I have this theory that fine arts is a culture that you cannot learn after a certain age. Once you are over twenty, I think you’ve missed your chance. It’s like trying to learn English after a certain age (say, 12); some do succeed in being able to speak flawlessly, but they still wouldn’t get the culture. There is no way to objectively prove if someone “gets it” or not, but you can sense it in the same way gay people can sense other gay people with their “gaydar”. When you are young, especially when you are in college away from your parents for the first time, you suck everything in your environment like a sponge just by being exposed to it. Trying to learn a culture after you are twenty is sort of like trying to marinate your vegetables after you have already marinated them in something else; you are not going to absorb much. Read »

Touring a middle school for my daughter inspired me to think about how I would design a school. Given that I'm an introvert, and was thoroughly bored all the way to high school, I would design one specifically for introverted students. Before describing my vision, let me explain the motivation behind my design. Read »

Some people go through their lives not realizing the fact that there is something unusual about how their brains work. They simply assume that everyone else has the same ease or difficulty in processing certain types of information. Only in their adult lives, they begin to suspect that something is amiss. This has been happening to me too. Read »

Body weight is a topic filled with land mines. I've been observing how my 10-year old daughter navigate this topic for herself and others. It's a tough one. Most adults have a hard time. We are bombarded with mixed messages, trapped in a double-bind; damned if we do, damned if we don't. We hear about the grave consequences of the obesity epidemic, but at the same time we are told to love our own bodies no matter what shape and size. As a parent, I want my daughter to live an active, healthy life, but at the same time, I would not want to cause her to have neurotic body image issues either. So, what's the right thing to do as a parent? Read »

When I worked on Wall Street (for an investment bank), the working hours were normal because I was in the front office. The traders went home shortly after the market closed. However, the back office people were expected to work long hours. The "80-Hour Week" culture is common for jobs where their managers lack the ability to evaluate performance based on merits. The traders I worked with on Wall Street had clear metrics of performance. As long as the metrics looked good, they didn't need to prove anything else. Read »

When people talk about "digital divide", they are usually referring to the lack of access to technology, especially to the Internet, for the underprivileged. Although this problem still exists in the US, it is continually improving, and has become a lesser concern. The new digital divide in the US has to do with how we use information technologies. Even between two people who have access to the same technologies, a significant difference can be found in what they are able to do with them. To bridge this gap, we need to figure out what creates this gap. Read »

Many startups have this strategy: “Let’s get as many users as possible, and worry about monetizing later.” And, some startups have the opposite problem where their monetization strategy is sound but cannot build enough user traction. I use an analogy of building a campfire to describe these problems. Square, for instance, was able to build user traction very quickly because their card reader was revolutionary. They struck the fire-starter rod once, and the tinder (shaved pieces of wood or pieces of paper) caught on fire immediately. It started spreading quickly to the kindling (small pieces of wood, twigs, or branches), but they had no fuel wood (large blocks of wood). It looks like they didn’t even think about where to get the fuel wood from when they launched the company. Other financial firms like Chase and Citibank have introduced their own mobile card readers. They have plenty of fuel wood as traditional banks. Now Square’s kindling is burning out, and their flames are getting smaller. If they don’t find the fuel wood soon, their campfire will go out completely. Read »

In the old days, if you tried to sell baskets that you weaved, the main criteria by which your potential customers made their purchasing decisions was how useful they were and how nice they looked. Today, the main criteria is how cheaply they can buy the same thing elsewhere. I would call this “arbitrage economy” because it’s about gaining from market discrepancies/inaccuracies. Read »

When I came to New York from Japan to attend art school in the late 80s, my English was quite poor. Now that I’m fluent, I can understand how awkward and cumbersome it must have been to talk to me then. These days, when I talk for a long time to someone whose English is poor, talking to someone who is fluent afterwards makes me feel relieved. So, it’s understandable that most people did not want to talk to me in college. After all, why volunteer to be an unpaid English teacher? But I had several friends in college who went out of their way to get to know me. I’m not sure what motivated them but I suspect they were generally curious of foreign and unusual things. I didn’t approach them; they approached me. I’m forever grateful of them. They not only taught me English but the culture and the various subcultures of this country too. Read »

At work, we were just talking about how it may not be worth our while to put our time and money into Facebook. Their recent change ruined the whole idea of Facebook Page. It basically turned Facebook Page into an advertising delivery mechanism. If you don’t “promote” your posts by paying, you can’t reach anyone, which means every “post” is nothing more than an ad. If so, why would anyone “Like” any Page? By Liking any Facebook Page, you would essentially be asking for ads to be inserted into your News Feed. It’s silly. People will now stop Liking Pages. Read »

Someone should start a prenuptial camp where couples who are considering getting married would be stress-tested. This camp should be completely neutral in their opinion of whether the couples should get married or not. That is, they shouldn't try to design the camp to strengthen the bond, or offer any kind of advice, coaching, or counseling. All they should do is to create a situation that puts a significant amount of stress in their relationships. Read »

In an episode of “This American Life”, I came across a discussion on how to talk to people with dementia or alzheimer’s. The conclusion was that things go pretty smoothly if you would just go along with their reality. So, if someone starts talking about flying monkeys outside the window, you would just say it’s still early in the season for flying monkeys. Read »

In our lives, we earn and accumulate different forms of wealth or “capital”. We think of “wealth” as mostly consisting of money, or “financial capital”, but other forms are just as valuable. And, it is possible to exchange one form with another. There are many industries that serve as exchanges. The primary function of fine arts is to exchange financial capital with cultural capital. Those who have excess financial capital and little to no cultural capital (like Wall Street bankers) need a way to exchange some of their financial capital with cultural capital. Fine arts is a perfect medium for this exchange because the quantity of each artwork is fixed (usually just one) and they resist counterfeiting, like gold as a medium of exchange. Galleries handle the exchange at the individual level whereas museums handle it at the corporate level. Read »

"Read, read, read" is a common piece of advice for becoming a better writer, but does reading more really make you a better writer? Does seeing more photographs make you a better photographer? Does watching more movies make you a better filmmaker? Does listening to more songs make you a better singer? Does watching more cooking shows make you a better cook? Read »

Some years ago, a doctor asked me what I did for a living. I replied, "graphic design". He said: "Then you must love what you do." His response made me realize that we culturally associate certain careers with the idea of Doing What You Love (DWYL), and that doing what you love can become a coveted status. For those who pursue these cliches of DWYL, actually doing what they love becomes secondary to the societal perception that they are doing what they love. Read »

Recently there has been a lot of talk about “skills gap”. Although there are 4 million unfilled jobs, 11 million people remain unemployed in the US. The most common solution suggested by many, including President Obama, is to attract more people to “STEM” fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). I believe this is misguided, or too short-sighted. By the time our kids in high school graduate from college, STEM fields may already be crowded. The key to closing the skills gap isn’t to choose a field with higher demand, but to increase the speed at which we learn any skills. The main problem in skills gap is that the world is evolving much faster than we can learn. The “half-life” of any professional skill is becoming increasingly shorter. To thrive in today’s technological society, we have to be able to learn fast, and on our own. Read »

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. is a good example. Let's say, you need a logo designed for your business. You describe what you want, post it on, 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 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 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 »

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