I have always felt a strong commitment to contribute to the community.
I will never forget my first profound experience with service when I was in high school. I, along with a selected group of students, went to Jonestown, Mississippi – one of the poorest towns in the country – to paint the walls and ceilings of the community center over spring break. At the end of the seven days, I felt unfulfilled, like we (a group of Northeasterners) had not done anything for those we were supposed to help, but rather, did it for the sake of “doing good”. Those of Jonestown did not seem receptive to our help, nor willing to participate in the project. Similar to the history I had studied in the classroom, it seemed as though we were colonists coming in and imposing our beliefs on the natives.
When I got home, I called one of the families I met and asked if I could return over summer vacation so I could get a true sense of the town. I stayed with them in their trailer and was completely immersed in their daily "normal" – bloodstains on the floor, guns and bullets next to the bed, kicked-in walls, sweltering heat, cockroaches, chitterlings and all – genuinely shocked by such a different way of life. When I settled in, I realized that Jonestown was indeed being “governed” by outsiders and there was no stability from within. The community itself had no real sense of community; it was just outsiders coming in each week to “help” bring about change that nobody really asked for, wanted or were capable of initiating themselves. That was the moment I truly learned the value in the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Through my interactions and conversations over the following weeks, the locals were able to see that I genuinely cared about why I was there – not just to paint walls and ceilings, but to bring the Community Center to life, for them, the community. There, in Jonestown, Mississippi, I realized that service is not about what we think others need, but instead, about truly understanding and learning to help identify needs, and giving those you are there to help, a safe and comforting environment, where they feel they can reach out and ask for assistance. Service is about providing the opportunities and resources to continue to bring the dreams of others to life.
That trip transformed my perception of community service. Service ultimately strips us down and allows us to connect – human to human – and relate on the most basic level with people who are different, instead of wanting to change them. Community service should not be viewed as a program requirement, or a nice thing to do, but instead as a part of the fabric of one’s character – a way of life.
A Carnegie Mellon professor once said, "Our duty as designers is to rid the world of ugliness." Over a decade later, I still take that responsibility to heart. I interpret "ugliness" as ill-defined purpose, poor function, confusing directions, frustrating experiences.
Designers solve problems. They reduce clutter and incorporate more intuitive, aesthetic outcomes to improve human interactions. There is reason, passion and/or cognition; there is strategy, intention and purpose. It is not as much about invention as innovation, to connect the dots and improve upon them.
For instance, I walk into a bagel shop or an ice cream parlor and immediately see opportunity — fix the ingress/egress, print the menu board to improve readability, rearrange the layout chairs and tables. It is simple things that would take a literal hole in the wall, patch it and completely transform the space.
Everything artificial is designed in some form or fashion. Whether it is a parking lot, presentation deck, coffee pot or cellular phone, everything relies on interactions with the end goal (hopefully) to improve the function, value and appearance based on human-factors. It may seem pompous, or lofty, to think Designers are the world's fixers but they sure do make life more practical, pleasant and beautiful.
We just listened to the “Yanny vs. Laurel” sound clip for the first time. With all the social media buzz about it, we figured we would write down what we heard and then compare.
Without any context, what I heard was incoherent and resembled something like “Yehme” or “Jimmy” so I wrote that down on the paper. We flipped it over at the same time, and I was absolutely shocked to read “Laurel” on the other page. How could we hear such drastically different sounds? I did not hear anything remotely close to Laurel! Then I heard a version that accentuated the frequencies to highlight Yanny (high) and Laurel (low). Either way, why was I originally hearing neither? It really makes me think how many things in our everyday life are believed to be objective but yet interpreted so differently. Our senses challenge our sense of the world.
When I was younger, I was given a toy toolkit. It looked like a real toolkit but it did not function like one.
I was recently reminded of this while listening to Donald Miller's podcast "Building a Story Brand" (no pun intended). The host asked if guest Daymond John believes you should staff your liabilities. The FUBU creator/Shark Tank entrepreneur did not, and instead felt you should staff your assets.
John would rather hire someone to take over an area of his personal strength "... so that I can peak in the other areas that I don't know. I don't want to be taken advantage of... I can't be the sucker at the table."
The way I interpret that is, when building out your toolkit, it is not about having all the tools but about having the right ones for the right reasons. You cannot use a hammer on every project; no matter how great, it only serves a narrow purpose. However, if you only choose projects which utilize its specialization, that high-quality tool makes work much more effective and smooth. You leverage your strengths and accomplish more in an area that matters most to you.
Most tool kits come with the obvious: hammer, wrench, screwdriver, pliers. But they miss one vital tool — the generalist. Cue the Swiss Army knife.
The Swiss Aemy knife is not pretending to be all-encompassing nor the best at every function — but it does offer an imprecise skill set for infinite use. It comes in handy for everyday tasks as well as when you are in a bind. Each of the aforementioned tools has a purpose; and the Swiss Army knife's is its versatility.
It makes me wonder... why are we so often told to be a hammer, wrench, screwdriver or pliers but rarely the Swiss Army knife?
"It's like a six, if you flip it over it looks like a nine. But a six is very different from a nine."
In Rory Sutherland's TED Talk "Life Lessons from an Ad Man," I learned of the Diamond Shreddies case study. Ogilvy & Mather created intangible added value, without changing the product in the slightest. It makes me laugh every time I watch the video.
There are three Starbucks at the Shepherd & West Gray intersection (four if you count the one in Kroger just down the block). This fact has irked me ever since I discovered it recently. It initially seems senseless to saturate that corner, but I had to make sense of it.
Starbucks sees an opportunity to feed the market. They call this strategy “Main & Main” where they find a high-traffic locale and open up shops. Each location is slightly different, tailoring the experience to different needs. *
Knowing that the majority of coffee sales are generated before noon, each location indirectly works together to reduce bottle necking and allows customers to get their caffeine-fix in a more streamlined way.
Between all the different ways to order, pay, receive and consume coffee, Starbucks does not fear cannibalization, and instead banks on the unplanned, yet convenient, cup to drive overall sales.
What it all comes down to is persuading its customers that they have no choice but to grab a coffee. It is right there. No excuses. Whether it is at Location One, Two, Three or Four, through consistent and persistent marketing, Starbucks does not care where -- it focuses on the "stronger together" mentality. That is pretty powerful positioning (literally and figuratively).
* Two of these stores are licensed, not franchises. The licensed cafes are incorporated into already existing storefronts via strategic partnerships, with Barnes & Nobles and Kroger. Starbucks licenses the rights to serve its coffee and trains other companies’ employees to sell its products. (Brilliant, right?) The main differences appear to be which gift cards are redeemable and that employees may get called off to work “others duties as assigned.”
I recently started watching the TV show Portlandia. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein capture how restaurants attempt to enhance the customer experience by offering high customization but instead unnecessarily complicate it. In this case, there are so many steps that the reason the customer came in the first place (to get a Pastrami sandwich) never actually happens. The navigation, order process, delivery, customer service, signage, all severely impact the dining experience. The restaurant took something easy and made it hard, which becomes even more difficult when you are hungry. It reminds me that efficiency and effectiveness are key components to any experience. This restaurant designer clearly did not take her customer experience into consideration!
Throwback to last year's unveiling of the Rice Athletics brand refresh. Can't believe it's been a year!
"What's this?" A fun game my family and I played growing up. My grandfather would make a shape with his table-napkin and place it on his head — suddenly it transformed into a hat. Then he would place it in front of his mouth and it became a megaphone. Whether it was a salt-shaker, a pencil or any other odd object on hand, we would all shout out options until we ran out. Sometimes the game would go on for ages until dinner came to the table or it was time for bed.
I am reminded of that game often in my professional life. My grandpa primed me to take something ordinary and come up with creative solutions to make it seem more realistic. We only believed it was a hat when it was carefully constructed and shaped, not just draped over. We were not blindly stretching our imaginations. What I learned at an early age is what designers do on a daily basis -- we take basic information and transform it into more meaningful results.
I have always admired Christoph Niemann and his Ordinary Objects. He inspires me to carry this game forward into everyday life.
I once heard the Chairman and CEO of the Women's Tennis Association speak. She said a lot of insightful and inspiring comments but one sentence really stood out. Stacey Allastar said, "Never deal with liars, cheats and jerks." It seems like a no-brainer but it is important enough for her to articulate, even at her executive level.
At the core, all are manipulators who value their interests above others'. They exhibit a desire to get ahead, gain advantage, avoid the undesirable. These master manipulators seem to have a fast-pass to success and power – at the unfortunate expense of others. They know how to play the game. They know what to say to your face and behind your back. Maybe I am a purist and naive, but I would rather act with integrity than constantly watch my back.
However, duplicity, politicking or Machiavallianism do not need to underwrite success and power. They can just be achieved via influence and leadership, bringing people together rather than pinning them against one another or breaking them down.
As I type, I am reminded of advice ESPN commentator Tommy Smyth also told me: "Surround yourself with good people and never tell a lie, you will never have to remember anything." It takes less effort to tell the truth, and your facts are already confirmed. When you and those around you act with high morals and integrity, you are protected against vulnerability. You work together to achieve common goals, for the common good. You support one another. You listen to others' needs, perspectives and feelings. You are authentic. So the best way to deal with liars, cheats and jerks is to just not. If you cannot change the environment around you then change the environment you are in.
Remember the first time you had your favorite cookie? The crispy M&Ms, the velvety peanut and chocolate chips, the thick oatmeal batter, the sugary aroma that emanated from the crumbling pieces?
If you are anything like me, when someone offers you a cookie, you do not refuse. Sure, the high caloric value and high-fat content may spark hesitation initially (especially after that killer workout you just finished) but ultimately you try it because you are in an unconscious pursuit of a cookie that either meets or exceeds your expectation for what a cookie should taste like. It is human nature to set an anchor and base judgments on that. Will this be just as tasty? Oh, well I better test it.
If I do not even try a new competitor, I am gypping myself of happiness; it has got to be worth it, right? I have an optimistic expectation that my previous anchor will be dethroned. So, I try the cookie. It tastes good but not sure it is absolutely the best out there. Am I selling it short? Am I giving it a real chance?
Life is like that too. We are constantly in pursuit of happiness, like it is some hidden treasure or pot of gold. You have to actively search for it, trap it, cultivate it. But that also seems like some unattainable state, like we constantly move the finish-line on an endless track. It may feel like if you are not moving forward, you might as well just give up.
But why cannot we just appreciate the sweet morsels without the guilt? Actually notice the flavors, the textures, the smells for exactly what they are: a special treat? Why don't we savor the moment? Why do we have such a hard time acknowledging that sometimes "good enough" is actually hits the sweet spot. It is exactly what we need.
Today, Rice Athletics opened its first off-campus retail outlet dedicated to Rice Owls merchandise. For a total of seven points-of-purchase between in-venues, on-campus, online & on-the-go trailers, this location allows us to continue to offer our brand to a wider audience in Rice Village and surrounding areas.
Last year's licensing revenue was the highest in school history, with an increase of 17% from the previous year. Since the rebrand, Rice Athletics is on track to increase revenue further for a total of 34% in just two years.