I just finished a great little book given to me by my Aikido instructor titled The Monk and the Riddle published by Harvard Business School Press. In the book, the author Randy Komisar, talks about his indoctrination into the business world and how he was misled to believe that the bottom line ( the dollars and cents ) was the most important thing. His view didn’t change until years later after working in the law, technology, and Silicon Valley start up sectors.

He later realized the most important thing is our passion and sense of purpose. He also talks about how passion pulls you toward something we can’t resist. It really made me think deeply about the things that resonate with me on a personal level. It also made me reflect on how we can consciously choose to work with businesses and organizations that value building a better world. Everyone has a different vision for what that is. For me it’s social entrepreneurship, social change, and solutions for the benefit of all.

When our work aligns with who we are as people, amazing things start to happen. We begin to show up as fully realized human beings. We quit playing it safe. We push really hard to make good things happen. Not in some vanity race to gain a high score. But because the mere act of doing so is life affirming.

Year of the Sheep

At first glance there doesn’t appear to be any obvious connection between Chinese lion dance drumming and running a creative design business. But that doesn’t mean the connections don’t exist. I recently became a back up drummer in Michael Choi’s lion dance troop here in Portland and was thinking about how this art form relates to solving design problems.

The first correlation is that of commitment. The Chinese lion dance drum sits low on the floor and you are expected to sit in a low ma bu (horse riding stance). After an hour of practice your legs start to burn and there’s a certain level of sacrifice in order to do it properly. A design business is the same way. In addition to providing tangible benefits for the clients you work for, you have to be committed (ma bu). There may even be consecutive nights you barely sleep (sacrifice) in order to meet the deadlines.

The second thing I realized is the drummer doesn’t exist without the lion, and the lion doesn’t dance without the drum. You are only as good as your partner or the people around you. There’s a harmony between the drummers and the dancers that allows the performance to unfold. In much the same way, client relationships are a reflection of two parts: the challenge (opportunity) and the creative development (solution). The two are interdependent.

Flow is also incredibly important in lion dancing. You must be open to any part of the performance changing and be adaptable enough to respond accordingly. This is also true in a design context. You can’t be too attached to any one idea because an even more amazing concept could materialize on the next page of your sketch book or in a conversation where you posed a smart question.

Commitment, synergy, and flow are important elements of each activity and now I’m starting to see how there may be some universal patterns between what appear to be unrelated activities. Gung Hay Fat Choy! (Best Wishes).


I recently flew back to New York for an alumni event at Pratt Institute of Art and Design. After successfully completing a Masters degree in design, I would eventually live and work in the city and ended up residing in Fort Greene, Brooklyn for the better part of five years. During that time I never underestimated the city's capacity to intrigue. It was just part of living in that time and that space.

What is it about New York City that makes it so creative? Does it have to do with the amorphous distinctions between street art and gallery spaces? Is it because it's the birth place of hip hop, home to world class museums, or the long tradition of visual design. Could it be attributed to the influx of immigrant cultures?

Perhaps it has to do with that seemingly intangible quality that emphatically insists that absolutely anything is possible. Whatever it is, whatever you call it, the buzz is unmistakable.