Thursday, July 29, 2010


I’m an extrovert working daily in an introvert’s heaven – my home office. No distractions. No friendly banter. No interruptions. No energy…

Thankfully, my recent trip to NYC was an amazing double shot of espresso. The movement, the activity, the people – it’s like life being poured back into me. Oh introverts in New York, how do you do it?

It’s also amazing how much the streets of New York remind me of the streets of Shanghai. The hustle and bustle. The late-night eats. The super-convenient subway that moves more than an inch per minute (sorry Chicago El, I’m just not impressed). And the Chinatown hair washes (xitou) – truly icing on the cake.

New energy, new life comes from being in the middle of such a lively place and from the sweet reminders of a place I used to call home. The novelty, the vivacity and the memories evoked by New York City were much needed for my own personal sanity.

Mental energy is not simply a whimsical feeling – it sustains us, motivates us and leads to our own well-being. When you’re feeling drained, what brings you back to life? For me it’s fresh, new experiences, high-energy, bustling environments and moments of nostalgia. What is it for you? A quiet evening with a good book? A cup of coffee with a good friend? Hosting a party and inviting all your neighbors? Whatever it is, find time for it in your life!

Now back in my home office, I close my eyes and call upon those feelings. Envisioning myself in Times Square, I draw in the energy once again. I think fondly back to reconnecting with best friends, to meeting colleagues for the first time, to simply getting lost in the crowds. Not quite as energizing as the real thing, but enough to get me through the work day.

Friday, July 16, 2010


“Play me, I’m yours.” The piano, sitting in the middle of Manhattan, calls out to passersby. And people from all walks of life stop to play, to sing and to engage with the city that never sleeps.

It turns out these street pianos, scattered across New York City, comprised the Play Me, I’m Yours exhibit sponsored by non-profit Sing for Hope. For a few short weeks the pianos found their home in the street to “create, inspire, integrate and enliven communities”.

While I didn’t stop to play (due to seriously limited musical talent), there is something fabulous to be said about injecting fun into everyday routines. Simply the sight of pianos that just anyone could use made my heart jump with giddiness. I loved the way the city is full of opportunities to engage, to connect and to simply have fun.

Fun is a magical thing. It generates energy. It transforms moods and changes behavior. It renders laborious activities captivating. It stops us in our tracks and compels us to act and engage.

I’m certain there is more room for fun in our lives. What can we insert to motivate ourselves and the people around us? How can we use fun to bring together our community and our workplaces? Can fun replace monetary bonuses as incentives and lead to even better performance? Envision an environment where people are as ambitious about doing their work as they are seeing the sites of NYC. Imagine a workplace that screams, “Play me, I’m yours” -- yours to contribute to, yours to mold, yours to innovate.

I know that it can exist. I’ve heard about it. I’ve witnessed it. I’ve even experienced it just a bit. Now, I’m on a mission to create it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


“I could sit and stare at helicopters for hours and never feel tired,” Vietnamese farmer Tran Quoc Hai says. I can just hear the possible reactions from his parents, from his friends:
  • “Tran! Stop playing around and study!”
  • “Your future is on the earth, not in the sky. Stop wasting your time.”
  • “Get your head out of the clouds, and get back to work.”
  • “Won’t you just stop staring into space and do something productive?”

The predictable future for Tran Quoc Hai was to be just a regular farmer. But he didn’t stop staring.

Helicopters still evoke fear, repulsion among many Vietnamese, for they took the lives of many during the Vietnam war. Children were taught to run or hide in fear when a helicopter approached. Only the lucky survived an attack. Yet, Tran Quoc Hai felt a magnetic pull to these crafts in the sky. And he didn’t stop staring.

Tran Quoc Hai didn’t squelch his passion for more realistic pursuits. He didn’t let his farmer’s education stop him from dreaming. And he realized there is more to a dream than wishful thinking. He acted. After the war, he traveled the country studying abandoned helicopters. How they were put together, how they worked. He supplemented his knowledge with theories from physics books to conceptualize how they managed to fly. With the development of the internet, he took great leaps and bounds in his learning. And he never stopped staring.

The result? Tran Quoc Hai builds helicopters. Not ones that take lives, but ones that save lives. Not ones that cost a lifetime of wages or even more, but ones that are affordable and can be used by farmers, by rescue teams, by everyday citizens for the good of society. A lofty and, some might say foolish, fascination translating into hope and prosperity for everyday people. How is this possible? He could just not stop staring.

To stare for hours and never feel tired. What is that for you? What is that for me? Stop stifling your urge to stare with thoughts of “be more productive” or “that’s just a waste of time”. It’s time to hush the self-talk instead. If you know what it is that captures every ounce of your fascination, run to it. Act on it. Learn, practice and master. Don’t let anything or anyone stop you. And, most of all, never, ever stop staring.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


We are born to innovate. The thought resonated deep within me while strolling through the Museum of Natural History in New York. The ancient tools of culture after culture were displayed, and themes emerged. Knives, daggers, utensils, and on and on. Each tribe, each people worlds away. Yet, they developed sets of tools so remarkable in their similarity. Each tribe, each people faced with the same challenges – how to eat, how to survive. With primitive education, with limited resources, they innovated. They problem-solved. They created a greater future reality. And they did so with nuances, with uniqueness to meet the needs of their own respective environments.

As cultures became more developed and advanced, the tools diverged. The Chinese created paper, printing blocks and silk. The Syrians invented the art of glass blowing. Adapting to the environment, leveraging the talents of their people, and continuing to pursue novel invention to meet everyday needs, societies developed. As societies interacted, they learned from one another. They began to trade. They applied innovations in new ways. Everyone grew.

We are born to innovate.  Yet we live in a world of processes to follow. Rules to play by. Leaders to follow. Best practices to apply.

Are we innovating? Are we creating greater future realities? Are we integrating old concepts, tried and true practices with new ideas to bring fresh change to our lives and our societies? Yes, our world is innovating. We see the changes as consumers. But are YOU? Are you innovating your world?

We are born to innovate. Imagine a world where tribal societies stopped innovating after creating the knife, the dagger, the bowl and other basic tools. Imagine a world with no progress. Disappointing. Boring. Lackluster.

I don’t want to be a just passive observer to innovation. I don’t want to be just a consumer, a user, a fan, an advocate of innovation. I want to innovate. I was born to innovate.

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