes. Not only is there a brief video on their site here to offer a perspective on what it feels like to participate in Movember, they’ve also designed an interactive mini-calendar with suggestions for how to structure the 30 days of moustache pared with education around men’s health. Of course, there are shoes for sale. While this year’s edition have a classic feel, I’m a bit partial to an earlier iteration.


I am also intrigued by how impact is communicated.


As for my decision-making process, it really came down to Halloween night. Most of my contemporaries, especially the ones who were set to celebrate Halloween for the first time, were preoccupied with important all-consuming questions like, “what will my costume be”? While debating whether I would make it to experience a Honolulu all hallows eve (apparently people get super into it here), I was reminded that the following day was to be the first day of Movember, the beginning of a special month with a curious name.

Movember, which started in Australia back in 2003, is a month-long event where a million men around the world last year decided to shave down on the 1st of November and grow a moustache. By doing this, the goal is to bring greater visibility to issues in men’s health, particularly prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health, while having fun and resurrecting a facial fad from days past. Changing the face of men’s health is a noble goal, here is more specifics on the causes we are fighting for. As for more on the back-story, take a quick look at the history of Movember (there’s a great video).

And speaking of video, MovemberTV offers a whole slew of fun and informative content for your viewing pleasure.

Here are several important reasons why I joined as a full-blown participant in the month of moustache growing:

1. The Story

Movember has steadily grown over the last 10 years. Perhaps we could even say organic? Did you take a look at the history yet?

2. Conversation

There is an interesting and intelligent conversation that engages people around a crucial conversation with humor. And I’m quite interested about how they frame the conversation around impact, as well.

3. Clarity in Vision, Values, and Goals

The vision, values, and goals are super clear and well-articulated through a variety of mediums: the written word, still images, video.

4. Super Social

You can do it with your friends. You can join a group of strangers. It brings people together in a fun and unique way. And you don’t just have to be able to grow a Mo to join the festivities, Mo Sistas are equally encouraged to Movember.

Besides, team play is much more fun than playing alone. The more people involved, the more interesting the exchange. So, we started a team at the East West Center here in Honolulu.

5. What does the Future look like?

Interesting questions. What does the future of men’s health look like? What does the future of the Movember Foundation and their activities look like? What does the future of my face look like when it sports a groomed moustache at the end of the month? How about yours? Few of us really look ready for what is to come.


While this is my first time participating, I gather that Movember is not about how much your moustache will grow, though however much or however little you do, will likely be fun and funny. It’s also not about how much money you raise in donations, although the donations will contribute to implementing these important programs centered around men’s health. But ultimately, from all that I’ve seen or heard about Movember, if anything is important, it’s the conversations about health. For men. For women. For all of us.

I leave you with several reasons the why the folks at Movember see men’s health in a poor state:

• Lack of awareness and understanding about the health issues men face
• Men not openly discussing their health and how they’re feeling
• Reluctance to take action when men don’t feel physically or mentally well
• Men engaging in risky activities that threaten their health
• Stigmas surrounding both physical and mental health

Movember 1st is behind us, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still join in the conversation. For me it started with the idea that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. 1 in 6 of those men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. While there are plenty more facts to inform you on the current situation in men’s health, you can also begin your journey on the Movember homepage where you will find some incredible energy building around a healthier future.

Hui Lai Le


I spent my first full year out of college immersed in the study of Chinese, choosing to put the English language on hold for awhile. And there were a collection of daily linguistic encounters that I thought to be quite funny.

One of them is commenting on leaving or returning. This scene often plays out when someone is sitting on or around the stoop of a nearby apartment or a small corner store. Walking along you are invariably coming or going – and the appropriate comment would be – 出去 chu1 qu4 – something to the effect of, “leaving, eh?”

And on returning, which could very well be the same person commenting – 回来了 hui2 lai2 le – “back again.”

One night shortly after I had re-entered the English-speaking world, while exchanging stories over a hutong dinner gathering in Beijing, I recall a guy named Paul who made this simple interaction into almost a joke. I remember laughing and laughing with the small group that night, all of us enjoying the moment, as we each reflected on the part we played of participatory observers in this almost daily ritual.

And here we are – 回来了 hui2 lai2 le – I’m back again to continue writing after a healthy break from daily computing. Our class took a three week field study – half of us headed to the East Coast of the US (Washington DC, New York, and more), while half of us headed to China (Beijing and various spots through Yunnan Province).

Some thought (if not still think) it strange that I essentially found myself back, retracing steps I took as recently as just a few months ago. On the one hand, it’s true. To return to a place where I once spent a good dose of time could be viewed as not worthwhile or productive. Though flipping this thought process on its head, I heard different stories and perspectives from people I have known in some cases for almost a decade. I met a solid group of new and interesting people, including site visits to places that I might not have been invited to see had I just been living the daily in Beijing. And most importantly of all, I learned much from my classmates and travel companions given their unique way of looking at the world, and the common language / communication style we have developed together through APLP.

A return to China. A return to Hawaii. Lots of returns. And now we return to our regularly scheduled program.


Since nothing interesting came up for a Google image search on “return” and I was hesitant the movie references for “I’m back” would be a bit too overwhelming, I opted for my first Chinese language search with 回来了 (same as the title. I found this great work by 丰子恺 feng1 zi3 kai3, an artist where you can learn more about his selection of children’s cartoons, volume 1 of which the above is included here on Baidu.

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


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.


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.