Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Design Observation # 3 SNOOP: No Man's Land

My dad is a nomad.

This is his official office.

But THIS is his actual office.

My dad is the kind of person who never has a routine. He could be going on a road trip to Pampangga one minute and attending a car show in Hong Kong the next. Because it's so difficult to predict when or where he would show up, it keeps his employees on their toes. The fact that he doesn't carry a cellphone makes it even more difficult to track down where he is.

I chose to spy on my dad.
Although I've known him all my life, there's still a part of him that remains a mystery. He has always given everything (right arm included) to me and my brother. So much so, that it's hard to define who he is separate from us. I wanted to demistify who he actually was, separate from him as an employer, father and partner.

A few days ago, I went on my mission and snooped into one of his offices. Of all the places he
"haunts", a certain space that he frequents, is his office in Caloocan. The lot, which has been a school for 10 years, used to be a residential house with a big garage. This was my dad's childhood home. He specifically designed the school around it so the house still retains its original structure

While he was on a meeting, I went into his little den to see what I could find.

The room has two bookshelves all filled with home improvement books. There were no novels or anything of that sort. Most of the books are old and have yellowing pages. He seems to be the kind of person who keeps everything that he gets ahold of. Preferring the classic to the modern.

The room contains an entertainment systems as well. A stark comparison to his book choices. There is a a new flat screen television that is hanging on the wall. Below it however, is not a DVD player as one would expect, but a VCD player and even a cassette tape player. There is also a VHS player far below. These seem to be contradicting identity claims, which leads me to think that although he holds the past dear to his heart, he also is someone who looks to the future. Even with his age, he keeps with the times.

To have a massage chair in an office probably means that a day in their life is stressful. Not only does my dad have a massage chair in his office, but he also has an oxygen tank. Noticing it has gotten me a tad bit nervous but it also gave me security that he is trying to take care of himself.

On a table nearby, there are envelopes dated days and even weeks ago. Piles upon piles of personal mail have gone unopened. For someone who has a thriving business, to not open mail seems like a risky move. He seems to be the kind of person who lives in the moment and who doesn't enjoy planning things. Or it could also mean that he leads such a busy life, he can't even find time to open his mail.

If I were to give my dad a gift, it would be a month long vacation.

He deserves it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Design Observation # 2 YUCK: A Whirlwind Romance

Dear Jimmy,

It’s not you, it’s me.

I still remember the day I first met you. I was striding, merrily along the mall on a Saturday. Amidst all the war cries of “Miss, dito ka na bumili”, I saw you sitting there. Perched perkily among an array of brightly colored bags, you caught my eye immediately. The lady who owned you sensed my interest and without skipping a beat, brought you out from your place and transferred you to a figurative pedestal. "Jimmy Choo po yan". She added enthusiastically. She didn’t have to enumerate your good qualities. I was sold. So I parted with my Php 700 knowing for sure, that this time, I have found my soul mate.

Or so I thought.

We had a good run. Two months of being together is no laughing matter. You patiently clung to my shoulder at all times, not once falling off. Whether we were walking, riding a cab or hanging out at the coffee shop, you stayed where I could easily spot and reach you. For hours, you would endure my heavy Moleskine notebooks and carried around my bursting pencil cases. You understood that I had DIS (Deserted Island Syndrome) and stuck by me anyway. No matter how many things I made you carry, when I opened you, there seemed to be always room for more.

How I miss those days.

Now, things have changed.

You have changed.

Your once brown leathery exterior has lost its sheen and beauty. Cracks have appeared all over you, making you look five years older than you actually are.

You have lost your form. Now, I need to encase my notebooks in padded envelopes and pouches before making you carry them. If I don’t, they run the risk of being dog-eared and crumpled. You can’t sit upright anymore and your once beautiful posture is now reduced to a horrible looking slump.

Where’s your backbone?

I used to find it charming that you came with a lot of space inside. The lack of compartments and small pockets made it feel less constricting. But now, it has proven to be annoying. I can’t count how many times my keys have gotten lost inside that big space. Rummaging through it with my hand has taken 10 minutes out of my life everyday that I will never get back.

But last week was the last straw. As I heaved your long leather strap over my shoulder, one of its ends snapped out of its socket. I am now left with two short straps that have to be repositioned as they slip from my shoulder repeatedly every two seconds.

Needless to say, you have become a nuisance.

Two months, and you falter.

I thought we would keep each other company forever. I was sure that you were the one.

Unfortunately, we end here.

I need to begin my new quest. But you weren’t completely useless. You’ve taught me what to avoid.

As I hunt for another you, I will remember not to make the same mistakes again.

I now know better.



PS. Come to think if it. It’s not really me. It’s actually YOU.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Instant Brain: Just add water

Many complain of their looks, few of their brains.

Everyday, we are bombarded with images promising us wealth, youth and beauty. There are pills that would turn us into Snow White clones; creams that would reverse the aging process; and power drinks that would help us achieve that coveted stick thin figure.

As we try to enhance our physical selves, something gets neglected in the process.

Our mental health.

Now, don't get me wrong. I believe that we should continuously try to better ourselves physically. But what's missing is that much needed balance. After all, too much of a good thing may turn out for the worse.

Cognitive Fitness, as Gilkey and Kilts explained in their article, is mental exercise. As much as our physical bodies need a constant workout, so do our brains. They explain that this can be achieved through four steps.

Step One: Experience

My dad is a traveler. That is one passion that he was able to pass down to me and my brother. Unfortunately for him, we didn't get the business gene. He is a big believer of experiencing the world. If you wanted to taste real pasta, you go to Italy. If you wanted to witness what real theater is, you go to London. All our summer vacations were spent exploring and charting unknown territory. He refused to go on tour groups. As what he would tell us: "Pick up the map. It's time for an adventure."

Even at 69, and as busy as he is with work, he still finds the time to stop, step out of his environment and experience adventures in every part of the world.

The article mentions the importance of going on a walkabout. I suppose the reason why my dad has always succeeded in any business that he delves into is precisely because of this. His love for travel translates into how he handles his business ventures. He doesn't stay inside a comfy executive office. He doesn't even have a permanent office. Everyday, he would check on all his business establishments, driving from Manila to Cabanatuan to Pampanga, paying attention to every detail.

Step Two: Work Hard at Play

A few meetings ago, we discussed how the brain can generate ideas when it is at rest. I thought that was pretty interesting. I remembered I had this idea of inventing a water proof notebook because I seem to always get my best story ideas while in the shower. The moment I step out and try to remember what it was, the idea has long gone down the drain. It's amazing how much the brain can achieve when it is not thriving on stress or caffeine. Once we reach a certain age, we are forced into an environment where looking busy and harassed meant you were using your brain. Relaxing and playing are then attributed to sloth-like behavior. As a result, we develop a one track mind, bent on achieving a certain goal and forging on a certain road.

What the article is trying to say is that there are other ways of thinking. There are other ways to get results. Play therapy for example, can be synonymous to adults as much as they already are to children.

Color stimulates the brain. But as we grow older, the rainbow slowly fades into shades of black, gray and white.

Step Three: Search for Patterns

This step basically supports what "The Medici Effect" says. Bringing together ideas and experiences to create something new. This just proves just how important it is to pay close attention to intersections.

Step Four: Seek Novelty

Gardner mentioned that for someone to succeed in the future, being an expert on something is tantamount. Apart from that, venturing outside our expertise is just as important. Developing new skills will oil our brains, preventing it from getting rusty.

I have always tried to update myself with good literature and the latest in theater. I always believed that staying with things that I found interesting or that I was good at were enough to exercise my brain. It didn't occur to me that venturing out of the world I built for myself would prove to be a more enriching experience.

A friend recently tried to teach me how to play chess. I was hesitant, judging that I would be bad at it. Insecurity got the best of me. The usual phrases like "I'm not too good at this" combined with nervous laughter were my weapons.

Being more aware now of how this could benefit me, I should go try again.

Although we live in a world of instant noodles, there is no instant brain.

As with physical beauty, there is no one pill that will magically transform us into geniuses. It will need work and constant exercise.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Design Observation #1 WOW: The Little Black Book

"Deserted Island Syndrome" he said to me, as he peered over his glasses; studying my expression.

Polite pleasantries gone, this was the first thing my friend told me as I breathlessly slumped down on the seat opposite from him, hauling my huge bag on the seat next to mine. He casually sighs, shakes his head and reaches for his coffee cup.

Adrian's diagnosis took but two seconds of observation. He didn't even have to refer to his Behavioral Psychology degree. A quick glance inside my bursting brown, leather bag said more to him than I ever could.

"You have an irrational fear of being stuck in a deserted island with nothing which to pass the time. So, you bring everything with you. It could also mean that you have watched one too many episodes of Lost. But that's an entirely different kettle of fish".

As I crinkled my nose, trying to decipher his outdated use of metaphor, somehow I knew he was right. It proved to be a monumental task to choose ONE thing that I use everyday. I have so many of them that I couldn't identify just one.

So I examined the contents of my bag.

They were basically divided into two categories: pen and paper. When I looked at them closely, I tried to imagine: Stripped of everything, which is the one thing I couldn't bear to part with?

The answer was: my Moleskine notebooks.

I have amassed 16 of them so far, one of which I gave away (you're welcome, Cams) and I show no signs of stopping. The same friend who diagnosed me with D.I.S. told me that I had "more Moleskines than I could shake a stick at". This, coming from someone who bought 10 Moleskine notebooks on a whim.

What makes these notebooks so special?

The Moleskine's beauty is in its utter simplicity. It's a modern classic. Just like a pearl necklace, it is never outdated and will never go out of style. The black, oilcloth cover is durable and smooth to the touch. In a bookstore filled with rows and rows of spring notebooks with the faces of the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus plastered obscenely on the covers, the Moleskine remains unassuming, with only its name embossed on the back cover.

The creamy, white pages are a writer's dream. My pen of choice, the Sharpie pen, glides smoothly on its surface, providing an elegant twirl to my handwriting. Although thin and flimsy looking, the pages are able to hold the ink very well, not seeping through the next page. I have a smaller than average handwriting and the ruled Moleskine notebook is able to provide just the right amount of space for every line; my letters fitting snugly between them.

The Moleskine lays flat when opened. It may be a small, insignificant feature but combined with its sturdy cover, it provides a makeshift surface that makes writing on-the-go possible. A few extra features are the elastic band that keeps the notebook shut and the back pocket that can hold loose pieces of paper, receipts, ticket stubs and other memorabilia.

The Moleskine also has different kinds of notebooks for different uses. Still retaining its classic design, the notebook comes in a variety of shapes and functions. Squared, Ruled, Plain, Sketchbook, Watercolor, Music, Diary and Storyboard are some of them. They also come in different sizes. Extra Small, Pocket, Large, Extra Large, and most recently, Folio. Since I love to mess about with notebooks, having different options provide me with different perspectives and of course, more notebooks to collect. It has the ability to be customized and are made to tailor fit anyone in need of a venue to create.

A tiny leaflet telling the Moleskine story is also provided with every notebook. According to its history, Bruce Chatwin, a famous traveler, fell in love with these little black books and reportedly bought out an entire store's stock because the company that made them was going out of business. After 15 years since it stopped production, it has been revived and now enjoys a cult following. Famous artists and thinkers have been linked to the Moleskine brand including Picasso, Van Gogh and Hemingway.

I would like to believe that I am above this marketing ploy and that I see right through it. But I'm not. This charming tale has gotten me more enamored by them. Knowing that there is a history behind these little books that I love so much, leads me to believe that notebook lovers created this for fellow notebook lovers. It also gives the idea of a mystic connection; that the writing gurus of past are now doling out inspiration from beyond, straight through my pen and into my Moleskine.

Writing mojo, if you please.

For more than Php1,000 a piece, the Moleskine leaves a lot more to be desired. It is not at all practical. In fact, it is bordering on indulgence and snootiness. This works in my favor. I am unable to afford these expensive notebooks all the time, but when I manage to scrounge up enough money to get myself one, it makes the experience of writing all the more worth it. Not to mention, generous donations from friends and family who feed and encourage my obsession (thanks to the best Ate in the world!). I end up motivated to write more, if only to rationalize the price tag, making every penny worth it.

Looking at all these reasons, judging whether or not a product fits you all comes down to:

1. Function - What am I going to use it for? Will it fit my lifestyle?
2. Sustainability- How long will it stay with me for? How long will it stay current?
3. Variety- How many ways will it benefit me? How many ways will I be able to use it?
4. Value - Does the price tag equal the way and the amount of time I use it?
5. Passion - How much does it mean to me? How does this identify with me?

and finally, this question:

If you were stuck in a deserted island, what is the one thing that you would bring with you?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reflection Entry # 2 Mind you, here's what I think...

My brain has gone into hibernate mode and will no longer cooperate with me. No matter how much I push and prod it to dole out half decent work, it just won't budge. I've stared blankly at the computer screen for hours now. Soon, Mr. Sun will emerge from the sky. He will take one good look at me, shake his head and make a "tut tut" sound as I am now in a place where I have always been whenever there's a paper due: downing copious amounts of caffeine and tapping madly away at the keyboard, attempting a photo finish in time for the deadline.

It is quite ironic that after reading Gardner's Five Minds for the Future, I have done exactly the opposite of what his whole presentation is about. Specifically, his first point. Right at the heels of developing his theory of multiple intelligences, he talks about five minds that we should develop in order to better ourselves and achieve our full potential. The future is a mysterious entity. Blurry, actually. Gardner believes that with the development of these five minds, we will have the tools that will prepare us for a world that is yet to be known, or even, predicted.

The Disciplined Mind: Practice Makes Progress

Gardner mentions that we need to build up our "disciplinary muscle". My dilemma of writing this blog entry, as stated above, wasn't that I didn't know how to write. It was because I wasn't doing enough of it. I have developed a crippling habit of leaving things to the last minute that it has been embedded deeply into my system. Talent cannot work alone. A lot of work has to go along with it. With work, comes refinement. I talked about a Disney animator named Don "Ducky" Williams in a previous blog entry. The reason he eventually got hired was because of his persistence in developing and practicing his skill, doling out at least a hundred sketches a week for two years. Now that, is flexing some "disciplinary muscle".

The Medici Effect article taps on this idea as well. You can think up the most amazing idea in the world, but if it is not actualized or at least, worked on, then it is nothing.

We may have the skill and talent, but we need the work to back it up.

How can we concretely develop a disciplined mind?

Pinpoint Passion
Practice Perpetually
Harbor the Healthy Habit
Thrive through Talent

The Synthesizing Mind: Ctrl+a, Ctrl+c, Ctrl+v

There are currently 15 million articles on Wikipedia.com. The topics ranging from ice cream to insomnia. It took me literally less than a second to search for that particular statistic.

The second mind that Gardner discusses is the synthesizing mind. He mentions that "we are all inundated with information". Information can be accessed easily, and that has, sadly, taken the place of accuracy. To be successful in the future, I agree that we need to have a synthesizing mind. We need to be aware that although we are able to learn things quickly with literally, just a click of a button, not everything out there is relevant or true. We need to be more critical of what we feed on.

Copy Pasting has become an epidemic, especially in school. As a teacher, this is a big concern. By not addressing this problem, we are allowing students to make a habit of accepting things at face value. We are encouraging them to be mindless drones and letting others do the work for them. They are losing the ability to identify which idea works for them and why it works for them. This is why I think research skills should be taught at an early age. Research doesn't stop after typing a keyword into a search engine.

How can we concretely develop a synthesizing mind?

Instant Information is Irrelevant
Unless Users Understand
Discard Deficient Details
Accept Authentic Answers

The Creative Mind: Actualizing Innovations

Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting while he was still alive. Centuries later, art collectors and famous galleries try to outbid each other to get a piece of his 900 painting collection. On the other side of the world, Miley Cyrus has released her latest single, which on its first week, sold 226,000 copies.

Are they both creative?

According to Gardner, one of them isn't.

Gardner believes that to be considered creative, one has to master his craft for at least ten years. He also believes that the period of time in which your work is appreciated and accepted defines whether you are creative or not. Early acceptance means you are not. No acceptance at all obviously means it's worthless. Although I have a bit of trouble accepting this notion, it does make sense. Years from now, we will still marvel at the blues and hues of Starry, Starry Night. I doubt if anyone will remember the lyrics to "Can't Be Tamed" 100 years from now.

Developing a creative mind goes hand in hand with the disciplined mind. One has to work at an idea or a talent, harvest it and make it grow. The more ideas you put out, the more chances that one of them will turn out to be brilliant.

It is not all about a person's mental faculties. As Gardner mentions, it's also about attitude. We need to be able to foster creativity within ourselves by taking risks and taking chances. We were always taught that there's a fine line between smart and stupid. We have a great fear of looking and sounding stupid that we never venture outside our comfort zones.

How can we concretely develop a creative mind?

Do the "Disciplined Mind" Doctrine
Break Barriers
Innovative Ideas
Replace Reflection with Realities

The Respectful Mind: A Borderless World

The fourth mind that Gardner talks about is respect, which is something that should be instinctive. It doesn't have to be mentioned that we need to respect one another. It's human nature. But the fact that Gardner paid particular importance to it means that, although it's something natural, it leaves yet to be seen.

It's amazing how we Filipinos patrol foreign films, television, etc. and cry "racist!" when someone makes a joke in our expense. But switch to a local variety show and we do exactly just that. On a daily basis, you will see the host berate, insult and make fun of a contestant because of of his color, physical appearance or accent.

Why do we do it and how do we stop it?

We do it because as much as we would like to think that we accept all kinds and forms of people, we don't. Our opinions are based on prejudices that we have instilled in ourselves over the years. Our beliefs are so important to us that anyone or anything that resembles a threat to that belief system, we disregard.

We put a halt to this by simply being tolerant. We do not need to abandon our beliefs but we do need to accept what others believe in. Exposing ourselves to a variety of culture, traveling and observing will open our eyes and make us realize just how varied people and experiences are.

How can we concretely develop a respectful mind?

Meet, Mingle and Mix
Discover Differences Daily

Venture Vast Villages,
Celebrate Color and Connectedness

The Ethical Mind: Fulfilling Roles

Gardner mentions this element as the most important. For a person to be ethical, he incorporates three things: excellence, engagement and ethical.

Like what he mentions in his introduction: we do not talk about values or ethics anymore because people would disagree too much. Ethics is too personal a thing to be discussed. But it doesn't mean that because we skirt through the topic, that it should be forgotten altogether.

The study that Gardner and his colleagues have done is quite alarming. What we need to do is put importance to value laden subjects in the curriculum. Making students aware of ethical dilemmas early will help them in the long run. Our educational system still puts a premium on high IQ's. In Gardner's opinion, this is a mindset that should be changed. We need to develop not only a student's ability to compute and recite the alphabet. We need to bank on character as well. Knowledge can be learned, but Character needs to be instilled.

How can we concretely develop an ethical mind?

Character counts
Reach Respective Roles
Play Parts Perfectly

Looking at all of this can be a lot to take in all at the same time. We think we are all set in the world, and new ideas make us question what we believe in.

"I'm losing my mind" is a common expression.

Hopefully, we don't lose all five.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Paint Fest at Sea

Disney promotes and encourages creativity.

This is evident during one of their events on a recent Disney Cruise. The company enlisted the help of a charity called the Foundation for Hospital Art during a 14-night voyage from Florida to Barcelona.

This non-profit organization creates marvelous paintings that are then donated to hospitals around the world. To this date, the foundation has created over 35,000 paintings for over 2000 hospitals in 193 countries around the world.

During Ramos' presidency, he invited the organization to the Philippines and commissioned a painting that was then given to the Children's Hospital. Their goal is to promote art and creativity, bringing joy to the drab hospital walls around the world.

This event was the first ever "Paint Fest at Sea", and to date, the biggest, and with the most volunteers.

Disney Voluntears, along with 300 guests, hand painted a pre-drawn, color-coded mural of Disney characters, created by Don "Ducky" Williams. The mural is 12 feet high, 20 feet long with 60 canvases. Volunteer guests were given their own canvas, which were then pooled together to create this masterpiece.

The mural was hand delivered last April 23, 2010 at the Vall d'Hebron Hospital in Barcelona, Spain and is now hanging at different parts of the hospital.

Art for a good cause.

Art at its best.