When we think about the word “debate”, we commonly think of political debates, like presidential debates on TV. But oral debates in person and in front of an audience (even a few people) is a very rare situation for most of us. The conventional debating skills taught at schools or by executive coaches are not necessarily effective in real life debates. And the form/medium of debate is changing because the means of communication have changed dramatically since the advent of the Internet. Most of us do not engage in formal debates but throughout our day, we are actually debating with many different people over many different matters. We just don’t think about them as “debates”; but they are. The purpose of this essay is to discuss how to effectively debate in real life and in today’s digital world. Read »

Is it still true that "cooler heads prevail"? The reason why cooler heads prevailed in the past is because they were more productive, efficient, predictable, and consistent. These are valuable qualities especially for assembly-line type of jobs. And, this is why, I believe, our society frown upon public display for emotions. We are deemed "unprofessional" if we cry or yell at work. But now that most of the work that give advantages to cooler heads have been replaced by robots, we should rethink the roles of our emotions in business. Read »

To commoditize everyone else's job. Let me explain what I mean by that. 99designs.com is a good example. Let's say, you need a logo designed for your business. You describe what you want, post it on 99designs.com, and a bunch of designers from around the world would design a logo and present it to you. You only pay the winner. It's a great service. It takes advantage of the fact that somewhere in the world there are always some people who are willing to design a logo for free because it's fun. But if you are a professional designer, this is bad news. Now your career has been commoditized by 99designs.com. There is less demand for your service, and your fee will come down. Even if you are a high-end designer, this will still affect your business because many other designers will try to climb up the ladder to compete and survive. It brings down the entire market because graphic design as a whole has been commoditized by services like 99designs.com. Read »

I've been hearing a lot about Lena Dunham recently but I hadn’t seen any of her work before. I watched Tiny Furniture on Netflix this weekend. What makes this film immediately unique is that the main character is authentically unattractive. She is not ugly but just unattractive and ordinary. Most movies are about human struggles but it’s almost always beautiful people who are struggling over money, love, illness, crimes, injustice, conflicts, wars, careers, friendship, disasters, etc.. Since lead characters have to always be beautiful, movies rarely deal with struggles that arise from being unattractive. Tiny Furniture deals with a topic that concerns many people but is rarely dealt with in films. Read »

As entertaining as Facebook is, it can also be very stressful. Some people even commit Facebook suicide and delete their accounts entirely because the dilemma of temptation and fear drives them insane. Facebook looks harmless on the facade but the danger is quite real. (The minimum age requirement for Facebook is 13, but perhaps it should be 21.) It's not just on Facebook; social interaction in general is dangerous, messy, and stressful because we've been hard-coded to feel that way through evolution. Read »

Just as we cannot objectively measure greatness of love, we cannot objectively measure effectiveness of communication either. Nobody can be a great lover to everyone, and nobody can be a great communicator to everyone. On a résumé or a help wanted ad, it is useless to list "communication skills". Everyone is a good communicator to the people they surround themselves with. Nobody thinks they lack "communication skills". In fact, if someone claims he has "great communication skills", it is a pretty good sign that he has a poor understanding of what communication is. If you need someone to manage communication, you should look for someone who understands the fundamentally nebulous nature of communication, not someone who thinks he knows what he is doing. Read »

I recently attended a gathering of philosophers organized through a website. Although they were all interested in philosophy, I felt like each of them came from a different planet. They spent most of the two-hour meeting defining their own terms, and no real debate or discussion took place. I don't think it was just me who felt this way; one of them described it as "going around in circles". Despite the fact that they all proved their own intelligence and depth of knowledge in the field, nothing meaningful or relevant came out of the meeting. In fact, it was so painful that I started to wonder how a meeting about my favorite subject could be so boring. Read »

In the past 10 years, digital photography has disrupted the market of photographers so much that many of them are now struggling to survive. There are many reasons but one of the most significant factors is the accessibility of the medium. Digital cameras allow us to take as many photos as we want at no cost. In the days of film, the cost of film and processing was a significant barrier to entry; once photographers crossed the barrier, they were in good shape. The barrier protected them from a flood of wannabe photographers. Another barrier to entry was technical competence. Photography used to be a lot more technical, and being able to master the physics of light and to operate complex equipment protected photographers from potential competitors who couldn't. Digital photography destroyed these barriers, and now the market is flooded with self-proclaimed "photographers". And, all of us will become increasingly better at photography as we now carry high quality cameras in our pockets everywhere we go, and can easily share them online to get feedback. Read »

If you Google "Twitter is stupid", you will find many people asking what Twitter is good for and why some people love it so much. They have tried and found it utterly useless. I did too. Since Twitter was founded in 2006, I've tried at least three different times in the past, dedicating a significant amount of time learning about Twitter and using it, and every time, I failed to understand the point of it. Sure, we all have things we don't enjoy that others passionately love. I have no interest in watching sports, but I can at least understand why many people love it. What bothers me about Twitter is that I do not understand it even theoretically. But now I think I've finally solved this big mystery. Read »

A Western mind habitually seeks an essence in everything it sees. It keeps peeling away layers of an onion, hoping to find the essence hidden at the core. It hones in and digs deeper. Specialization, therefore, is how we gain credibility and authority in the West. If we do not specialize, our opinions on any subject would not be taken seriously. We "earn" the qualification to express our opinions by specializing. But specialization blinds us from seeing how things relate to one another. Western doctors, for instance, are so highly specialized (divided by individual organs) that they can only see illness with a microscope as if the essence of each illness is to be found deep within each organ. They are largely unaware of how different parts of our bodies affect one another. Read »

My friend Tim came over to my place for dinner. He is a filmmaker, in love with the art of storytelling. I asked him why there are no films or novels about inanimate objects. We both agreed that it would be rather boring, but the question of why fascinates me. When we say "story", especially in the context of film and literature, it is implied that we are referring to human story. Could a novel be written about a tree? It wouldn't be hard if we were to anthropomorphized the tree, let it talk like a human, and interact with other trees; but then it would just be another human story. Read »

It feels strange that, these days, I don't have enough time in a day. In my 20's, I hated being awake because I didn't know what to do with all the time I had. Going to work was almost like a relief because I could take my mind off the emptiness that caused me a lot of pain. As soon as I got home, I would call and meet some of my friends who lived near me. On weekends, I used to take a walk to the nearby park and sit on a bench for a long time. Sometimes I brought a book with me, but I would often sit there just staring at the tree in front of me. Read »

Last weekend, I had a conversation with a magazine publisher at a Ukrainian restaurant about how advertising influences our artistic expressions. Although I completely agreed with him that advertising (i.e. money) does affect/influence our expressions, a few days later, I started wondering: What exactly are we trying to protect? Obviously, it is some sort of purity, and we feel that advertising taints, distorts, contaminates, or pollutes it. Read »

My daughter got a book about The First Ladies as a gift. Flipping through it, I felt disturbed by it. Before this, I had never given much thought to the position of First Lady, but juxtaposing it with my own daughter created a new context in which to rethink what First Lady means. My first thought was that I wouldn’t want my daughter aspiring to be a First Lady. I then asked: In this day and age, why should any title be forced on you just because of your husband's job? One of my Facebook friends put it succinctly: “I hate that politicians and society always have to define women by their relationships as mothers, daughters & sisters, etc..” That is exactly it: When speaking of careers, we should not define anyone in relationship to their spouses; it’s irrelevant and inappropriate. It devalues and demeans who they are on their own merits. Read »

As a graphic designer, it was fascinating to read this New York Times article entitled, “Psychotherapy’s Image Problem Pushes Some Therapists to Become ‘Brands’”. In the past 5 years or so, I’ve been telling all my graphic design clients to be as specific and personal as possible in marketing themselves, and it’s interesting to see that the same holds true for psychotherapists. Marshall McLuhan’s famous idea that the medium is the message is useful in understanding why the market craves for specificity now. It is the message of the medium, search engine, that changed our expectations and desires for specificity. Now that the search engines are almost uncanny in their ability to find the exact answers to our very specific questions, we expect to find exactly what we want when we search for any products or services, and if we are not getting exactly what we want, we feel that we are not getting our money’s worth. Read »

Today I was looking through my Twitter account and came across the account of Andy Jacobson, the graphic designer who used to work for Tibor Kalman. I noticed that he hadn’t updated his Twitter account since November 18, 2011. His blog too ends abruptly on September 28, 2011. I then noticed that his Facebook URL has been taken over by someone else named Andy Jacobson, and his LinkedIn profile has gone missing. Something was definitely wrong. Googling for “Andy Jacobson designer” didn’t turn up much but I eventually found his obituary on New York Times. I have to say I was shocked. Read »

There are many books and films about enlightenment but The Woman in the Dunes written by Kōbō Abe and directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara is a rare example which is capable of actually triggering an enlightenment in us as the audience. Before analyzing the psychological mechanics of the film, I'll provide a brief summery of the plot. Read »

There are certain things in life that we do quite frequently but not know why we do them, or how they came about originally, like shaking hands. One of these mysteries of everyday life is bay leaves. What the hell do they do? Despite their ubiquity, I couldn't find any definitive answer on the Web; only opinions and theories. Let me deconstruct them below. Read »

Email is often considered a medium prone to conflict. The common explanation is that it's because emotional content is lacking. In the late 90s, I remember reading an article about a president of some company banning the use of email because his employees were constantly fighting and arguing over email. He felt that it was counter productive. To some degree, this was true in my own experience also. Even a new word was invented for this phenomenon: flaming. My own theory is that it was caused by our unfamiliarity with how to express ourselves in writing because we had been using phones as the primary medium of communication before email. The switch wasn't just a technological one; it forced us to switch from speaking to writing. It wasn't because of something inherent in email as a medium that caused the conflicts. In fact, it wasn't because writing is inherently more prone to conflict either. It was because of the learning curve. It is like the learning curve the Chinese people are facing with driving cars in China. (In 2004, at least 300 people were killed in traffic accidents every day.) Read »

Most of us want some degree of control over our own success, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain that control in today's Global Village. The efficiency in electronic communication turned every field and market into a global competition. For almost everything we do, we are competing with billions of people from around the world. Furthermore, due to the same efficiency, billions of us all flock to the same best solutions/products/people, rendering the vast majority of the rest in the market irrelevant (and unprofitable/poor). And, it is becoming increasingly clear that what goes "viral" is fundamentally unpredictable. Someone who has created something viral once, cannot be relied on to create another. Even for those who are already famous, if we study the popularity of their individual products/works, a small percentage of them gets a disproportionate amount of success. (This pattern of Power Law is found at every level and subsegment.) So the obvious question we have is: How can we have any control over our own success in this hyper-competitive, unpredictable world? Read »

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